Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Open and Affirming" is not the same as "Reconciliation and Forgiveness"

A week before Thanksgiving, at William Penn House, we hosted Danish Quaker K. Renato Lings who talked about his book "Love Lost in Translation" and his personal faith journey to reconciliation as a gay Christian.  It was a very enlightening presentation.  What I found most interesting was to hear Renato talk about the importance of finding comfort in his faith in order for him to really deal with his depression.  From a clinical standpoint, what I was hearing was that he had been traumatized growing up in a faith tradition that condemned him for being gay.  He subsequently spent many years avoiding his Christian faith, but was out to the world as a gay man.  Despite all the acceptance he felt (including among Quakers with whom he worked and worshiped), he still exhibited the lingering effects of the trauma (avoidance and other signs of depression).  It was not until he started to confront the "abuser" (The Bible as it had been used against him), and did extensive research into interpretations, meanings and historical factors, that he realized he could find a way to be both gay and Christian.  He no longer had to go through life being afraid to face the very thing that had caused him so much hurt.  (Side note: Andrew Marin has done some great work on the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation, including showing up at Pride parades with "I'm Sorry" signs.  See more here.)  
As the conversation unfolded, we discussed the importance of reconciliation and acceptance, but also the importance of recognizing that overcoming the traumatic experience that many gays and lesbians takes more than being "open and affirming."  To fully overcome the impact and control that traumatic experiences can have on people, it is important to work through the fear that leads to avoidance as this can habituate into a paralyzing way of life.
Many Quaker congregations consider themselves welcoming places for the glbt community, which is fantastic.  What we discussed at this evening event, however, was that to be welcoming without fully appreciating the depths of hurt that religious rejection can leave with people has the potential to cause inadvertent harm, and we do this by not better understanding the Bible.  Our own avoidance or lack of comfort with the Bible - the agent used for perpetrating the abuse - can leave us ill-equipped for being the reconciling place we would hope to be for those who have experienced the trauma.  This is where we might actually do more harm - by promising acceptance but missing the mark by not appreciating the depth of the harm.  Renato Lings' book might be a good place to start the journey to greater healing for so many.

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