Weldon, Cindy and I got a lot of good, challenging feedback once we sent the Open Letter to pastors, inviting them to sign. I appreciated the thoughtfulness and seriousness with which so many people responded to our invitation. And when we got feedback that disagreed with either what were saying or how we were saying it, we took it to heart. In the end, we kept on feeling the leading of the Spirit to continue on with the Letter. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t take the feedback seriously.
Perhaps the feedback that I wrestled with the most was from a pastor who heard in our letter a “non-acceptance” of people who disagreed with us. This pastor wrote to me:
“In my experience the biggest reason this stuff gets ugly has nothing to do with belief. It has to do with acceptance. The fundamental question on both sides is ‘can you accept me as a follower of Jesus with the best of intentions even if we don't agree?’ ‘Do you still accept me as I am if I'm gay or pro-gay?’ and ‘Do you still accept me as I am if I'm anti-gay?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then watch out, sparks fly.”
He went on to say:
“It does not mean we don't take a side. It means we learn to hold our position in a new way. We learn to practice daring humility. We hold our belief with deep conviction, as well as an open hand.”
The thing is, this pastor and I agree. I agree that we need to take a stand on justice issues. And I also agree that we need to do so in a nonviolent way – while still extending the hand of compassion and friendship to the person with whom we disagree. Never not accepting them. Never demeaning them. Never seeing them as something other than made “in the image of God” -- even if I believe that their inability to see LGBT people in the same image is wrong and hurtful.
Since we agreed, it bothered me that the pastor heard in our letter this “non-acceptance” (especially when others had heard us being very compassionate toward those with whom we disagreed.) I had to go back, after his feedback, and search my heart again and read the letter again. “Nope, I thought. “This was the best I could do. I spoke the truth that was laid on my heart as clearly as I could, and I did it with the most love of which I’m capable.” Some of the most beloved people in my life (hi, Mom!) disagree with me. When I wrote the letter, I tried to keep those people in my heart, as well as my beloved LGBT sisters and brothers.
The truth is, the written word can communicate only so much. As much as I try to be “true” in my word, I can’t control how people hear what I write. And I am fallible when it comes to the writing, too. That’s the risk of doing something like this Open Letter. But I felt something needed to be done, and the Spirit wouldn’t let me rest until I did something. History will need to judge if what we did was, in the end, helpful or not.
So, to everyone, no matter where you are in this: I am trying to see you in the image of God. I’ll never stop trying to see that image, even when it gets really obscured, for me, by other stuff. I’m doing the same for myself. “Do unto others…”