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"But they're the majority!" Maria says. She's fond of Pott, but tired of this argument. "They are the white-male majority. You can't be oppressed as a Christian white male. Christians are responsible for so much queer oppression. They have to account for that."
"I can totally relate to them not liking Christianity," Marcus Hyde says of the secular anarchists. Hyde is a regular fixture at Scum of the Earth, volunteering at the weekly bicycle workshop and services. Accepted by the secular punk community, Hyde lives at the L7 collective. Raised in a conservative Christian family in Colorado Springs, he rejected Christianity as a teenager; in a moment of desperation, his parents pleaded with him not to give up on church, and to "just go to the weird church." They were referring to Scum, of course. In time, Hyde expanded his view of Christianity, tapping into that same radical message of peace and tolerance that Jesus spoke of and eventually realizing that "if more Christians read the Bible, they wouldn't be such assholes," he says.
At one time, the residents of L7 were evenly divided between atheists and members of Scum. "They never tried to push anything on us. They're not preachy," Maria remembers. "They're our friends." Like Scum, L7 encourages debate within the community — but last fall, when some of the Scum roommates wanted to turn L7 into a literal monastery, the debate got heated. "Some people felt weird about it," Maria says, "like they were being pushed out. They definitely didn't want to live in a monastery."
Most of the Scum members wound up moving out; only Hyde stayed. He says he often gets questioned regarding his beliefs by others who live at L7, many of them wanting to know where he stands on the issues that concern them. "Christianity has been used to promote homophobia, bipartisan politics, patriarchy — all of the things that I don't identify with," he says. "They ask me what I believe, and my answers are pretty simple: I believe in a living God and his love."
L7 hosts the Wednesday afternoon Food Not Bombs, and often will donate leftover food to Scum for the free Sunday night meals. "We have a good relationship on a personal level," Dylan says. "When we go over there, there's smiles and we hang out and we're nice to each other — and the same when they come over here. But there's still that tension."
Israel Rose Oka has a unique perspective on Scum.
He currently lives in Villa Ville Kulla, one of the oldest punk houses in the neighborhood, and for the past few years has been self-employed as an escort. "It's no different than any other job," he says, pointing out that being a sex worker provides a consensual service that doesn't exploit anyone. Like many in his community, he identifies not as "gay," but as "queer" — which suggests a more fluid sexuality that is not conforming to gender or monogamy. Israel works to defend the rights of sex workers, he says, as well as a more universal understanding of the complexities of his generation's approach to sexual identity.
At one point, though, he was a Christian youth pastor who attended Scum services.
Oka was raised as a fierce evangelical, and at age fifteen began going to Scum when it was still at the Church in the City location. He made friends there and firmly established himself in the Scum community. At eighteen, he began work as a youth leader in Young Life Ministries — the same organization that led a teenage Mike Sares to Christianity. But then he began noticing that his sexual instincts were not aligned with those around him.
After some reflection, Oka decided to come out to his friends at Scum, attempting to explain that he was queer. "They disagreed with me," he remembers. "They said, 'We don't think that you are gay.' A lot of them stopped talking to me." Ultimately, he dropped out of the church.
Years later, Oka says he's not bitter about his past as a Christian, though he does have his criticisms of Scum. "Their whole 'love the sinner, hate the sin' attitude is kind of bullshit," he says. "Because to love someone, you have to accept them for who they are. It's not my place to judge how people want to live their lives. Just don't tell me how to live mine."
Members of Scum know that their positions on issues of sexuality and abortion are not popular in the neighborhood, but they insist they're not telling anyone how to run their lives. Their goal was never to push their ideals on anyone — or condemn anyone to hell who doesn't agree with them. Instead, the goal has been to create an environment of thoughtful debate and welcoming fellowship. "Some people get to a point in their belief where they decide 'What I know is exactly right, and I'm going to make everyone else believe it,'" says Reese Roper. "Or you get to the point where you get further into Christianity and you accept the idea that 'I don't really know much. I can't tell you anything definite except that Jesus is real and he loves me and he changed my life.' When you get to that point, you just drop all those evangelical pretenses." Five Iron Frenzy broke up in 2003, and Roper ultimately resigned as co-pastor of Scum of the Earth. But he often returns as a guest preacher and is proud of the church he helped build, a place where weird-looking young people can worship God in their own way and not be hassled to cut their hair and lose the nose ring.