People murmured uncomfortably to each other, “What’s she doing here?”
“I don’t know!”
“I mean, she came out. As a Lesbian. She likes girls!”
Churchgoers between worship services continued to whisper behind their hands and awkwardly avoid eye contact.
You stood there in the middle of the crowded lobby, not moving. Looking at people’s faces one by one. We made eye contact for a brief moment, and then you looked away to the next person as I uncomfortably averted my gaze. I had nothing to offer you. We knew each other but hadn’t been close, and I did not have a grid for how to accept or even understand your presence there because I had been taught that what you were claiming as your identity was an immoral action and so I should pass judgment on it. I was to love you by hating your sin. I was young and impressionable and didn’t yet know that loving someone should not involve voting “yes” or “no” on them before being their friend. So when someone I’d attended youth events with and known moderately well “admitted” to being gay and then came and stared at us on a Sunday morning, I didn’t know that maybe what you needed was for us to look at you like you were still a person; maybe you wanted to know you were still worthy of being looked in the eye and cared about. Better yet, for someone to say, “I don’t know how this works yet because there’s a lot of cultural baggage around this, but I care about you enough to try to figure it out.”
God forgive me.
A few years later, I was home visiting from college when I saw in the church bulletin that the teaching in a couple of weeks was to be on homosexuality. A few years in the school of music and a few key friendships in which I cared about actual gay people having informed my thinking, I emailed the pastor and asked him to please keep three things in mind:
1. That while many Christians think of being gay as a choice or action, most gay people think of being gay as an issue of identity.
2. That when you say that being gay is wrong, you are telling someone that the way they understand their identity is wrong.
3. That even if being gay is a sin, like gluttony or pride, we don’t make people stop doing those other things as a prerequisite for deserving our respect.
I wasn’t home the weekend he gave the teaching, so I don’t know whether my words had any impact. But I want you to know that by that point I had begun to see that our church had mishandled something important by not looking you in the eye that day.
If I go back and think about the day you stood there, I hope that someone in that whole crowd of professed Jesus followers was willing to stop and really look at you. I hope someone, anyone, was able to see your coming and standing there for what it really was: an act of bravery. You came and you said, “this is who I am. This is who I understand myself to be. Do you still love me?” I feel deep shame as I write that knowing it wasn’t me. But wallowing doesn’t help either of us. Guilt is only useful if it propels us to do better because we know better. So I promise to continue learning how to really look at people. I will put away from me, as a doctrine of the Pharisees, the practice of passing judgment on people as though they are nothing but a collection of choices for me to weigh in on.
Congratulations, M. I hope that, wherever you are, the recent ruling from the Supreme Court regarding gay marriage affords you some measure of peace and validation. And I hope and pray you’ve found people who can love you well and see you for the precious child of God that you are.