Anti-gay protests at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Denver

The following letter was sent by email on 16 April 1999.

Dear Friends,

Although I am serving an interim pastorate in Indiana, my membership remains with St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Denver. The following is a description of events at St. Paul's approaching Holy Week.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church on the corner of 16th and Grant in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood is a faith community that welcomes and encourages the full participation of GLBT people in the life and ministry of the church. The pastor of St. Paul's Church, the Rev. Stephen H. Swanson, is a board member of Equality Colorado and is public in his support of GLBT civil rights. That sort of openness, however, is not without cost.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church was host to one of Equality Colorado's "Equality Begins at Home" events on Thursday, March 25. Following the "Rally Against Hate" on the west steps of the State Capitol, participants gathered in the nave at St. Paul to participate in a panel discussion, "Protecting Our Families." As people made their way toward the front doors of the church, they were greeted by six protesters who held signs condemning GLBT people, their families, and their allies. One of the protesters stood at the base of the entrance stairs and shouted hate filled slogans, only pausing for breath now and then as he condemned the church's ministry and its pastor. The protesters promised to return again and again as long as the church publicly supports GLBT people, their families and their allies.

On Sunday, March 28, true to their word, a dozen protesters stood again outside the doors to St. Paul's, harassing and heckling worshippers who arrived for the 8:30 liturgy. They were also present to hurl loud invectives at children and their parents who arrived for the 9:30 education hour. One protester screamed in the faces of three small children, that their pastor was the anti-Christ.

The presence of the protesters, however, did not dampen either of the two liturgies that morning, nor did it harm the efforts of teachers during the education hour. Sunday, March 28, was the "Sunday of the Passion," when Christians remember that Jesus of Nazareth was the victim of angry mob violence. Several worshippers at St. Paul spoke after services of how the hateful screams of the protesters outside the church made the story of Jesus' persecution more vivid and meaningful than ever. Children and youth talked in their classrooms about how they understood their faith to be about love for all people, One young man wondered how people who screamed hate at others could call themselves Christian.

The Rev. Stephen Swanson had a great deal to say about the protesters: "When I first saw them, I wished they weren't there and had regrets for whatever I may have done to draw them to St. Paul's. But then I realized they were at St. Paul's because we do welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people into the church community. And I realized that when (the protesters left and I went home, I was safe from their hatred. I am not gay. But many of my close friends are gay or lesbian and can never escape the hatred hurled at them by those protesters."

Pastor Swanson continued, "I don't like what the protesters are doing. But I believe my Christian faith calls me to share in suffering the hatred directed to my GLBT friends. I have no regrets that St. Paul is public in its welcome of gay and lesbian people. The protesters evidenced to me that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are hated and that I need to stand with them to share the hatred directed at them.

Pastor Swanson offered a suggestion to worshippers that if protesters return on following Sundays, as they have threatened, "Say a prayer. Give thanks to God for the blessings we have received individually and as a congregation from our beloved gay and lesbian members. They bring joy to our lives. They sing and pray with us, they teach our children. We are one in Christ with them."

St. Paul's Lutheran Church is one more than seventy diverse faith communities in Colorado that have identified themselves to Equality Colorado as welcoming GLBT people into the life of their assemblies. -Kevin Maly, Out Front - Colorado

Last Sunday, April 11, the protesters returned. This time Denver police officers held the protesters back from disturbing worshippers from being heckled as they entered their church for worship and education. St. Paul's Church became a Reconciling in Christ congregation with Lutherans Concerned in January of this year. I am proud of the fact that during the two years I lived in Denver I was able to work with Steve Swanson as he developed this vital ministry in Denver.

Another of our ELCA congregations, Our Savior, about ten blocks from St. Paul's is also an RIC congregation and doing an especially significant ministry with the AIDs community.

Christ is alive!

Jerry Abenth

PS You may contact Pastor Swanson at: [email protected] 
or at St. Pauls' Lutheran Church 1600 Grant, Denver, CO 80203

St. Paul's website is at

Last updated 26 Mar 99 by MP. Email webhostess