It's been nearly 4 months since we finished our Equality Ride journey, and I still haven't finished writing about the stops. Oops! For more detailed summaries of those stops than I'm about to do here, my fellow riders did amazing jobs of covering Stop 13 (Southwest Baptist University in Boliver, MO), Stop 14 (Bethel College in Mishawaka, IN), Stop 15 (Union College in Lincoln, NE), and Stop 16 (Malone University in Canton, OH) on the official Soulforce blog.
Well okay, sadly not the last stop. We obviously got pretty exhausted at the end there and, admittedly, parts of it have begun to blur together in my mind. Was Union last or was it Malone? Where did that one crazy panel happen? What about that McDonald's that gave [name protected] diarrhea?
One of my reasons for blogging about all of this was so that I could remember it all clearly later. But after a few months of introspection and heavy processing, I've realized (of course) that those details were never the important part. What stuck with me were the moments of clarity, confrontation, and grace.
One such moment I already wrote about (again on the Soulforce blog), when a fellow rider showed me what it really means to lay down your shield and defeat your fear. Her name is Amanda Lee and she could actually use your help right now.
While on a panel at the end of the stop at Southwest Baptist University, we were getting into that sort of classic issue of "I do care about LGBTQ people, so what can I do to help without changing my views about the Bible." This is seemingly well-meaning enough and might strike some as a decent foot forward. But ultimately what it feels like to me is asking what you can do for the cancer patient short of actually treating them for cancer. The root of the suffering has been acknowledged, yet the person capable of alleviating it refuses to act - it's too late, it's too hard, it's too costly, it just can't be done.
Now, this is obviously a pretty extreme comparison, and while I am occasionally prone to hyperbole (who me?), I do try to measure my words fairly and thoughtfully. But try as I might, it's one I keep coming back to, and remember that I've been mulling this over for 4 months now.
But I'm jumping ahead a little bit. Let me get back to the panel and show a little bit more of what led me here:
That line of discussion led inevitably toward just what those views on the Bible were, and then to how I felt about people that hold them. A professor on the panel asked me, "You ask us to open yourselves up, but would you really let someone like me be your friend?"
My answer in the moment was as honest as I could muster: "I would be happy to interact with you, to work with you, to have discussions with you in a friendly way. But to truly be friends? To allow you, invite you even, into the intimate and crucial moments in my life? What if I break up with a boyfriend and am in deep mourning over the relationship - will I call you first or at all, knowing that a part of you will be celebrating? Probably not, no."
The irony, the hypocrisy, did not escape me. I had come to the school asking for people to open their hearts to not just what I had to say but also to who I was, and I had just admitted I could not do the same for them. I was not wrong in my analysis, which then and now made me feel all the more trapped in its inevitability and frustrated by my limitations.
Still, I would hope to answer differently now, having had 4 months to think about it. (Ain't that always when the best comebacks come to you?) Now, I would hope to say:
"Let me reframe that question for you so as to make this as clear as possible what you're asking of me. To do that, we have to start with sin. God never calls something sin just for the heck of it, just to stoke his ego and watch us flitter around trying to live up to arbitrary rules. No, if God tells us something is sin and to stay away from it, it's because it's harmful to one of three things: our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with other people, or our relationship with God. Sin as illustrated in the Bible is always, always harmful to relationships. So when you tell me that you see my identity as a gay person as sinful, you want me to be able to take it as just a matter of differing opinions. But what you're really saying is that this beautiful, intricate part of myself, a part of me I have fought to understand and accept and celebrate, the part that is built specifically to forge intimate relationships with other people - you're saying that part of me is, in fact, harmful to myself and those around me. Not just wrong in some abstract way, but that who I am is actively harmful to the people around me who I'm trying to love. And then you ask if we can be friends, to be invited to witness the triumphs and failures of my life.
"Well, let me ask you instead: what if I told you I believed your identity as a Bible-believing Christian was sinful? I'm not saying I do believe this, but let's make the comparison clear, since you keep saying your Biblical beliefs form the most essential part of your personal identity. Let's say that I told you I believed that your identity was sinful, and that what I meant by that was that this system you hold as precious and intimate, to which you have devoted years of study and devotion, and which is intended to bring you closer to God and enhance your relationships with yourself and other people - what if I told you that I believed that all of that was instead actively harmful. That your belief in the Bible as it stands and your practice of your faith in its current form is not just something I academically can't see eye-to-eye with but which I really, truly believe is destructive to yourself, to those who matter most to you (and many other besides), and most of all offensive to the God you're attempting to worship. If I told you all that, would you truly want to be my friend? Would you be able to?
"Because that's exactly what you're asking of me."
Now, that's a lot to say on the spot on stage in front of hundreds of people, so I'll forgive myself for not laying it out so thoroughly or thinking so clearly in the moment. But if I had my druthers, that's what I would say if it happened again (and in fact it has). And I would really be interested to hear her answer.
There's two reasons what I would want to frame it that way, and not answer the question the way I did the first time around:
1. People ask questions of others all the time that they are not willing to ask of themselves. Christians asking gays to be their friends and put up with a constant subtext of judgment is one of them. LGBTQ folks asking Christians to just accept us already without first accepting them is absolutely another. For everybody, it's important to have those questions turned around on us.
2. My response, though honest, was indeed rooted in fear - my fear, well-founded and well-rooted, of being judged and rejected yet again. I wish that instead I had rooted it in hope, in love. Because if sin is what pulls us apart from ourselves, each other, and God, then love is what brings us together. And love is never one way - for it to be real, and valuable, it must go both ways and involve genuine sacrifice and genuine transformation. I did not demonstrate real sacrifice in my turning away from her, and I did not allow myself to be transformed, nor ultimately allow her the opportunity to herself be transformed.
I guess I would hope that I could answer with one more thing then, when asked if we could be friends:
"I'm willing to try, if you are."
I am the cancer and you are the cancer. I am the cure and you are the cure. Ah, relationships. Ah, Love. Ah, God. Amen.
Next: a surprising redemption song.