In Los Angeles, a young male prostitute thinks he is being approached by another man for sex. As Rev. William Griffith gets closer, the 17 year old smiles sheepishly as he reads the t-Shirt worn by the unconventional street pastor dressed his normal attire. Shorts and sandals. The shaved head and thick, grey beard gives him some authority in the darkness of the Los Angeles streets. “Hi, I’m Pastor Will, and I want to make sure you know somebody loves you.”
“EVANGEL PACIFIC MINISTRIES” is emblazoned across the man’s chest, and Griffith hands the young man a folded card, stapled on the end that reads ROCK & THE RAINBOW OUTREACH on the cover. Inside the card is a short message from the street pastor and then a list of LGBT resources, homeless youth programs and free clinics. There is also a condom.
When Griffith spearheaded the condom distribution program, his critics came out in opposition. The Rock and the Rainbow Outreach raised eyebrows in and of itself. A ministry that serves LGBT homeless youth and doesn’t try to convert them or change their sexual identity? Condoms? Really?
Some church leaders, and even a member of his own board, stood in opposition. Griffith’s response was defiant.
“We are called to service and to love. God never made it our job to convert people or to change them. We are called to love and to serve in love.” And in an email to his board, he wrote “Man can not save man. Only Jesus Christ qualifies for that job.”
Since launching the LGBT homeless youth outreach, along with the condom distribution program, Evangel Pacific is seeing kids get it together. Some are now in recovery for alcohol and drugs, others now have jobs, and some are Rock and the Rainbow volunteers.
Griffith and his wife do not just hand out condoms and tell these LGBT kids that Jesus loves them. They get to know them and their circumstances. They eat with them and hang out with them. They even conduct “Sleep Ins” a few times a week and set up camp, sleeping on the streets in solidarity with them. The ministry helps them find placement programs, shelter and helps them build resumes and fill out job applications.
“With the numbers on the rise, and more and more youth thrown out of their homes because they’re LGBT, we can’t really measure the success of this program in numbers. I know it sounds like a cliche,” says Griffith, “but if we can salvage one life, then that is what we call a success.”
One of the things these kids remember most is that this street preacher gave them a condom and a card with help on it.
“The condom does several things,” Griffith explains. “It tells them we really do care about them. It tells them that we are outside the box of mainstream Christianity, and it reminds them to take care of themselves and to be responsible for their health.”
When accused of condoning their sexual promiscuity, Griffith just laughs. “I suppose I’m condoning homelessness too because I feed them every day. Give me a break.”
Pastor Will recounts the criticism of one of his board members when he launched the program. “There are plenty of places where they can get free condoms. This ministry does not have to do this. They can get a condom from anyone,” the board member argued.
“I suppose you’re right,” the pastor responded. “But they are getting this condom from Christ.”
As the outreach continues, Griffith and his wife, who is the associate pastor at Evangel Pacific, are focusing on establishing a small intentional community devoted to the 12 Marks of New Monasticism. The Oikos Community will be a small fellowship of new monastics who share resources and serve in the abandoned places of the city. Several of the members were on the streets a year ago. One is gay. Another is lesbian. Both just turned 18.
Griffith sees his calling to radical discipleship as an indictment against the church social order. He has taken extreme vows of poverty and chastity. Within the new community they’re forming, Griffith wears nothing but a dhoti and goes barefoot as a sign of his vow of poverty and servanthood, and leads prayer and meditation nightly.
“He has adopted this radical lifestyle to teach discipline and to lead by example,” says one of his members. “He doesn’t expect it from anyone else. He wants us to serve others and to take on the character of Christ.”
When Griffith answered the call to full-time street ministry, he told his wife to give away all of his suits, dress shirts and shoes. The couple then had a series of yard sales and funded the Rock and the Rainbow program with the proceeds. Now there are a variety of supporters each month.
Today the outreach is working to bring greater awareness to churches who have failed the mission of Christ, according to Griffith. He sees an erosion of church influence on society and attributes that to “self-righteous judgement and a total malpractice of the faith.”
Griffith is releasing his new book in April, “Meditations,” which will touch on his views of the contemporary church with several sections on LGBT issues. The full proceeds of the book will go directly into the Rock and the Rainbow program.
Evangel Pacific is now expanding the Rock and the Rainbow Outreach into Orange County in California.
MARK HART is a freelance writer focusing on LGBT homeless youth issues. A former drug addict and sex worker, Mark is working on a documentary film project on the topic of LGBT homeless youth called “Rainbow in the Night.”
Mark lives in Los Angeles with his partner, Kyle.
The Rock & the Rainbow
The Rock and the Rainbow is where the love and compassion of Jesus Christ (the ROCK of our salvation) meets the needs of the LGBT community (the Rainbow).
For far too long LGBT people have been alienated and polarized by the institutional Church simply for being who they are. This does not represent the commission of Jesus – to love our brothers and sisters as we love ourselves. This outreach focuses on bridging that gap with emphasis on LGBT youth left to fend for themselves through prostitution and a life on the streets.
There is a disproportionate number of LGBT youth in the commercially sexually-exploited population. This is attributed to the high levels of homelesness among LGBT youth.
46% of homeless LGBT youth report running away from home due to family rejection of their sexual orientation, and 17% ended up on the streets after they “aged out” of the foster care system.
48 hours after running away, 1 in every 3 homeless youth will be recruited by a trafficker into commercial sexual exploitation.
The Rock and the Rainbow is an outreach of Evangel Pacific Ministries, offering compassion, vital resources, and a network to get these young people off the streets and into a safe, productive environment.