The following post is from Michael “Fish” Van Huis, interning with us this summer at The Marin Foundation. Michael is majoring in Christian Ministry at Abilene Christian University where he also founded Voice, an unofficial LGBT and allies group at ACU. You can check out his blog at http://livinginboystown.tumblr.com/.
[This is part two of my “I’m Sorry” reflection. Read part one on my blog here.]
Last week I published a post-pride reflection, specifically pertaining to what I was (and still am) actually sorry for in my past interactions with the broader LGBT community. After writing such an apology, I was left with a haunting question.
“Okay. So I’m sorry. Now what?”
This annoying interrogative led me to think about the general effectiveness of the “I’m Sorry” campaign as a whole, which brought me to this conclusion: If the Christian community is going to publicly apologize to the LGBT community with such enthused zeal, they must understand the inherent commitment that entails, because repentance is always infused with change.
But before I begin to elaborate, let me start by affirming the “I’m Sorry” campaign’s validity.
I believe participating in the “I’m Sorry” campaign is one of the very few tangible models that pragmatically expresses the praxis of “living in the world but not of it.” Christian communities have more or less tended to overemphasize verses like Romans 12:2 (“Do not conform to the pattern of this world…”), implying that the only way to avoid secular conformity is through complete secular separation. Although I understand the sentiment, this trajectory toward separation has been more detrimental than beneficial.
Rick Atchley (preacher of The Hills) says, “We have created Christian ghettos. We have Christian radio stations, Christian bookstores, and Christian fitness programs; we even have Christian cruises! We don’t want our song to be blended in the melody of the culture, but if we run and hide, the culture can’t even hear our song.” Due to this move toward complete seclusion, Christians have subsequently lost their voice almost entirely. Instead we have sounded much more like a “resounding gong and clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). Therefore participating in the “I’m Sorry” campaign provides an opportunity for the Christian voice to be heard in its original form, love. And when love is actualized, when love is heard, something really beautiful takes place. When Christians are intentional with love by seeking relationships outside their Christian ghettos, with those “outside the city gates,” the Kingdom of God comes (Heb 13:11-14). Needless to say, I believe that the “I’m Sorry campaign” is crucial for Christian involvement.
Yet on the other hand, I think there are some aspects to seriously think through before one attends an “I’m Sorry” campaign. While much of the following is based on my personal reflection, I think this is really important for all to consider.
As I mentioned in my first post, I was a little too excited about participating in this event due to the national publicity it had received in the past. Yet when I began to actually think about the weight of the words, “I’m sorry,” I had to seriously consider whether or not these words were genuine. For example:
If you were to look at even my recent history of apologies, you would notice that those statements were almost always devoid of any actual change in behavior. Instead, my apologies were utilized as power plays, a method of manipulation, which sought to quickly fix what was injured instead of seeking a self-reflection conducive to understanding where I was actually at fault and what I actually needed to fix. In other words, my previous statements of apology weren’t really apologies at all, because a genuine apology always follows with a genuine change in behavior.
As I continue to think about those two simple words, I can’t help but notice an inherent commitment that is deeply rooted within them, whether or not the offender recognizes it. At least for me, I have been brought to a point where I really need to be cautious in my apologies because those are serious words that involve a serious change. When I reflect on my minimal experience as a preacher, I recognize how swift I am to publically announce my depravity, almost to a degree of boastfulness, in order to assure the audience God’s grace is for all. But if I fail to proclaim how my apology has pushed me to becoming more like Jesus, then is a message of repentance really worth preaching?
My apology to the LGBT community, then, means I am committing myself to become a better human being to LGBT folks. An apology means I am committing myself to cease the previous actions that have caused hurt and pain. An apology means I am committing myself to silence the violent words that have been carelessly spewed out from my lips, ending all pejorative language that marginalizes the LGBT community. An apology means I am also committing myself to speak out, to be a voice for the voiceless, when silence is oppressive to the LGBT community. An apology also means I am committing myself to be more sensitive to the LGBT individual, even if I can’t fully understand where the LGBT individual is coming from.
What matters is that whenever I hurt another human being, I am not living out the gospel Jesus preached. And if Jesus is to be believed, “the gospel will never lead one to hurt, oppress, or marginalize any groups of people.” (Randy Harris) Instead, the gospel’s call is the direct opposite of oppression. The gospel’s call is about sacrifice. The gospel’s call is ultimately about laying my life down for someone else (Mark 8:34), which in turn means that the gospel’s call is rooted in unrelenting, indiscriminate, sacrificial love.
“Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations —
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.”
(-Isaiah 1:13-17, NIV, emphasis mine)