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Saturday, July 13, 2024 at 6:22 AM

Conflicting values don’t equal hate

Conflicting values don’t equal hate

Last weekend’s Taylor Pride Festival may have been an example of how our country should behave when groups of people with vastly different ideologies came together in Heritage Square – one to celebrate their lives, one to oppose a lifestyle.

“We’re not protesting. We’re here because we believe the scripture, we believe the gospel,” said Jeff Ripple, pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Taylor, who stood outside the festival area with a group of congregants holding signs. “Love demands that if I truly love people and I believe that they are perishing, love demands that I try to reach them. If I didn’t love, there’s a million other places I could be today.”

Denise Rodgers, president of Taylor Pride, said that she has been dealing with Ripple and his group since the first Pride festival in 2021. She says the two groups have a fairly peaceful relationship formed over the years.

“We meet right at the beginning of the event to make sure that rules are set and that we’re responsible for the behavior of our side and they’re responsible for their people and we have the right to remove them if they aren’t respectful,” Rodgers said.

“Even though I worry that they have their children out there holding signs with hate language, we constantly check on the kids and give them water and make sure they have shade since they are out there for hours,” she said.

No violent incidents or arrests were made during the festival, though Rodgers said she did have to intervene when a member of the LGBTQIA+ community verbally accosted the religious group. The protesters did not engage with the upset woman, and Rogers was able to calm her down and keep the peace.

“I don’t get upset because people come up and say ugly things to me,” Ripple said of the encounter. “I know she does not understand why I’m out here. She thinks I’m judging her and condemning her and that’s not the case. I’m here because I really care about you and love you and want to give you witness to something that can save your life.”

Helping to keep the peace were 16 members of Veterans for Equality, an Austin-based volunteer group. The members wear modified military-style gear and position themselves visibly between protesters and the main festival grounds at events such as Pride and Black Lives Matter celebrations.

“Before law enforcement gets involved, before laws are broken, we are there to help people feel safe coming out to pride events,” said one member, who preferred to be identified by their call sign of Atlas. “People were so scared they weren’t coming out to those things to raise their voice. They wanted to but they were afraid they would get hurt. We as an organization exist to stand in the gaps between the protesters and the event-goers.

We’re here to create a buffer so that people don’t feel unsafe.”

Atlas said there seemed to be more protesters in attendance this year than in previous years, but the interactions had become less confrontational.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t hurt feelings.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been called a groomer before until I came here,” said drag entertainer Alexandria van Cartier, who considers herself a Christian. “Although they are quiet and polite, their signs are very pointed and have a clear message of what their ideology is. I’m okay with a ‘God loves everyone’ sign, but when you start attacking people on a personal level that’s not okay.”

Ripple’s group held a variety of signs referring to Godly love, but at least one sign mentioned pedophilia and another mentioned grooming, the practice of establishing a trust relationship with a child in order to facilitate sexual abuse.

Ripple, who says people with pedophilia prefer the term “minorattracted,” knows that all people in the LGBTQIA+ community are not pedophiles, but believes that minorattracted people are included with the “+” in that acronym. He is concerned that celebrating pride paves the way for eventually celebrating pedophilia.

“It wasn’t too many years ago that this (festival) would have been unacceptable in our culture. So at what point would [pedophilia] be something we no longer frown upon? We’re trying to bring awareness because a lot of people don’t really understand what’s happening,” Ripple said.

The pastor calls homosexuality a sin, but said his group does not single out the LGBTQIA+ community. The group is against all forms of sin.

“Part of the effort here is to normalize sinful behavior. And I say no sinful behavior should be normalized,” Ripple said. “If this were a festival celebrating adultery or drunkenness, we’d still be here to witness and dialog and share the gospel.”

Regardless of the continued efforts of fundamental religious groups, support for Taylor Pride and its community seems to be growing. “There are a lot of straight people here showing love and showing support and we love it,” said van Cartier. “It’s a celebration for everyone.”

Members of Christ Fellowship Church (from left) Pastor Jeff Ripple with grandson Benjamin Ripple, Bennett Ulmer, Jonah Kirby and Yoli Johle attended to spread God’s word.

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