Indeed, with Black Sabbath’s shockingly pagan “N.I.B.” blasting through the car speakers on what might generally be considered early on a Sunday morning, I rolled up to the Heights and found the subtle beauty of the morning—big clouds announcing rain and verdant foothills looming greenly—was buoyed by Geezer Butler’s brilliant bass line. All of this seemed to announce another glorious day reporting on Burque.
Little did I know that after I experienced the awesomely affirmative, rainbow-colored, proudly presented and essentially uplifting church service at Metropolitan Community Church of Albuquerque, I would have an epiphany of sorts. It came while I was headed home on Lomas Boulevard and “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” had triumphantly replaced the Black Sabbath tuneage of earlier that morn.
Here’s the epiphany, by the way: I would ultimately come to believe that some of the solutions to our deepest problems may be found by practicing love and compassion, by talking to as many others as one can find who will listen—and most importantly, by working to understand that despite our differences, we are all very much the same.
Now, we’re not about to ask you to take up Christianity. Or any other religion for that matter. But the fact is the folks at MCC have found a path. They’ve built a community where love and justice triumph.
Though our culture has changed remarkably in the intervening 50 years, we may have recently returned to the precipice. Indications from the current administration demonstrate a move away from progressive values and a consequent return to anti-gay rhetoric and actions by some members of American culture.
As for other Christian organizations, there has been much progress, yet much work remains. Fundamentalists continue to preach fire and brimstone for LGBTQ humans, rejecting their innate identities as a lifestyle choice that defies nature and religious convention. Meanwhile, other denominations have moved toward inclusivity as they come to understand the main features of the philosophy of Christianity—love, peace and understanding—with more certainty.
While the sort of invective spewed by fringe Christian churches continues and may actually have accelerated under the anti-LGBTQ modeling initiated by the Trump administration, it just may be possible that our culture as a whole—that thing vaguely and wondrously called America—will continue to see progress being made as one generation succeeds another.
Given that the true meaning of Christianity lies in the teachings of its founder, it’s clear that the MCC has found a way into the future that brings the spirit to life. That process is best witnessed through attendance. That is, if you go to this church you’ll find happy humans, eloquent advocates and a preacher whose gentle guidance is matched by a quick wit and a commitment to personal, spiritual and, ultimately, cultural progress.
Her name is Reverend Judith Maynard. And she leads a flock of people just like you and me as they take the trip of a lifetime together. Weekly Alibi spent time with the reverend in order to find out more about her church, the community she shepherds and what peace, love, understanding and Jesus Christ has to do with all of that movement forward for LGBTQ people and for us all.
Weekly Alibi: Let’s start with the basics ...
Reverend Judith Maynard: I’ve been here 17 years. I love the congregation; it’s a great faith community. This is our building, our church, but we also like to think of it as a community building for people and events. The Q-Tones from New Mexico Gay Men’s Chorus rehearse here; we have a drag group that comes in, we have an exercise group that uses the facility. Tons of 12-step people come in make use of the space. We really try to utilize the space.
Could you please tell our readers about your faith community?
Sure. We’re very diverse. When MCC started, back in 1968, we started because other churches were not accepting LGBTQ people. That’s why we came into being. As things have changed, as more faith communities have opened doors to our people, so have we changed in many ways. That’s led to diversity; it’s not just LGBTQ people, it’s heterosexuals, too. And people who are just people are welcome. You don’t have to wear a label. We have a good balance of different races and cultures represented here in our faith community.
What do they all have in common?
I don’t call myself a Christian anymore. I believe in Jesus Christ. That is my faith. But I think that may have negative connotations to it, because of the religious right and what they’ve made of Christianity. I am a follower of Jesus and a person of the way. I follow the ways of Jesus. I think it’s very easy to worship Jesus. When you read his teachings and what he asks of his followers, that can be a challenge sometimes. To love your neighbor, to love yourself. To serve God. If we could just do that ...
Is that the essential message of Christ?
Yes. Think of how it would be if you, a Buddhist, and me a follower of Christ, could just sit here and talk about our faith and we didn’t argue. I didn’t try to convince you or get you to come to my way of seeing things and vice-versa.
So you’re looking for commonalities?
Yes, we respect all faiths. I’ve tried to teach that here. You might not agree with it, but who are you to say the Muslims are wrong, the Buddhists are wrong. We might be wrong when you get down to it.
What are people looking for when they come into your house of worship?
We don’t all have to believe the same thing. It’s more important to be together as a faith community. We try to work out any differences, any conflicts we may have—be it political or spiritual, because we’ve got Democrats, Republicans, Socialists and Libertarians who come here.
Earlier, you mentioned the right wing and Christianity. How do you deal with that generally? How do you specifically address the denial of rights and a sense of humanity, the oppression and negativity?
With a sense of humanity. I see them as going through process where they’re told, “If you believe this and follow these rules—what the pastor tells them to do—then you’re okay, you’re going to get into heaven. If you don’t, you’re doomed because we don’t want people who don’t think and believe as us.” They’re pretty isolated. Sunday mornings used to be one of the more segregated times in our society. Thankfully, that’s changing. I feel that we have to give a different picture, I preach that to the congregation. All of us have certainly been told how miserable we are, what terrible sinners we are. We’ve all heard enought negative messages. I want to deliver a message about the love of God, the unconditional love of God. God accepts all people and loves all people. We accept different faiths. We follow in the path of Jesus.
Do those sorts of beliefs offset what’s being offered by the religious right?
Absolutely. I don’t think our voices have been heard. I don’t think we’re talking loud enough.
I heard you talking about that with our photographer, that we should be open about who we are, that there is no more hiding.
Right. This is who I am.
And you’re pretty upfront about the fact that much of this strife was caused by fear and bigotry?
Oh yeah. Our people, those who identify as LGBTQ, used to be, used to have their lives be in peril. We’ve lost people through acts of violence. Some people just didn’t like two guys kissing or two women holding hands.
Are you worried about a resurgence in violence against LGBTQ folks?
Not at all. I think what it is is that we’ve all been given permission to hate other people, instead of being taught that we need to be loving, compassionate and kind—despite our differences.
So how do we teach compassion, empathy and love?
Show it and say it. Little acts of kindness can make a huge difference. Being okay with someone who doesn’t agree with you theologically or politically is okay.
Is that because you believe we are all the same, all one?
We’re all humans. I say we are spiritual people having a human experience. I think that deep down inside—I just watched a movie about the white supremacist movement by the way and a gay, African American woman was interviewing the group. At the end of the movie, she was telling one of the leaders how people wanted to kill her, they didn’t like her race. The leader said, “Well that’s not right, you’re my friend.” I thought she changed this guy’s mind. She planted a seed there. That’s how we do that. We just need to break down these barriers and talk to one another.
For those who haven’t had been involved with pride, why should they consider viewing it through spiritual lenses, whether it’s at your church or any other?
I would hope that they’d see us as very open and accepting. There’s a place here at the table for everyone. You can come with your questions, you can come as you are. You don’t have to be perfect or whole. You can come here as a blubbering mess and find a place. Of course you’re not going to stay a blubbering mess, we love you too much to let you stay that way. But if you choose to stay that way, we’re still going to go on the journey God has called us to be on, moving forward, trying to make positive changes.
What’s the culture like at your church?
For me, I think that churches are changing so rapidly in the 21st century. That’s a good thing. It’s not about coming together for one hour a week, singing wonderful songs and hearing a nice, fluffy little sermon, and then going out and being a jerk the rest of the week. I don’t think that’s what church is about.
What is it then, more immersive?
Yes. It’s a lifelong relationship, we’re supposed to go out there and change the world, one person at a time.
What are we going to do as a culture to make all this kindness count?
It’s gotta start with us. We’ve got to say it, model it, preach it, believe it. And we need to stop with the hate.
How do folks in Burque access the insight and knowledge you have?
They should just come here. Or they can call, I meet with individuals all the time. We have a singles group that’s starting in July and we have a spiritual direction group that begins this month, June. We kind of slow down during the summer. After Pride, we all take a deep breath.
Pride’s pretty big around here?
Oh, yeah. We’re designing and building a great float. It’s a lot of fun. They say it’s the second biggest Pride parade in Albuquerque! I love to see all the different people supporting us and cheering us on.
It’s really cool to see that Burque really is this enchanting, inclusive and progressive town, que no?
We all accept each other. For example, the leather community people are very much a part of our faith community. That’s their lifestyle, that’s what they choose to do. Who am I to say that they can’t do that, that it’s wrong in the eyes of God? I don’t believe in doing that. I have a huge family here. This is my family, these are God’s children.