I can’t believe it is July 5th. In fact, I have no idea where the month of June went. It feels like forever since I’ve written a blog post.
I wasn’t able to go to the Toronto Pride parade this year because I was away camping with about 90 people from my church. A couple of years ago I went with a small group of volunteers who cleaned up after the vendors and blogged about it here. Last year, we were busy with the synchroblog. This year I co-hosted ‘gay-day’ on the Drew Marshall show at the beginning of Pride week, which you can now listen to here.
I returned home from camp with a really bad sunburn and a bunch of blogs to read about the Marin Foundation’s “I’m Sorry” Campaign at Chicago Pride. A friend had facebooked me the link to this blog from the perspective of a Marin staff person. A number of folks connected with the Marin Foundation held signs at the parade that said,
'I’m sorry that Christians judge you'
'I’m sorry the way churches have treated you'
'I used to be a bible-banging homophobe, sorry’
As I scanned the comments, I was grateful but a bit surprised to see the generally positive and thankful comments. My surprise came from my past experience with these kinds of apology campaigns – on various issues not just homosexuality – that never seemed to live up to the good intentions that launched them. Now having met and talked with Andrew Marin, I don’t doubt the genuineness of the motives behind this campaign and also know that the ongoing work of the Marin Foundation is much more than a one shot deal at a big event. I know that Andrew has lived in Boystown for years, building relationships and serving in the best ways he knows how. At the same time, I wonder if an apology campaign can end up stoking the fires of cynicism and polarization. That’s why I was somewhat surprised but also grateful to hear of so many gay people who seemed genuinely touched by this initiative. I would have thought that gay people would potentially view this as superficial and insufficient – because I think to many people an apology isn’t so hard to offer ….. but demonstrating repentance (a rethinking and change in behaviour) is a whole other ballgame. As I continued to read, however, I did encounter the challenge and critique of this effort in these three blogs.
As I read these critiques I was reminded yet again that bridge-building is very complex between two diverse communities. The gay community is not monolithic, neither is the Christian community or the gay Christian community. Bridge-building efforts on matters of sexuality where there are diverse perspectives within a faith context are challenging. And bridge-building efforts between people of Christian faith and those with an atheist or agnostic position are challenging. But bridge-building efforts on matters of sexuality where there are very different positions on the appropriateness of faith and religion muddies the waters even further. When you add emotion and experience to the mix in the context of pseudo-online anonymity, it can be so difficult to have a learning and growing experience together.
Where a person of faith who is seeking to both relate to gay people and be a transforming presence within the Christian community can feel torn, trying to balance what is loving to each of these distinct groups, someone within one of those groups can expect and even demand black and white clarity. In my experience, such clarity is a false security that can shirk the hard work of peace-making and presses for a controlling uniformity …. whether that be the earnest, yet proselytizing, Christian speaking their truth that homosexuality is a sin OR the gay atheist who asserts that religion is oppressive and nothing but complete political support for civil rights for the glbtqi community is acceptable.
Though his context was completely different, these words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer strike a chord for me: “There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture, and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God's commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”
As I think of this quote, in the context of building bridges where sexuality, faith, and atheism intersect, I am reminded that it is the follower of Christ who is called to lay down their life, to lay the destiny of another in the hand of Almighty God, to let go of control.
I think the apologies communicated by the Marin Foundation were an attempt to do these things.
But beyond the big event, the public initiative, how do passionate followers of Jesus really live out the desire for a self-sacrificing reconciliation with those who believe and practice differently?
When an organization, such as New Direction, is unashamedly Christ-centered yet trying to build bridges across the diversity of perspectives around faith and sexuality it is helpful to remind ourselves that:
- there are things we can learn from those we disagree with, including atheists, if we take the time to listen and embody a posture of humility
- building bridges needs to avoid proselytizing – while recognizing that we will encounter those who do want to proselytize and have no interest in bridge building and how we respond to proselytizers, regardless of their perspective, is an opportunity to embody values of bridge-building: extending respect, listening and responding with grace
- our attempts at dialogue will be enhanced the more quickly we recognize and acknowledge other people’s worldviews and starting points
- demonstrating our willingness to rethink and change our assumptions, attitudes and behaviours in our everyday interactions is the daily work of bridge-building
- evidence of the Kingdom is the breaking of barriers that keep people alienated and on the margins
So, my prayer post-Pride is that followers of Jesus will recommit themselves to living out these realities of bridge-building in the quiet conversations and sharing of gifts and acts of service and authentic friendships with ALL their neighbours.