It’s “Pride Month” in Chicago. A time of year where the LGBTQ community comes out in full force to celebrate life, love, and sexuality. This is a time of joy and liberation for many. But for Christians, this tends to be a time of year where we look on the activities of the LGBTQ community with fear or even disgust. Most Christians aren’t heading to Gay Pride festivals with “God Hates Fags” signs like Westboro Baptist Church, but many of us have a theology and a world view that essentially sees the activities surrounding LGBTQ Pride as fundamentally anti-Christian and blasphemous to God. To be fair, some of the activities are quite immoral from a Christian world view. The stereotypical strippers on poles and drunken mobs of half-naked men are disturbing for many people. But this type of celebration is not the whole story. It’s not even a large part of the LGBTQ lifestyle or community. But most of us don’t know that. For most of us, we don’t even care to know that.
My journey as an Evangelical Christian trying to understand LGBTQ issues has been, like for so many others, long and hard. I certainly have not figured everything out yet, nor do I think I ever will. For years I lived in fear of the gay community. I remember sitting in my High School Orientation as a fairly new Christian and watching a performance of my new schools “Color Guard” (basically, dancers with flags). The leader of the group was a gay teenager. As I watched him dance on the stage, I remember a knot forming in my stomach and whispering the words “God, save that guy. And help me never to be like that.” My view was that this young boy was very lost. In fact, I might even go as far to say that I practically viewed him as less than human. He was a “that” and not a “him” in my mind. I had never had a conversation or interaction with him but I was sure he was on his way to hell because no gay person could possibly go to heaven. Over the next eight years, I would go through some major paradigm shifts in the way I think about LGBTQ issues. I have sat across the table from many of my closest Christian friends who have “come out” to me. I have been on staff at a church that is LGBTQ affirming and has gay ministers. When the issue of homosexuality was sitting before me in flesh and blood, it became incredibly hard, if not impossible to simply condemn as demonic. Mainly because I knew many of these people. I saw their fruit. I saw their lives. Most of them had a much more vibrant faith than I ever could dream of. What could this mean? I have struggled to answer that question for years.
After all of this time struggling through this issue, there are only two things that I am absolutely sure about. First, that the love of God transcends all distinctions, sexual, racial, religious etc. Jesus stands opened armed to all people, calling them to himself just as they are. No qualifications. No requirements. Just pure, radical, unconditional love. And we are called to love all people, including the LGBTQ community in just the same way. Second, that we as the Church and I as a Christ follower have a lot to be sorry about. We all have done so much harm to the LGBTQ community. The Church of Jesus has been responsible for more suicides, more harassment, and more marginalization of the LGBTQ community than almost any other group in the world. And that is a crying shame. That is a travesty. That is truly sinful. How is it that the group of people who claim to follow the man who gave his life out of love for the most wicked and marginalized people have so much hatred, cause so much damage, and do it all in Jesus name? I don’t think that we will ever be able to answer that question. But something has to change. And it has to change today. This cannot continue to go on.
The reality of the harm that we have caused the LGBTQ community in Jesus name is not just a liberal myth. It’s not an opinion. It is an objective fact. And as a Christ follower, it shouldn’t matter what your theological or political views are on the LGBTQ issue- we must all have the humility and the open eyes to see and admit that we have caused great damage to thousands of men and women. And no matter what your theology or political perspective, that should cause your heart to break. That should strike you as sinful and wicked. And that should cause us to fall on our faces before our God in repentance. We all have played a part in this system one way or another. Whether it has been active participation or passive ignorance, we have all allowed the body of Christ to oppress and condemn a group of people who are created in the image of God and for whom Christ died. And that is the highest form of blasphemy possible. That, I believe, stirs both the wrath and the tears of God. But our repentance must not only be private and pious. We need to repent to the LGBTQ community- Each and every one of us. For we have shut the doors of the Kingdom of God in their faces. We have told them that God doesn’t love them and that they are broken mistakes. We have lied to them, devalued them, and excluded them. Every one of us needs to stand up and proclaim, “I’m Sorry.”
It’s this realization and conviction that has led me to participate in the “I’m Sorry” campaign with the Marin Foundation here in Chicago at the Gay Pride Festival next week. You may have heard of this event or seen the famous picture (above) of a group of Christians at the Chicago Pride Parade apologizing to the parade-goers for the harm that they have committed. It has been a powerful and healing experience for many. This year, for this first time, I want to step out with this group of Christians and let the LGBTQ community know just how sorry I truly am. Because I have caused and been a part of a group of people that has caused so many LGBTQ people harm. My participation isn’t a theological statement. It’s not a political statement. It’s simply a human statement. Many of us who are participating in the campaign are Evangelicals. Many are not LGBTQ affirming. But those things are irrelevant. Because this isn’t about our theology or political leanings. This is about real human beings whom we have caused great harm and who deserve our repentance, our embrace, and our love. This is about practicing what we preach. This is about following Jesus who, “though he was equal with God did not consider equality with God something to exploit, but he humbled himself, taking the form of a servant.” (Philippians 2) In the words of Michael Kimpan, “Christ aligned himself and stands in solidarity with broken humanity.” That is our example. That is our commission. We must humble ourselves, in love, and stand in solidarity with our beautiful LGBTQ brothers and sisters both as human beings and as dearly loved children of God.
But it must even go beyond the mere words, “I’m sorry”. This conviction must translate into action. No matter where we may stand theologically, we are still called to love everyone. In fact, we are told in the Bible that if we don’t love everyone then we don’t know God because God is love. (1 John 4:8) And the greatest image of love was demonstrated by Jesus Christ dying on the cross for people who despised him. He gave his life as a sacrifice out of unconditional love for humanity. And he calls each and every one of us to do the same. We must live our “I’m sorry” out tangibly to the LGBTQ community. They need to see a different side of the Church. They need to know that God loves them and that God’s people love them unconditionally. They need to know that they are welcome into the embrace of our God and into our communities. They need to see our sorrow as a reflection of God’s sorrow for the pain and evil they have endured as a community. And the reality is, many will not accept our repentance. For many, the damage has been done and it has been so severe that for now, forgiveness is not an option. But that’s okay. Those people deserve our love more than anyone else.
As Christians, we owe it to the LGBTQ community to repent in word and deed. We not only owe it to them, but it is our obligation as disciples of Jesus. Conservative or liberal, Catholic or Protestant, Democrat or Republican, the need to respond to the LGBTQ community remains the same. And it is my prayer that more and more people we be brought to a place of humility that enables them to set aside theology and ideology and see the human being standing in front of them. It will be in that moment that we will be able to love truly and freely. It will be in that moment that our repentance will flow. And it is in that divine moment that healing will begin.
Are you with me?
Grace and Peace-
Note of Credit: Many of these thoughts and ideas were given words by a number of people who attended The Marin Foundations Living In The Tension gathering on June 17th, 2012. The amount of honesty, acceptance, and love that I experienced there was amazing and I want to thank everyone who participated for sharing the thoughts that inspired this post.