WASHINGTON — Men and women who once lived and identified as part of the LGBT community are confident that a "rainbow revival" is at hand.
Gathered under the blazing sun with temperatures in the mid-90s at the Sylvan Theater in the shadow of the Washington Monument, approximately 200 attended the Freedom March, an event for formerly LGBT-identifying people who share testimonies of how Jesus transformed their lives.
The gathering was first held in the same location in 2018. Last year's Freedom March was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many sporting T-shirts decorated with rainbow flags and the words "Rainbow Revival," march participants spoke with The Christian Post about the transforming power of Jesus.
Angel Colon, who miraculously survived after Omar Mateen shot him several times at the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting in Orlando in June 2016, said the "rainbow revival" is a sign of God's covenant.
"We are taking back the rainbow," Colon said. "It's His. For us, it's something beautiful."
"We are here and we're loud, letting the world know that the rainbow is something beautiful," he added. "And we shouldn't be ashamed of what it really is."
Colon and his compatriots are hearing from increasing numbers of people who desire to leave the LGBT life to follow Jesus, as Freedom March events have continued. He believes that the COVID-19 pandemic was a blessing in disguise because it forced many to go deep with the Lord.
"Especially now during Pride month, we want to say we love you" to the LGBT community, Colon said.
"We want to tell the gay community that we love them. We don't want to judge you or condemn you and welcome you with open arms and be a reflection of Jesus. We're not the Holy Spirit. We don't want to do anything but love everyone."
Freedom March co-founder Jeffrey McCall told CP that he noticed an uptick in emails he received from people wishing to leave the LGBT life and identity behind last summer. He was especially encouraged to hear pastor Kent Christmas of Regeneration-Nashville speak prophetically at The Return intercessory prayer event in September that the Lord would bring healing and salvation to the LGBT community.
That uptick in correspondence "has never stopped since last summer," McCall said.
"We are getting more emails, more people reaching out and wanting help than we've ever had in the past three years," he continued. He believes that the Church is at the beginning stage of reaching out effectively to LGBT individuals with the transformational power of life in Christ.
In some church environments in the 1980s, including the one Drew Berryessa was raised in, how homosexuality was treated was harsh and condemning. Not knowing what to do with his struggle with same-sex attraction, the Medford, Oregon-based pastor who leads A Living Letter Ministries shared from the stage how he consistently felt disqualified from God's love.
"In 20 years of ministry to the LGBT community, I know there are many people that they were Christians, that they loved Jesus in their childhood, but they just felt disqualified from His love and grace and redemption because of what they experienced," he told CP.
"And I'm here to say — and I know that we all are — that the blood of Jesus speaks a better word. We are qualified for His redemption and grace."
Kim Zember, who is Catholic and on the march's board of directors, shared with CP that the phrase "conversion therapy" is misleading.
"It's not about 'converting' someone," Zember said. "When Jesus walked the earth, he didn't walk around converting people. He invited people to be transformed. And we're transformed in a relationship with Jesus Christ."
"Jesus went into the dark places," She stressed. "He encountered those who were sick, those who were blind and broken."
The Freedom March board member said that those who participated in the event believe they have been "touched by who we believe is the Physician, Jesus Christ."
"He transforms our lives, not forcing us, not changing us because we have to," Zember explained. "[It's] not a doctrine or certain church teaching, but because Christ Himself has encountered each one of us and we want to share that, not only the transformation He has brought to our lives but [it's] continuing as well."
In order for churches to posture themselves effectively to reach the LGBT community, she said the Church needs an increase in humility and realize "we ourselves are broken as well and allow Jesus to mend our own brokenness." She says churches must be "willing to be transparent with others struggling about our own battles and share about Jesus who is our only hope for complete healing."
After three hours of sharing testimonies and worship, participants marched with a banner from the Sylvan Theater, looping around the pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial and back.
The Freedom March is one of several events in which formerly LGBT-identified people who traveled to the nation's capital participated.
Although the Equality Act appears to be stalling in the U.S. Senate, men and women with the CHANGED movement spent part of Friday speaking with congressional staffers about their concerns with the pending legislation. The movement is a cohort of formerly LGBT-identifying people who have publicly declared their testimonies of restoration through Jesus.
The legislation would codify discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity into federal law. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House and is supported by President Joe Biden.
Those who met with staffers are particularly concerned about efforts to limit counseling options for those experiencing conflicting or unwanted sexual feelings and impulses or gender confusion related to their faith. Faith-based approaches to help individuals deal with these unwanted attractions are often derisively referred to as "conversion therapy."
Speaking at a press conference outside the Capitol building at Union Square near the reflecting pool, CHANGED movement co-founder Elizabeth Woning said it is incredibly unjust for lawmakers to outlaw such avenues for women, who have long been ignored.
Woning, a pastor with Equipped to Love in Redding, California, who helped co-host the Freedom March, said the lesbian experience was often diminished in favor of male priorities within the LGBT community.
She believes that they are the true liberals in this debate.
"A truly liberal posture seeks understanding. It seeks to incorporate multiple ideas from multiple sides," Woning told CP in an interview Friday. "It's constantly learning and constantly flexing and willing to accommodate multiple views for the sake of valuing another person. Truly liberal ideas are being squashed in America."
She warned that "seeking understanding and having dialogue should not be frightening and it shouldn't be considered abusive or harmful."
"We should be going for enlightened discussion and discourse," she argued.
The conversation over "conversion therapy" continues to harm many women, Woning added.
She recently spoke to a married lesbian who said she had been sexually assaulted and raped by a man. The experience impacted her entire life of sexual expression, even with her wife. The woman also acknowledged that pursuing a counseling route to resolve the trauma from being raped to recognize that there could have been harm to her sexuality that would have implicated her sexual orientation was anathema.
"She couldn't speak of that in her circles," Woning recalled. "She could never be allowed the opportunity to dialogue on that with the option of resolution. But what if those traumas were resolved?"