It has come to my attention that some people are upset that I am publishing these letters. There are people who feel hurt by what has been said here, especially those who may have been referenced more directly. I’m being accused of addressing conflict in an inappropriately public way (indirectly, through other people and on social media, as no one has personally contacted me – ironic, no?). So, I have a few answers about why this is a public project, and a suggestion for those who feel hurt when they read these letters.
The public nature of being LGBTQ+
If you are LGBTQ+, people discuss the most intimate aspects of your love and sex life, and whether you’re allowed to have one, publicly all the time. It’s discussed in front of you as though you’re not there. It’s discussed without your presence as though you have no reason to add anything to this conversation that is about you. People who admit that they’ve never knowingly interacted with an LGBTQ+ person make decisions about what is best for you and how to keep you from corrupting the church or society. You’re discussed as a uniform group, even though the issues faced by two gay men are often very different, to say nothing of the differences between a gay man and a trans* or genderqueer person, or an intersex person, or a bisexual person. And somehow it becomes even worse when you’re discussed as an individual. People thoughtlessly out you without regard for your safety or the dignity that lies in being able to tell your own story. They think it’s their right, because your sexual orientation or gender identity and decisions about how you enact them are treated as public property.
And yet, you are supposed to contain your pain to one-on-one interactions. You are required to remain polite, and to discuss the “issue of homosexuality” distantly, impersonally, with respect for the “differing point of view.” Never mind that this differing point of view classifies you as a grade of sinner so damaging to the church that you alone among all the sinners must be repeatedly vilified from pulpit and assembly floor, that you alone must be excluded from leadership and sometimes even membership in the church based on this one piece of your life. But please, at all cost, always be nice. Don’t demonstrate anger; that makes people uncomfortable. And absolutely under no circumstances are you ever to name names.
We do a whole lot of this polite, one-on-one dialogue, the kind that is acceptable, and often it is valuable and helpful. But sometimes the pain is collectively, publicly caused, and addressing one person about it is not sufficient or even appropriate. And frankly, ten years of bending over backward to be gracious and respectful has only resulted in increasingly vitriolic rhetoric and restrictive recommendations coming to General Synod. Sometimes there needs to be a place for public grief and anger. I have offered this forum as a way of expressing collective pain caused by a collective source.
Sometimes it’s not about you
Yes, these letters are addressed to the General Synod, but that doesn’t mean they are written to YOU PERSONALLY. So, you didn’t call LGBTQ+ people a cancer? Great! We’re not talking about you! (Although, maybe you could think for a minute about whether you should let comments like that pass in the future?)
We’re writing about specific events that happened at GS, but we’re also writing about systemic tendencies in the way issues of sexuality and gender are handled in the GS: the common use of outdated, offensive, and dehumanizing language, the my-way-or-the-highway approach, acting as though LGBTQ people are not present, etc. If these things don’t describe you, again, great! This isn’t about you.
On the other hand, if reading the expression of people’s pain makes you deeply defensive, perhaps it might be helpful to examine your behavior and see if these descriptions do in fact ring true. Because, well, maybe it is about you.
Sometimes it’s REALLY not about you
Listen, I didn’t actually create this project to piss you off. I created it to collect the thoughts and emotions of a group of people who are feeling deep pain, grief, and anger. It not primarily here to call you out. It’s here so we can see each other’s pain and know that we are not alone, that the whole of the church has not abandoned or rejected us. And it’s here for those people who aren’t surrounded by communities of support that know, love, and affirm them for who they are. It is a witness to the LGBTQ+ people who are ready to leave the church or end their own lives, that there are still those of us in the RCA who will stand with them.
I know that’s not the witness some of you wish was out in the world as part of your denomination, but I’m not super fond of your witness to the world sometimes, either. If nothing else, perhaps you could understand these letters as a suggestion that you’re doing a lot better at hating the sin than loving the sinner.
And for all of you out there who think you’ve never met a gay person, there are some voices here that I hope you can hear, and perhaps meet the people a bit through their words.
On the feelings of the privileged
I understand that some of you have feelings about the #WeAretheRCA letters. It seems your expectation is that we will hear your feelings, and respond by not upsetting you anymore. Here’s the thing about that…
In this situation, you have a ton of privilege.
I can hear you over there, thinking no, we’re all on an equal playing field. But ask yourself this:
- Do you get to participate in the decision-making process about how your church treats LGBTQ people?
- During these processes, do you get to talk about other people’s lives rather than your own?
- Can you count on being allowed to express your point of view?
- Are your inclinations and decisions regarding your own love and sex relationships seen as normal/normative by the vast majority of people?
I could go on, but hopefully you can see the point; none of these things are consistently true for LGBTQ people. And while your feeling of, “Oh no, someone thinks I’m a bigot!” might happen once, or once in a while, the rejection and dehumanization – and while we’re at it, murder – of LGBTQ people is constant and relentless. No one is going to shoot you for disagreeing with same-sex marriage, but LGBTQ people die all the time because anti-inclusive theology taken to its extreme leads to active desire to end the lives of LGBTQ people. So, you can feel what you feel, but I’m not going to put your feelings on the same level as the despair, rejection, and outright terror experienced by LGBTQ people. You are not the oppressed party here.
If you are a person who is genuinely trying to hold the tension of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” may I offer another suggestion? Before you get angry at me, or at the authors of these letters, before you get defensive or blame someone else for making you feel or look bad, can you take a moment and try to really hear what these letters are saying? Can you allow yourself to feel the pain in them, instead of just backing into your own pain?
Some of you might have seen this diagram from an article called “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing:”
Usually we use this for people who are in the midst of a trauma or tragedy: cancer, the death of a child or spouse, etc. Memo: people who are repeatedly, harshly rejected by their spiritual communities are experiencing trauma. The idea is, you don’t get to tell the people closer to the situation than you are how they are allowed to feel or behave. The primary afflicted person gets to grieve, period. They get to dump negative feelings outward. No negative feelings get to go inward, just support. The least amount of commentary should come from the “lookie loos” who are not directly involved at all. Dump out, comfort in. I’m going to just leave that there as a model for how to think about how we love people who are in pain, even when we think they’re wrong.
And seriously, people, stop telling each other that I’m violating Matthew 18.