I read a story recently about Stu Rasmussen, who grew up in the small town of Silverton, Oregon (about half the size of Cranbrook), an hour south of Portland.
He runs the local movie theatre, has worked as the cable guy, ran one of the first computer stores, and knows just about everyone in town.
So far so good. But here’s the twist. In 1975, while Stu is watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he sees a transvestite and is intrigued.
The image stirs something deep inside. Stu begins to change. First he paints his nails.
Then he dresses up as female characters from the movies, such as Princess Amidala from Star Wars and the like.
Next he starts wearing a padded bra, and before long, Stu is full out cross–dressing.
It causes a stir in the town. Lots of folks just don’t know what to make of it, or of him. People start whispering. Kids stop going to his movie theatre. His friends begin to wonder if there is going to be some kind of a backlash.
So it was quite amazing when the people of this sleepy, fairly conservative little town elected cross–dressing Stu Rasmussen as mayor of Silverton in 2008, making him the first transgendered mayor in the USA.
No one seems to be sure how this happened. I tend to think that the fact he grew up in Silverton was part of it.
People went to church with him; they watched his movies; they had him in their homes installing their cable; they went to him for help with their computers.
In short, they knew him, and because they knew him so well and for so long they simply accepted him.
Not everyone. Some of the folks in town had a problem with him. The election was very close. Some didn’t vote for him because of their religious convictions; others because cross–dressing goes against their sensibilities.
After the election but before his inauguration, a group from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, came to Silverton. (I’ve written about this group before who have elevated hate to a new level.)
They came with signs such as, “God hates Silverton”, “God hates your mayor,” and others which I can’t mention here. They came to protest against Stu as an abomination.
Stu encouraged people not to give them the time of day, but then something else amazing happened. The townspeople staged a counter–protest.
Lots of ordinary, everyday folks cross–dressed. Men dressed as women, grandmas dressed as men. Kids joined in. Liberals, conservatives, young, old, on this day in Silverton it just didn’t matter.
They were determined to stand with Stu, to identify with him, to stand up for him.
Near the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable.
All the people in the world are divided into two groups.
To the righteous, the judge says, “Come, you who are blessed; inherit the kingdom prepared for you … For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. As you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:31–36)
This parable is about God’s solidarity with us, and our willingness to live in the same way.
You don’t stand in solidarity with other folks because they agree with you or because they look like you or believe like you. You stand with them just because we are all human.
We stand together as fragile, vulnerable, and beloved children of God one and all.
We confess that Jesus came and took on our life and our lot, identifying with us in every possible way, so that we might know God’s love and in turn identify with and love each other.
How do we imagine “the least of these”? Those who are hungry, alone, naked, thirsty? Sure. But maybe even more, “the least of these” is simply anyone in need.
On that day, the people of Silverton stood in solidarity with Jesus by standing in solidarity with Stu.
In the same way as we can feed and shelter people for the sake of the gospel, these folks gave witness to the love of God by cross-dressing for the gospel.