Steakhouse showdown proves positive for both Patriot Pastor and local gay leader
OKLAHOMA CITY – Choosing to meet on the neutral ground of Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, Scott J. Hamilton, executive director of the Cimarron Alliance and vocal advocate of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, came away from his lunch-hour meeting with right-wing “Patriot Pastor” Steve Kern with a sense of hope and cautious optimism.
“It wasn’t awkward. It wasn’t uncomfortable … honestly, it felt like we had known each other for a long time,” Hamilton told Red Dirt Report on Tuesday afternoon.
Hamilton, who is gay, said the two – both fervent Christians but from opposite sides of the political spectrum - met for over an hour, talking and sharing, agreeing and disagreeing, and ultimately realizing that deep down both of them had more in common than not.
“The reason I wanted us to get together was to explore what we might have in common,” recounted Hamilton.
Earlier this month, during a Patriot Pastors protest in front of the Civic Center Music Hall where the conservative clergy were protesting the Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s performance of The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, Hamilton approached Kern and asked him if they could meet and talk and have an open and honest dialogue.
Kern agreed to Hamilton’s invitation that cold night earlier this month, as the Patriot Pastors prayed and sang hymns while the counter-protesters sang and were equally respectful.
Addressing the controversial play, which is ongoing through this week, Kern said he felt the play was potentially “setting the LGBT community back.”
Hamilton paraphrased what Kern told him, saying that Kern felt that while the LGBT community in Oklahoma wants to be “recognized and a part of society,” a play about gay Biblical characters is a bit much and “being thrown into people’s face like you have to accept this, the play.”
Said Hamilton: “I was stunned because those were some of the very same concerns that I had had,” he said. “Not so much the play, but the counter-protest as it developed.”
The counter-protest, Hamilton said, had originally been slated to be outrageous, with drag queens and colorful costumes. Ultimately that approach was scrapped and the counter-protest was, as he put it at the time, “a lot of white people wearing heavy coats.”
“This was not a family play intended for a mass audience. The Patriot Pastors were respectful that night of the counter-protesters and the counter-protesters were in turn, respectful.”
He added: “That should be the example of how we should be. We have more in common than we have differences.”
In fact, Hamilton said that the lunch meeting between the two men was brimming with constructive dialogue and that he was so glad he reached out to Kern, a man who is considered a bigoted villain in the eyes of the local gay community.
Hamilton’s reasoning for taking the bold step in approaching a political enemy was primarily to tell Kern that “this has got to stop.”
“We’ve got to stop hurting each other because how many other people get hurt in the process?” he asked.
Essentially, Hamilton said, they broke bread together at the well-established eatery in Oklahoma City’s stockyards, discovering that they have similar passions, regarding their faith and to social justice.
They both have, he said, “a deep Christian commitment. A commitment to helping the poor, the disenfranchised, the underserved, the marginalized.”
Hamilton said he actually got excited when Kern shared with him some of the programs he was holding at the church – programs helping those in need.
Yet, noting that the rigid, anti-gay rhetoric coming from conservative, Christian “Patriot Pastors” doesn’t serve the Christian church well, considering how so many young people have “left the faith of their parents” in recent years, or are on “other faith journeys,” or are fed up with narrow-minded anti-gay “haters,” Hamilton said the church – regardless of where you stand on social issues – is affected negatively by this hateful rhetoric.
“And so the rhetoric doesn’t serve us well,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said Kern, whose wife is State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Bethany), said that the two realize that some of her controversial statements in recent years - including those directed at the gay community – deserve to be reflected upon with the passage of time.
“While he never used the word ‘mistake,’” Hamilton said. “He did point out some things that the two of them have learned in the process of her being so public with her views and the ways she has expressed those.”
While his wife will be term-limited out of the legislature in a little over two years, Pastor Kern has already announced that he will be running to serve in Senate District 40 – now represented by Sen. Cliff Branan - as a “true Kern-servative.”
Hamilton said Kern made it clear that he supported the ideas of liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness. And they also admitted there are some things where they will always "agree to disagree."
“He said everyone should be treated equally,” recalled Hamilton. “He said no one should have ‘special rights.’ And I told him I never advocated for special rights, only equal rights.”
Continuing, Hamilton said: “(Kern) talked about ‘choosing’ the gay lifestyle. And I didn’t get into it with him about how it’s not a choice and how he didn’t choose to be straight. It wasn’t that kind of discussion.”
Politically speaking, Kern told Hamilton that the government “should be in the business of securing the rights of everyone.”
Added Hamilton, knowingly: “I sure can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Kern, he said, admitted that “everyone is in the middle of their own process” when it comes to issues like LGBT rights.
“Today, I am hope-filled about this,” Hamilton said. “That this is the beginning of another process. A process where we can respect each other and disagree with one another but still keep our focus on what is best for the city and what is best for the state.”
Still, Hamilton said the dialogue they had over Tuesday lunch at Cattlemen’s was a step in the right direction, saying both men “walked out today with a sense of grace, a willingness to continue talking.”
“I think that’s what these kinds of dialogues are all about,” Hamilton said.“To at least get the other person to consider a different perspective.”
Considering the sublime success of their rendezvous, Hamilton said the two plan to meet again soon – likely over lunch.
And, he added, now that a dialogue has begun between the two, positive steps can be made.
Hamilton concluded discussing his experience with Kern by noting what happened after they parted.
“The peacefulness of the conversation was so moving that after I got into the car I just had to sit there for a few minutes and I thought about Christ’s words: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’” Hamilton said.
Red Dirt Report has reached out to Pastor Steve Kern seeking comment for this story. We will update this story if we receive a reply.
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