I was in Starbucks today making small talk with another customer as we waited to order our coffee. The conversation was certainly cordial enough until she asked me what I do for a living. As I told her that I was a pastor, the expression on her face changed dramatically. It was clear that what I do for a living offended her.
The conversation hit an uncomfortable pause and I wasn’t sure what to say or do. So I asked her if she went to church. Not answering my question, she curtly responded, ‘Are you one of those gay-hating churches?’ You could just feel the anger coming from her as she awaited my response. ‘No, not at all.’ I said. ‘I know we have people with a wide variety of sexual identities coming to our church.’
The conversation paused again as I paid for my coffee and we walked to the door of the Starbucks. She looked at me and said, ‘I know you may say you don’t hate gays, but I just don’t understand how Christians can say that, and then allow gays to be bullied, mocked and made to feel like second rate humans. Even if you disagree with their lifestyle, they still deserve to be treated like human beings.’
She received a phone call and said she needed to take it, and our conversation was over before I had a chance to respond.
I have no context for this woman’s comments to me. But the anger and hurt that came out as we spoke was something that was all too familiar. It’s the anger and frustration you see in people who are tired of being tread on by the dominant culture. It’s the rage that comes out from feeling misunderstood and patronized – from feeling like you are less than human. I’ve seen it in the eyes of people who were mercilessly picked on in high school for being overweight or having a speech impediment. It’s something I’ve felt during my awkward years as a band geek in middle school. And it’s a look I’m seeing on many faces here in Asheville.
As I’ve been reflecting on my conversation today I am convicted that if we are going to find a way to move forward and transcend our current situation – and bring some healing for the hurt and anger that is infecting our community – we are going to need to be able to restart dialogue. But before we can come to the table, I know that there needs to be some acknowledgement of the wrongs that have been committed in the name of Jesus. I cannot apologize for following what I believe are the teachings of Scripture, but I can apologize for myself and on behalf of my Christian brothers and sisters for :
- allowing and sometimes participating in bullying behavior towards those whom identify as a member of the LGBTQ community. NOBODY deserves to be bullied or humiliated. Ashamedly, we’ve participated in and allowed these things to happen when we should have stopped it.
- using language that dehumanizes and humiliates homosexuals. Terms that are used to describe lifestyle choices have become pejorative terms and we’re sorry for using these terms in such a way.
- using our position of power and influence in our culture to enforce our beliefs upon you. We’ve used the law to avoid loving you properly.
- failing to properly understand you as individuals and choosing instead to use caricatures and stereotypes.
- allowing your sexuality to define who you are. Sexuality is a part of our lives, but it shouldn’t be the defining characteristic of any of us, straight or gay.
And last, but not least, I am sorry that we have chosen to spend so much of our time, energy and resources trying to change you, but have done very little trying to understand you. It’s not our responsibility to change anyone; it’s our responsibility to do our best to understand, to love without conditions, and to let Jesus do his work in you. Any meaningful change that has taken place in my own life has been done by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by the shame, guilt and manipulation of humans.
I know this simple apology doesn’t make everything better, but I say all of this in hopes that it might be a starting point for getting us to the discussion table again. I don’t know everyone who reads this, but I am hoping and praying that someone might read this from the LGBTQ community in Asheville, because I want to extend an invitation to a dialogue; a dialogue between people who would be willing to be a part of helping to restore some dialogue between the Christian and gay communities. Dialogue that is based on this one rule – we are there to seek understanding, not to try to convince or change anyone.
If you are interested, please email me at AlexJohnson@seacoast.org. My hope and prayer is that we can come together together to dialogue so that we can begin the process of healing these great wounds.