Thursday, June 20, 2013

Exodus International and the Nature of Forgiveness

(So far, the feedback from yesterday's post ("10 Things Pastors Need to Hear from Their Congregations") has been fantastic.  I truly did not expect the reception that post has received, and that has also indicated to me that this is definitely a conversation we are all in need of having.  I'll be out of town tomorrow and Saturday for my college reunion, but I'll have a follow-up post up next week. -E.A.)

As many of y'all know by now, yesterday the conservative Christian organization Exodus International--famous and infamous for its role in pioneering so-called "reparative therapy" (aka "pray away the gay") for gay and lesbian Christians--announced that its board had voted unanimously to permanently close its doors.

Immediate reactions from my friends and colleagues on social media was both swift and diverse: while many applauded this step that Exodus has taken--and the powerful apology from its President, Alan Chambers, that accompanied it--I also had a significant number of friends who expressed the sentiment, in so many words, that "saying sorry isn't enough" in this case.

(Full disclosure: I self-identify as a straight ally, and I believe very strongly in the church as a safe place for gay and lesbian siblings in Christ to come out and be affirmed for who they are.)

The nature of forgiveness is tricky because while it is clear that I should forgive someone for wrongs done to me (indeed, Christ commands as such), the question of forgiving someone for wrongs done to others is far murkier.

Honestly, I don't think it is my place to forgive Exodus on behalf of my openly gay friends who at a point in their lives went to Exodus for reparative therapy.

It goes wider than that as well, for it is probably not my place to forgive the wider church on behalf of my openly gay friends who have been so wounded by the church that they have never returned--nor do they (understandably) have any desire to.

At seminary, I had openly gay classmates whom I humbly would consider to be fantastically qualified to serve the body of Christ as ordained pastors, but who would face uphill-to-impassable resistance from their denominations and governing bodies simply because of their sexual orientation.

And I cannot--and should not--forgive their denominations on their behalf.

So while my heart swelled as I read Alan Chambers' apology, I realized that I had no forgiveness to offer to him, even as he acknowledged that there is--at least indirectly--blood on his hands with the line: "I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and some have chosen to end their lives."  

Yet I also have to think that acknowledgement of, and repentance for, this ultimate wrong represents the first step towards any true reconciliation, and I commend Alan for the courage he is currently showing.  My gut instinct is that his words were both honest and heartfelt, and I cannot imagine the inner pain and turmoil that it takes to write such a detailed apology for public consumption.

But forgiveness, in this particular circumstance, is not mine to give.

I pray for him--and all those associate with Exodus--that God will guide their future endeavors towards, as he puts it, "peace and the common good."  I earnestly hope that they are successful in this.  And if my gay and lesbian friends seek to forgive Exodus, I am more than happy to pray with them, counsel them, support them, and be there for them in every way that I know how.

But if there is one thing I have learned as an ally, it is that speaking for someone else--especially someone who has already been marginalized by the dominant voices in our culture--rarely does anybody any good.

This has simply been my experience, though.  Do you think I am selling forgiveness short?  Is there a way for heterosexual Christians like myself can offer forgiveness to Exodus in a way that is respectful to our GLBTQ brothers and sisters?

I am open to your words, for I am still processing all of this myself.

Yours in Christ,

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