“Before Mr.Dimmesdale reached home, his inner man gave him other evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling…At every step he was incited to do some strange, wild, wicked thing or other, with a sense that it would be at once involuntary and intentional; in spite of himself, yet growing out of a profounder self that that which opposed the impulse.” (The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne)
If one isn’t familiar with the classic (you, like me, obviously lied to your high school English teachers about your summer reading at some point between 9th & 12th grade) one should be. It’s an amazing narrative that addresses themes which include but aren’t limited to legalism, sin, guilt, and repentance. Even though I threw a temper tantrum for the first 60 pages trying to interpret Hawthorne’s formal (and kind of ridiculous) lofty language I would highly recommend the read. There are at least seventeen different aspects of the story I could address and unpack but I’ve decided it most important to address the dynamism Mr.Dimmesale experienced as a result of committing his sin, the torment that ensued in trying to hide his sin, and the actions that transpired upon coming to terms with his sin as mentioned in the excerpt above.
The more people I interact with across the LGBT spectrum, the more convinced I become that at least half of us not only arise out of a strong faith background but at one point or another even went so far as to make sense of our whole identity in the person of Jesus and His gospel message which (for most of us) meant a total rejection of our sexual orientation and all associated emotional impulses. Most of these men and women after years of struggle, prayer, and study eventually came to embrace their orientation, began pursuing relationships, and because of this were rebuked, judged by, and ultimately ostracized from their faith communities. In experiencing this kind of trauma it is no surprise to me that at best many LGBT people continue to identify with Christianity but not whatsoever with the Church…and at worst many LGBT people no longer feel as though they can identify with Jesus at all. Regardless of what the means to these ends look like, it seems there are a few steps along the journey to disassociation with the Body of Christ and/or Christ altogether that run standard in both Dimmesdale and those who have left the Church because of their sexual orientation.
1.) Disillusionment with the Church
“Something about who we are as a faith community is wrong, dishonest, and harmful towards other people and I don’t know if I can be a part of it anymore.”
2.) Questioning of faith all together.
“If I have been deceived by those who are understood to be the ambassadors of God then perhaps I’ve been deceived by the notion of God as a whole.”
“If the worldview by which my entire life has been underpinned has proven false by my experiences where else can I go?”
“I don’t know where I can go but I can’t stay here.”
I understand this trajectory, I can empathize with this trajectory, I hurt with those who have been hurt because of this trajectory, and yet I am deeply challenged and encouraged by the stories of people who the ‘Exit’ wasn’t the final answer for them. I am deeply challenged and encouraged by the stories of people who refused to give up on on their love for the Church when the Church had rejected and refused their fellowship because of something about themselves that was unchosen and unchangeable. I am deeply challenged and encouraged by the stories of people who after a season of raging against the institution and being so troubled by her inconsistencies… looked inside themselves to find the problem instead of harboring bitterness towards the limitations of our humanity that live inside us all. Regardless of what the means to these ends look like, it seems there are a few steps along this part of the journey to reconciliation with the Body of Christ and/or Christ all together that run standard for those who have left the Church because of their sexual orientation (…or really any of the things that put us in a position where we feel like one doesn’t fit.)
1. ) Re-exploration of Jesus as a person apart from the Church (Well, really Evangelical Conservatism.)
6.) Restoration of faith.
7.) Realizing that there is no mutual exclusivity when it comes to Jesus and His Church.
8.) Missing the Church despite her flaws.
9.) Falling back in love with the institution, flaws included.
10.) Sorrow, repentance, starting over.
Derek Webb, a writer, musician, and incredible thinker when it comes to ecclesiastical issues has often been painted a rebel by Conservative faith communities for the way his lyrics challenge their beliefs and more specifically the practice of those beliefs. Many have accused Webb of ridiculing and criticizing the very people his music aims to be made for (the Church.) Although I believe there have been times when Derek has surely been upset with the Church, I think he is also well adjusted to the reality that he is as guilty as they when it comes to both hypocrisy and folly. On his most recent album, ‘ I Was Wrong, I’m sorry, & I Love You,’ Webb explores many of the complexities associated with being a human trying to seek God alongside other humans… especially when inherent parts of one’s personal humanity bumps against the jagged edges of the Church’s shared humanity.
I love this for a lot of reasons but primarily because over the last 9 months I know a lot of the people from my own faith communities have been hurt and disappointed by things I have said and done (…or not said and done) in reference to coming to a LGBT affirming theological perspective. I cannot apologize for being gay, for my over all change in beliefs, or my convictions about the necessity of advocacy within the Church for LGBT people… but I am sorry for causing anyone to feel as though I thought of them less (or as evil or unintelligent) because they didn’t share the same conclusions. I am sorry that the hurt I experienced because of rejection led to resentment. I am sorry that I spent so much time trying to prove that I was ‘right’ instead of continuing to love people exactly where they were in the midst of their own journey to unraveling all of these hard things.
So in order to avoid the dark and dismal downward spiral of Dimmesdale and in the words of Derek,
I was wrong.
I am sorry.
And I love you.