At the end of 2012, the popular website Buzzfeed posted a list titled “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity.” (There really are some great pictures featured here, so if you haven’t seen it, or if you haven’t seen it for a while, I strongly urge you to take a look. I dare your soul not to be touched.) The #1 picture was of a group from the Marin Foundation, who visited the 2012 Chicago Gay Pride Parade, simply to say, “I’m Sorry.” They are sorry for the way gay people are often treated by churches. They are sorry for the rejection that many gay people feel in church. Many of them are even sorry that they themselves were once “Bible-banging homophobes.” And as you’ll see in the pictures provided, at least one of the parade participants received that apology with open arms.
Andrew Marin, for whom the Marin Foundation is named and by whom it was founded, has made it his life’s work to build bridges between the Evangelical Christian Church and the LGBT community. As inconceivable as that mission may seem, people like Andrew Marin–who is an Evangelical Christian himself–not only believe it is possible, but they believe it is imperative that everything possible be done to reconcile these two parties.
Now, as my friend Notapastor has pointed out to me, many from the LGBT community feel gestures like this are too little too late. After all the shunning and shaming and judging and condemning many have experienced at the hands of the Church, sorry just doesn’t cut it for them. Changes in statements of belief, changes in church policies, changes in the very fabric of evangelical church thought and practice would be more like it.
However, I do feel that saying I’m sorry–and the Church as a whole saying, “We’re sorry”–needs to be done, sincerely and boldly. In fact, I have much to say I’m sorry for.
I’ll start by saying I’m sorry for something that happened almost 10 years ago, something that still haunts me today. And in the posts that follow this one, I hope to document what happens as a result of saying I’m sorry. I hope to document bridges being restored where I had done them damage.
The scene: a performance studies classroom at California State University Los Angeles. My professor, an openly gay man, had shown much respect for me and my strong Evangelical Christian beliefs, though we had never spoken bluntly about our personal stances. He had asked me to create a performance based on David Roman’s book, “Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS.” After weeks of receiving the wrong counsel, and a miserable night of vomiting profusely, shaking violently, and praying ardently for some clear sign of what to do, I went against everything inside me. I went into that classroom and delivered a performance–it was more like a sermon than a creative piece–that deeply and obviously shocked and offended him and many other classmates. Some classmates tore into me as soon as I was finished; others waited until after class to tell me that they too were Christians, and that they were proud of me. (The latter left me feeling less than proud of myself.)
The gist of the performance I gave: It hurts me that men suffer and die from AIDS, but it wouldn’t have to be that way if they simply didn’t have sex with each other. And if they don’t stop, then the end is inevitable. I spoke with a lot of passion, and even my professor recognized the conviction with which I spoke, albeit misdirected. And at the end, after everyone had given their (mostly angry) feedback, he said, “Well, at least I know now what you really think.” And our relationship, which I felt had once been a very personally meaningful one, was never quite the same after that. Even though he offered me a hug on the last night of that term, I had very clearly hurt him.
He marked me down in my grade, because my performance did not reflect the purpose of the class: to present art that would lead everyone present to deeper understandings of one another, and even in the tension of sitting in possibly two very different viewpoints, to find common ground and transcend our differences. That’s my understanding today of what that class was about, and that is precisely what I did not do. I argued my grade at the time, but after hearing his personal story, which I will not divulge here, I knew that I had wounded him in a very deep place.
So, why say I’m sorry now? Because I have changed, and I see that what I did was wrong. I admit I am still figuring things out, and I feel the complexity of staying in the tension of building bridges between the Church and the LGBT community. In regards to the specific issue at hand, I can definitively say I do not believe that AIDS is what God wants for anyone, and I also believe that those in the Church should be among the first to be the loving hands and feet of Jesus–and not the wagging finger of the self-righteous– to those suffering from and dying of AIDS. And I’m sorry that I didn’t show this kind of compassion, this kind of empathy, even though I really wanted to, in that classroom almost 10 years ago.
And so I plan to write an email to my professor from CSULA. I’m nervous about it, and I’m not sure how it will be received. But maybe, as a friend reminded me yesterday, this may be more for my own benefit than it will be for his. I’m pretty sure he’ll remember me, and I don’t see him being indifferent as he reads it. But, unlike that old me, who prayed so earnestly on that night before the presentation, “Lord, let this cup pass from me,” I know unequivocally this is the right thing to do. Let’s see how it goes.
To be continued…