We haven’t spoken in a while. I see your posts on Facebook sometimes and it makes me smile to remember some of the things we did…remember falling asleep on top of our music history books and then hoping some of the information had seeped into our brains by osmosis? Sneaking out of aural training class because the thought of MacGamut was almost painful compared to the idea of Chipotle on the Oval….you were one of my favorite friends in college.
But there were other things going on, too. When you came out to me, I felt like you were sharing this very vulnerable, scary thing for you, and I didn’t have a clue how to handle it. There are a lot of things that I wish I’d said differently to you. The only thing I can say is that I was doing the best I could with what I knew. But still, I am so sorry, my friend.
When you told me, my first reaction was to look for someone else who had some experience dealing with this. I heard about an anonymous group of guys that met to talk about “that stuff” (I still don’t know what they actually talked about, but I asked around my local church without using any names for “a friend” and was told to suggest you seek them out, and like a good little soldier I passed along the message). When I told you, you said, “Yeah, R said his mom tried to send him to a group like that. It didn’t help him.” I honestly don’t know that I wanted them to “fix” you or “pray away the gay” or anything like that, but I knew I didn’t have anything wise or helpful to say. I was terrified that this thing I’d always been taught was wrong was happening to you. I’m saying it happened to you because I don’t think you chose it. But you were becoming one of Them.
Suddenly abstract positional statements like, “Homosexuality is wrong” had a very dear face associated and I kind of freaked out. What does this mean for me? How do I react to this? How do I love my friend after something like this?” It fills me with shame to admit that this was my reaction. Even now it brings me to tears to think about it. I wish I could go back and shake myself and say, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!! Your friend is going through something really hard and confusing and you’re worried that, what, you might have to take a stand against him? How selfish are you?”
Luckily those initial freak-outs were not the end of the story. The sweeping judgments were not able to stand up under the light of true friendship. I had a lot to learn (I still do) but I was clear enough to at least know that I would not stop being your friend because of this.
Then later (gulp), I invited you to my local church…you and K came one week because they had made an announcement: “Some College Preacher will be talking about Homosexuality. Bring a friend.” Well, this may help our conversation. Someone more qualified than me will address this issue. At the end of the meeting, K stood up and said, “I gotta get the HELL out of here.” I was shocked by that, as SCP had been outlining rhetoric I’d heard my entire life. Like a good little evangelical, I followed up with her the next day and she said a bit tersely (I don’t blame her), “Thank you for inviting me to your lecture.” I am sad about having put her in that position, but that conversation permanently altered the way I think about the Church, what it is, and what it is not. I am so grateful to her for that. But that’s another letter.
When you told me that you were researching what the Bible says about homosexuality, and that you thought the Bible was very clear, I agreed without really giving it much thought. I didn’t really dig into the words with you, because I assumed I already knew what they meant. I wish I hadn’t. Whether I reached the same conclusion as before or not, I should’ve looked into it more. I was afraid and selfish and I’m sorry.
Still, after all that, you stayed my friend. You even took me to my first gay bar…I have to say, it wasn’t the seedy den of iniquity I had expected. Not to perpetuate a stereotype, but it was super clean and people were generally very well dressed. And you know what? A girl can enjoy a drink and clever conversation without skeazy guys hitting on her. It was tremendous. But one thing you said to me then has really stuck with me. You said that I was better at being a Christian than you were. At the time, (knowing myself) I knew that was absurd, but I wasn’t sure what to say, so I said nothing. Maybe a little part of me was afraid it was true, in which case I knew a lot of people who I considered to be better at a lot of things than me so we would both be screwed. You were just reflecting back what the culture taught; that good christians aren’t gay.
If I could go back and change one thing, I think that moment would probably be it. Maybe this is the part where I’d shake you. Maybe I’d even laugh. “Have you met me? Sometimes I’m the worst. I’m definitely NOT better at being a Christian than you.” I’d say matter-of-factly. I wish I had been able to encourage you to just seek God and trust that God could take care of what you needed to know. Why did I feel like I needed to stand in between and make sure you matched up to my list of qualifications for relationship with the Maker of both of us? Why did I think it was necessary to decide what I thought about your life? You are my friend and I love you. I have to think that God is better able to sort out what you need a talking-to about than I am.
A couple of closing thoughts: Even if the Bible is as clear about condemning gayness as I believed growing up (before I knew any actual gay people), even if it is actually a sin, so what? What does it help to continually point it out and take a stance on it? There are a lot of other things roundly condemned in scripture. Where are the protest signs that read “God hates Gossips” or “Impatient people will BURNNNN”?
I have come to believe that the Bible was not meant to be a weapon against my neighbors, and I am sorry for the way I publicly participated in it being used as such against you. And so, with fear and trembling, I hope you will accept my public confession and apology.
I appreciate your thoughts very much. I’m pretty sure I was the one who gave that lecture that night. I’ve changed much since that night 10 years ago now. Perhaps you have as well. I don’t doubt your friends reaction to what I said, or your sincere wish you didn’t bring her. If I were to give that talk today, it would be different. I still have the manuscript, so I know exactly what I said. And even though this post isn’t about me, I wish there was a shred of recognition that nothing close to “God hates” was communicated that night. To lump me in with that crowd is painful as well. This is a difficult issue, and I desperately want to be on the side of grace, mercy and love. I wanted to be on that side in 2003 when I gave the lecture. I still want it today. May we all continue to grow in grace, mercy and love.
Joel! It’s good to “hear your voice” again. Yes, thank God, I too have changed a great deal in the past 10 years. I can see how a lack of presenting what you intended can imply something other than a loving intention, and I am sorry for that. I didn’t speak here to what you meant when you spoke because honestly, I don’t remember much of what you actually said that night, only their reactions to it. That’s the main reason I left that part vague. I am pleased to hear what you think about it, and curious as to what would be different about that talk now (my own thoughts on this topic are obviously in progress). There is much to be said about how attempts at reconciliation often fail because people on either side are unable to hear what the others mean and interpret what is being said based on past hurts and even different definitions of the same terms; that is a different blog post. Thinking back I can certainly vouch for your intention to speak truth in love and I’m sorry if I seemed to impugn that in any way.
It’s all good, Kate. I appreciate your response very much. Your words are well chosen here: “There is much to be said about how attempts at reconciliation often fail because people on either side are unable to hear what the others mean and interpret what is being said based on past hurts and even different definitions of the same terms.” Yes…yes.
How have I changed? Well, I’ve had several relationships that have altered the way I look at things. It’s easy to think you understand people until you really get to know them and find it’s far more complicated and beautiful than you imagined.
The biggest thing I’m trying to do these days is just listen more, both to the people who have come into my life, as well as listening to written accounts of people’s experience. I just finished Love is an Orientation, Washed and Waiting and Bishop Robinson’s new book, God Believes in Love. I also have Torn by Justin Lee on my shelf and am looking forward to reading it. I need more listening and less talking.
Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but
after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say wonderful blog!