The following post is by Melinda Guerra, a volunteer at The Marin Foundation.
A year ago, I was sitting at camp, looking into potential places to volunteer when I got back to the city. I had just finished reading Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin, and he was a local… so I figured I could start there.
One part of this involvement was attending the Pride Parade together with other people affiliated with the ministry, and we donned black shirts for the (extremely hot) day… shirts that proclaimed “I’m Sorry.” The idea was to use the shirts as a conversation starter (Which oh, they were), apologizing to the LGBT community for the way the church has treated them… to apologize for Christians who shout hate and judgment at them. It was a good day, the kind after which I go home and feel like I have just been able to catch a glimpse of what heaven looked like, and feel strangely fulfilled.
But I love that shirt.
And I haven’t quite stopped wearing it.
One day when I was wearing the shirt, my aunt (who has been an out lesbian for as long as I can remember) asked me what I was sorry for. We were hanging out with a few other family members, telling jokes and making cracks on each other over lunch. I looked at her and said I was sorry for the way the church has often shoved the LGBT community outside of our doors, rather than welcoming them in. And sorry for the pain that has caused. And sorry that not enough people looked into her eyes and said they loved her and that God loved her and that she shouldn’t have to be afraid of being hurt by the people who love Jesus.
She started crying.
There, in the middle of the restaurant, my aunt (we say we’re each other’s favorites, but we’re not allowed to tell anyone else) was broken because of a t-shirt I was wearing, and it opened the door for a question she’d never before asked me:
Have you ever been ashamed of me?
And out came the story… the reason she never came to the parties I invited her to… the services i invited her to… my graduation… hanging out with my friends… All this time, she had known about my faith and thought, at some place deep inside, that even though we had a blast when we were hanging out together, that something would change if I took her around my friends… that I would find a reason to be ashamed of being seen with her.
That knocked the wind clear out of me.
For as much as I loved my aunt… For as much as I invited her to every special event in my life… For as much as I envied her ability to be exactly who she is and never give it a second thought… For as much as I found unconditional acceptance in her arms… She wondered if I would feel those same things in my communities of friends, seeing as how they were largely Christian and Christians happened to be the people who judged and shoved her around the most.
I looked at her and told her that on the contrary, that it had been my relationship with her that has made me vocal in those same communities about the way Christians treat the LGBT community, and has made me want to work with Andrew as he figures out how to elevate the conversation between LGBT communities and the church. Because she matters and because she’s taught me to see that every single person matters. And if they won’t matter to the world at large, they’ll matter to me.
That conversation cemented a lot of things in me. It confirmed that I was right to find Marin’s community of friends and walk with them through this process. It confirmed I was right to see that vulnerability is often not as far beneath the surface as we might be prone to believe. And it convicted me… for as much as I have been supportive and loving and understanding toward my aunt, I’d never looked her in the eyes and assured her that I love her completely, and could never, ever be ashamed of her.
I think I’m going to seize the moments to make those statements more often.