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Posts Tagged ‘Integrity’

Yesterday I wrote about the wonderful experiences I had at Wild Goose–the good stuff. It was so good in so many ways, but I arrived troubled and even in the midst of all the “good stuff” I wrestled with difficult feelings during the Festival.
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In the four months of preparation leading up to the Wild Goose Festival I mostly felt anger. Inside me I carried a tightly wound rubbery ball of emotions–anger, bitterness, cynicism. These feelings lived with me as presently as our two cats on bad days, Wally and Emma, demanding our attention and reminding us of their existence, shedding their fur on the furniture and vomiting up the dinner after adamantly pestering Glen and me to feed them. I could not shake off the strong feelings that nudged and clawed at me.

The Wild Goose Festival and the staff organizing the event did not provoke these feelings and the daily nagging I felt. In fact, I was thrilled to have been invited well over a year before the event took place. I looked forward to seeing friends and to presenting in front of lots of people who did not yet know my work. Still it was the preparation for this event that stirred up the strong feelings.

Growing in me was a quiet steady rage towards public Christian leaders and how they have dealt with “the gay issue.” I felt deeply troubled by how they had responded to the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people (LGBTQ.)

Now I am not talking about the outright homophobes who strategize and lobby against, picket, and shun LGBTQ people and our supporters. I am not talking about the people who promote or provide treatments or ministries designed to annihilate our orientation or gender identity/expression. No doubt I have strong feelings about the actions of these people, their relentless slander towards LGBTQ people and their commitment to treat us less than human. But these were not the people who inspired the mess of emotions that caused my throat to constrict when I began to talk about their actions and my neck and upper back to tense up when I read stories on-line.

It was NOT the outright opponent to LGBTQ inclusion and rights who was getting under my skin. Rather it was my own friends, the people who told me they were on “my team” who provoked me. These are the people–pastors of churches, theologians, public speakers, Christian leaders, the new movers and shakers of the emerging church, who privately assured me that they have no trouble with LGBTQ people. They are privately on-board with marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. But publicly their stance is not nearly as clear and firm. Publicly they communicate that they are not yet sure, they are still working it out, or “it’s really not my issue.” Some perform a position of being still confused about the issue. Some may genuinely be confused and not 100% on-board. And along with them are many more like them who I do know not personally not but I suspect hold back on their public support of LGBTQ people. As my friend Brian Gerald Murphy said to me, “For some of these people it’s that they’ve never made thinking about LGBT concerns a priority, if they did, they would quickly realize it’s OK to be gay (because they are smart and rational.)”

Coming from a Conservative Evangelical tradition, I do understand the dilemma these friends of mine and leaders like them face. These folks work in a religious political system that will punish them, shun them, remove them, deny financial support, dissolve their book contracts, and drive them into the wilderness if they pronounce any clear positive support for full equality and inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church and society. They work in a highly charged world that strictly monitors dissent.

As I have raised questions, they and their supporters offer explanations for the incongruity between private and public stances regarding LGBTQ issues. They explain that the cost is too high. They explain that they are getting into places that I, as a gay man, could not get into. They explain that in their own way they are moving the conversation along. They say they are waiting for the ideal moment to reveal their support. They say they are working within the system to reform it. They say that the opportunity to address other social justice issues will be compromised if they come out in support of LGBTQ people. They say they are building bridges. They say, “I really wish I could do more.”

And in some ways they may be right. They move in and out of a highly charged world where they feel compelled to be strategic–wise as serpents and gentle as doves. The group Sojourners, a sponsor of the Wild Goose Festival, has employed such a strategy for over 30 years. I can see how it may have made sense then and even five years ago.

But times are changing quickly. Public opinion towards LGBTQ people and issues have shifted dramatically, and the new generation coming up are vastly different from their parents on this issue. Also, the Church has had the opportunity to hear and see many many LGBTQ Christians living their lives openly, and serving powerfully. We have come out. We have engaged with our pastors and friends in person and on Facebook. They have witnessed the undeniable fruits of the Spirit in our lives, and they better understand the horrible consequences of homophobia, transphobia, and sexism as a result of our testimonies. Some outright deny us the right to exist freely in the world and Church, but the strident homophobic voices are quickly becoming the extreme and decidedly on the wrong side of history.

My anger grew and expanded as the time approached for Wild Goose. I experienced feelings of injustice springing up between Christian leaders and me–the ones who privately believe one thing (or say they do) yet publicly hide this belief. And in my anger I think I may have recognized something in their actions, something long familiar to me.

As a gay man I have known fear. It ruled me, paralyzed me, kept me inauthentic and self-hating for years. I felt that I would be more valuable to the world if I presented as a heterosexual and a gender-normative “masculine” man. I feared the rejection of others, the loss of privilege, the change that would come crashing in on me and the ministry I wanted so badly in the church I loved. So I lived bound and gagged. We called it “The Closet” back then, a miserable soul-sucking place that hungrily lured us to deposit secrets, integrity, and freedom in exchange for acceptance.

In speaking with my partner, Glen Retief, about these feelings welling up in me, choking me as we drove to Wild Goose, I explained, “I feel upset about the lack of integrity that some of these leaders have. How long can they live with this conflict in their integrity?” At last I gasped, “It’s unfair.”

And we arrived, and I felt more angry than when we left home. I felt concerned about my presentation two days later, worried that I would just stand there and rant and call people names and meltdown. Yet I could not deny the feelings. As a Quaker, I have learned to be still, to hold things up to the Light without grasping or dismissing. I recognized that I could not ignore my feelings or judge them. I needed to simply let them be as I entered the grounds, attended the talks, listened to others even as I felt an ache within me and deep distrust. Still I wanted to be clear, not of the anger, but clear and cool in my mind about the issues and most importantly about what I needed to say when it came my time to speak.

{Tomorrow I will post some of what I shared from the stage at Wild Goose, this “thing” that has been growing inside of me.}

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