The Rev. John Chisham has been punched in the face. He's been shouted at. He's had objects thrown at his head. He's been spat on.
No wonder he prays every time he gets turned into a human target as ventures out to spread his message.
Chisham, a pastor at River of Life Alliance Church in Marshall, will take the abuse as long as he is given the opportunity to spread this message: "The bad news is we've sinned and have fallen short of God's glory. The good news is if we repent and trust in Christ alone he will wash our sins away."
Chisham, an evangelist, attended the recent Twin Cities Pride Festival in Minneapolis. The gay pride event attracted more attention than usual after organizers had asked a judge for a temporary restraining order to prevent Brian Johnson, of Hayward, Wis., from spreading HIS message on festival grounds. The day before the event a federal judge ruled the festival couldn't prevent Johnson from passing out Bibles and discussing his views against homosexuality.
The judge ruled that Loring Park is a public forum, so Johnson's free-speech rights must be honored. A Twin Cities news outlet reported that Johnson, his wife and others wearing yellow shirts that read, "Free Bibles" passed out Bibles starting Saturday afternoon.
But Chisham is not Johnson. And, he says, he's no protester. He took offense to being labeled as such in a statewide-published story on the Pride event.
The reporter also linked him to a sign at the rally that read, "You are an abomination to God, You justify the wicked." Chisham says he had nothing to do with the sign.
"I'm not anti-gay at all," he said. "To call me a protester is disingenuous at best. Our ministry has gone to Twins games, SMSU, different campuses in cities around the country, and it's the same message no matter where we go. While we were there, the issue of homosexuality as a sin or bad lifestyle wasn't even really mentioned. It was brought up by those who were at the festival."
Protester? Not a protester? It's a fine line and Chisham knows it. It can be easy to see why anyone with two eyes and an opinion would view him as anything but. In this country, anyone who attends an event - whether it's a gay pride rally or one that includes any branch of military - and believes in something that puts them in the minority should expect to be looked at as a protester.
It sometimes hurts to have an opinion.
"They call it protesting because they think we're there because the event shouldn't happen; that's not what we were saying," he said. "There is a fine line. There are 'ministries' out there that say, pardon my language, 'God hates fags,' there are websites and stuff. There definitely are hate groups against homosexuality. That's not our message. Our message is a message of hope, that we can be saved. It's a fine line, but I don't think we come anywhere near it."
But the always impartial court of public perception says otherwise. It's easy to lump people like Chisham into that group. You don't have to be holding a sign or a bullhorn to be classified a protester. People do it all the time. If they didn't Chisham wouldn't have to worry about coming home with a black eye, or cleaning someone's spittle out of his hair.
"We do a lot of prayer before we go out," Chisham said. "I've been punched in the face, knocked out, had a football thrown at my head that hit me in the temple, spat upon all kinds of things happen and I expect that because of the nature of what we're doing. Frankly, we were more aware of the fact that we would probably be accosted more by the police than the participants at the Pride Festival. But the police were beyond fair. They were warning people as far as what the law was. When a guy came up and shoved a fellow next to me there were three or four police officers there to take the guy away."
Chisham didn't have to dodge fists or footballs at the Pride Festival. He also wasn't shoved as the aforementioned story said. People shouted at him, but he's used to that.
"Some people got in my face shouting; there was one Catholic fellow slapping material in my face," he said. "As far as being verbally harassed or having stuff thrown at us, nothing happened. There was definitely stuff going on though all in the name of tolerance."
Recognizing the irony, Chisham chuckled when he mentioned tolerance.
"When we saw this event advertised in the paper it said it was all about tolerance; I thought that was bizarre," he said. "They want tolerance for their lifestyle, their point of view only."
We could all use a little more tolerance in our lives. We don't have to agree with this group or that group - what fun would that be? But we should at least respect them and what they believe in.
People like Chisham should be able to use the First Amendment as insurance when they go to these events. Too bad the deductible is so high.