Thursday, June 30, 2016

My Mea Culpa

Over the weekend, Pope Francis had this to say in the wake of not only Pride celebrations everywhere, but also the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that targeted GLBTQ people specifically and claimed the lives of 49 of them:

I think that the Church not only should apologize ... to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by (being forced to) work. It must apologize for having blessed so many weapons...We Christians have to apologize for so many things, not just for this (treatment of gays), but we must ask for forgiveness, not just apologize! Forgiveness! Lord, it is a word we forget so often!

As someone who has been preaching intersectionality for years--that what harms you or oppresses you is intertwined with my experience and vice versa--Francis's exhortation was a much-needed message to my ears.

But it is also a challenge. Including to me.

Because I, too, have much to not simply apologize for, but ask forgiveness for.

For Francis isn't simply saying that the institutional church must ask for forgiveness--although it should, and it must--but that the individual Christians which make up the church must ask for forgiveness as well.

There is spiritual value in the catharsis that comes from that.

So, to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, I ask forgiveness for using the words like 'faggot,' or 'gay' as an insult, for thinking that sexual abuse could make me gay after I myself was sexually abused, and for not always speaking up when I should.

To my trans brothers and sisters, I ask forgiveness for not even originally understanding your sexual identity needs to begin with, for casually using terms like 'tranny,' and for ignoring how your needs aren't always the same as the needs for the GLB part of GLBTQ.

To women, I ask forgiveness for my objectification, for my inability to understand your experiences for what they are, and as experiences that I myself will not experience.

To children, I ask forgiveness for my lack of patience, my inability to share in your imagination, and for not always knowing how best to help you. The church in particular has been a scary and destructive place for many children and it simply cannot be that way.

In truth, Francis has been killing it over the past couple of weeks on reconciliation, and not only in terms of Christians and GLBTQ people the church has hurt, but also in his recent trip to Armenia, where he used the "G" word--genocide--to characterize the Armenian Holocaust--a characterization that Turkey continues to forcefully deny in the face of near-universal scholarly consensus.

Why does this matter?

Because It is not weakness to apologize, or to ask for forgiveness. Though for me personally, it is still a very difficult thing to do. I can be downright terrible at it, because like most people--and particularly, I think, pastors--I like to be right. I have seen this in myself, and I see it--sometimes very poisonously--in other people of faith. We like to be right.

Turkey wants to be, needs to be right. Its government craves being taken seriously (although, ironically, it has yet to show it deserves such serious consideration with its government's lack of regard for, say, the freedom of the press). And in the wake of the tragic terrorist attack at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport, my heart grieves for the loss of life. But I also worry about Erdogan's government taking this as an opportunity to act in even more of a strongman fashion than it already does, and of taking Turkey down a road it ought not go.

Because trying to double down on what you believe is right doesn't always go as planned. Trust me, I know. I've seen it happen in churches all the time where they simply refuse to try something new because they're so committed to whatever it is they're doing--it could be in worship, or mission, or theology, or any number of areas--that they simply will not stop and reconsider that maybe there are other ways to do things.

Part of it is ego, I am sure. And part of it is pride.

But mostly, it is selfishness. We selfishly want to be right, and to avoid apologizing.

Apologizing and asking for forgiveness means to us on some level that we were not right. So, we try to minimize the number of times we have to, and we try to minimize our own sins, to make them seem as small as we can with whatever justifications and excuses are at hand.

But that simply is not what Jesus asks of us.

It is not what God asks of us.

We must see how our actions and our beliefs affect the lives of others, for good and for bad. Even as--especially as--an Armenian, my family's past as victims of violence intersect now with the life experience of the families who lost loved ones in Istanbul this week.

We lose sight of that reality, and of the harm we do need to seek forgiveness for, at our own peril.

This is my mea culpa.

Longview, Washington
June 27, 2016

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