WIDOW’S FALLS, GEORGIA — Pastor Riley Heston has been the pastor at The Shepherd’s Flock Lutheran Church in Widow’s Falls, Georgia for seven years. Heston is one of the region’s only openly gay, evangelical Christian leaders, and over the years he says he’s “grown quite a thick skin” for what he calls “ingrained, rabid homophobia” that is seen at most churches in his area. Heston says that “you have to be thick-skinned to be LGBT in the Bible Belt” because “if these people have no problem waving a Confederate flag in black people’s faces and there’s at least some effort in mainstream culture to not be openly racist, imagine what they feel like they can get away with under the guise of their religious beliefs.” In an interesting and related twist, it’s precisely the idea of religious freedom that Heston plans to use to start a new church in Widow’s Falls, one he hopes will eventually be modeled for churches all over the country.
The First Church of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People will open its doors and seek a new congregation on August 2nd, 2016. According to Pastor Heston the church will be “the first church to not only tolerate LGBT people, but to embrace, celebrate and actively recruit them as the main congregational body of the church.”
“I just kept seeing all these county clerks and judges resigning or making grand, bombastic statements against gay marriage based on their religious freedom, and I kept hearing about Republicans in Congress wanting to draft a Constitutional amendment that allows people to assert their religious freedom and discriminate against me,” Heston told our reporter, “and I started to pray for an answer from God. How could I fight these forces of hate? Then it hit me. I’d fight fire with fire, or rather religious liberty with religious liberty.”
Heston has already thought about what his detractors will say. He knows many will balk at the notion of homosexual sex or being transgender as being part of religious expression, but he says he welcomes the criticism. “Who’s to say my homosexuality isn’t also part of my deeply abiding faith in my religion and its deity? After all, I keep scouring my Bible for all the passages where Jesus tells the world to persecute gay people,” Pastor Heston said while adding, “I keep looking for a single, solitary time Jesus said that being LGBT was a sin, and I can’t find it. So if they’re going to cling to the Old Testament, I’m going to cling to the Constitution and assert my First Amendment privileges and rights, thank you kindly.”
“I can decide that oral sex between two men is a sacred and holy thing in my church,” Heston said, “that’s what religious freedom really means. And I have to wonder if all these regressive, Christian hypocrites realize the can of worms they’re going to open if they start pretending that they’re the only religion in this country. If the Scientologists can charge people thousands of dollars for a sci-fi story doled out over their lifetimes, then we can say that two lesbians using a double-ended dildo on each other is part of their communication with the divine creator, who gave us our joy and love of double-ended dildos.”
Heston says it’s vital for him to get The First Church of LGBT recognized because “that way when the pitchforks and torches come out, I’ll have not only my faith in God but the backing of the First Amendment to back me up.” Pastor Heston says that he isn’t “too concerned” with whether his aggressive stance is “Christian or not” because “Jesus went into a violent fit of rage at the greedy money changers in a temple, so I think pointedly telling a bunch of bigots that my church embraces LGBT people as holy and sacred people wouldn’t ruffle God or Jesus’s feathers too much, no.”
“At the end of it all,” Heston told us, “it’s really quite simple. Religious freedom can be claimed for all kinds of horrible behavior from slavery to segregation to misogyny to homophobia. But why can’t it also be used to shield and protect the same minorities those behaviors harm? If it’s a battle over the First Amendment those thugs with Bibles want, I’m willing to fight the good fight. Because I paid attention in Sunday School when we sang ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the wold.’ Maybe they all didn’t; but I did. So I know in the deepest part of my soul that I’ve got God and his love and wisdom in my corner, and all they have is hate.”
So will Father Heston’s church be welcoming to heteronormative people, despite centuries of discrimination in other churches? “Of course,” Father Heston assures us. “It would take an enormous asshole to suffer the kinds of daily discrimination we do and then turn around and try to discriminate against others. Lame, and not what this church is about. We’d welcome everyone. Even the breeders,” Heston said with a wink.