(Shared July 14, 2011.)
On Sunday, I provided the following testimony on the power of our stories. The experience I recounted was so powerful to me that I spoke through tears. I shared it then and now with trepidation because it is so intensely personal. But it was received with such gratitude and hope that I feel like I should continue to share it. In particular, one woman's comment will stay with me forever. With tears in her eyes, she said, "Thank you. Thank you for sharing your story. My daughter 'Liz' married her partner last year. Maybe I should speak up more often for her, but I hate to make an example of her because, to me, she's just my Liz. Thank you for speaking up for her." My testimony. Please, be gentle with my heart...
I have been learning, over the last year in particular, how to have meaningful interactions with people online — especially in a wonderful online community called Momastery. Glennon Doyle Melton blogs at this site and is a wife, a mother, a lover of Jesus (with what most people would call a relatively liberal theology), a recovering addict, and a reckless "truth teller and hope spreader." Glennon's hope that Momastery will be, among many other things, "a place to practice disagreeing with love and respect" is largely realized because of her one simple rule for participating in the community: Try not to be a jerk.
In May of last year, Glennon posted a piece on a subject dear to her heart: homosexuality, especially how this issue is informed by her faith. When I dove into the comments section, searching for real conversation, I found what I expected: civil comments, with virtual high fives for those with similar views, but far more talking past each other than any apparent interest in true discussion. And then I found "Rachel."
Rachel obviously had very strongly held beliefs about this subject, but when I gently suggested to her that saying the Bible is "clear" on a subject effectively shuts down conversation before it's even begun, her response wasn't "But the Bible IS clear." It was more akin to "Oh, I see what you mean. I didn't mean to come across in that way." Here was someone who was interested in having a conversation. We chatted briefly on the blog but quickly realized we should move our conversation to email.
It's hard to imagine two people starting further apart on this subject. But we shared our stories. I told her about my upbringing in a "love the sinner, hate the sin" home. I relayed a story from my time researching genetic deafness when I spoke to a woman who was far more curious about her extensive family history of gay relatives than about the history of deafness. I told her about my former pastor who has a gay daughter in a committed relationship and who preached love from the pulpit in a way I had never before heard. Rachel heard how my experience with that pastor forced me, once and for all, to wrestle with the, so called, "clobber passages." I shared how the peace that passes understanding washed over me as I felt the Spirit revealing to me that God blesses gay relationships. I told her about my desire to have more conversations about this subject and continue to learn and grow. Rachel shared with me her ultraconservative religious background, her view that being gay is a choice, her interviews with men going through reparative therapy, including men she was convinced were successfully becoming straight, the passages in Scripture she felt supported her view, and her lost friendships.
The conversation was intense. It was personal. It was, at times, graphic. I often felt like we were discussing subjects that were irrelevant to the larger topic. But we plugged along. We listened. We questioned. We admitted our gaps in knowledge. We investigated. We grew.
We exchanged many, long emails over the course of two months. But then life interfered, and we put our conversation on hold for the fall. We checked in with each other a couple of times but didn't really advance the discussion.
Now, had my story with Rachel ended at this point, I would consider it a tremendous success. We had done something I feared was impossible. Here were two people on opposite ends of a divisive spectrum who actually talked. We gave each other the benefit of the doubt. We were respectful. We never got angry. We remained always kind. We learned from each other. We opened our hearts and minds. We had done a beautiful thing.
But our story doesn't end there. In December, when Rachel and I began emailing more regularly again, she told me something I thought I'd never hear from her: She changed her mind. Her biggest question now is not whether or not being gay is a choice or even whether or not God calls gay people to be celibate; it's how she moves on from here after being such an outspoken voice against gay people. I can only imagine how scared she must be. I pray that she is met with grace.
I have no delusion that I changed her mind. This was the Spirit at work. He was at work in Rachel's heart and in mine. Rachel told me that when she first started emailing me, she thought she could change my mind. God had other plans. And He worked through our stories. Sure, we discussed theology and biology and Greek translations and historical context, but we did that in the framework of our stories. We learned about each other as people, not just as positions -- people with our own hurts and struggles and questions and doubts and fears and nuances. There is no doubt in my mind that Rachel was open to rethinking her long-, strongly-held beliefs because she was not met with judgment or shouting or contempt but with love and kindness and patience. She learned that we have more in common than that which divides us.
I'm going to keep at it. I'm going to keep sharing my story -- not just about this subject but about about a host of others -- because I've learned just how powerful a story shared in kindness can be. It is disarming. No one can argue its validity. It's your truth.
Thank you for letting me share part of my story.