Monday, December 19, 2005

Profoundly Offended

It's been a long time since I've cried. I don't mean the single tear out of the corner of my eye and that heart felt feeling of getting choked up inside after seeing a movie or hearing a song that triggered a memory. I mean that gross, nasty, snot running down my nose, mouth crinkled, with waterfall tears flowing from my eyes kind of cry. I'm talking about utter weeping. Have you ever weeped before? I was completely a mess! Driving home on the freeway, I could barely see the road as my eyes were full of tears and my heart wrenched in sorrow.

It was only last Wednesday night that I was feeling so free. I was feeling liberated. I felt like I no longer had to be silent. I could be known as the man that I am. To understand my weeping, you really have to read the last post, "Living Life As All Of Me" (if you haven't already), because that's the frame of mind I was in the very next day when Thursday night hit me . . . .

The very nature of the work that I do in the non-profit organization that my ministry partner and I co-founded is somewhat twofold: helping people to live out their faith and encouraging unity in the 'Body of Christ' (that's Christianese for the whole 'Church'). We started our work here in Long Beach, California (2nd highest gay population in California next to San Francisco) about three and a half years ago and we now have operations in several cities throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area here in the Southern California region. We work with leaders in churches, businesses, community organizations, schools, city government, and neighborhoods to build relationships with each other, establish trust, identify a common concern, and partner together for tangible growth in a city. It's very exciting stuff and we do this with passion!

So here's the thing. We are a part of an event taking place in January where many organizations from throughout Los Angeles are coming together to identify positive indications of hope and life in the city - both in and out of the Church. I am part of the planning committee. We identified a location for the event and were proceeding with organizing the logistics of everything when a concern was raised. A pretty major concern.

The pastor of the church where we were planning on having the event is gay.

Of course, now everyone has to have a meeting about it. Phone calls are made. Emails are sent out. Conversations are taking place about the appropriateness of having our event at this location. Should we have it there? Would we be endorsing this man's "lifestyle" by having our event there? Will people be offended if they knew that this church where we were having this event at is "open and affirming"? What if people see the rainbow flags at this church's Web site? What if our key speakers back out because they don't want to be a part of an event at a "place like this"? What if people choose not to come to the event because it's at a "place like this"? What if God doesn't show up because it's at a "place like this"?

Goodness. Here we go, about to enter the hot zone - that place where the Church's unspeakable topics and dirty little secrets dwell.

Immediately, efforts were made to find an alternate location for the event. The excuse was made that the alternate location was cheaper (but in reality it is logistically less convenient for the event). The initial discussion was that we were going to take the issue to the larger planning group to decide what we wanted to do about the location of the event. Before that happened, the decision was made to contract with the alternate location. As people began to discuss it, the excuse about the cheaper location was presented as the primary reason for making the change - justification for not giving the rest of the planning committee an opportunity to weigh in and voice their opinion or concerns about the issue.

It was a lie.

The ones who brought up the issue in the first place were not being honest. They were masking the real reason why the location was changed without anyone else's input about the matter.

The location was changed because the pastor of the church, who communicated a tremendous heart and love for God and his community, is gay. They refused to acknowledge every indication of hope and life that could be seen through this ministry because he is gay.

I felt profoundly offended. I felt silenced. I felt second-class. I was a part of some of the early discussion but I, like the rest of the group, was denied an opportunity to speak to the issue.

Keep in mind, just the evening before I posted about finally being whole, finally being known, finally being me - as I am, all of me. And now, I felt deeply connected with this gay pastor and the experience of thousands of gay and lesbians across this country. For the first time in my life, I experienced a personal offense of being persecuted for being the person I am. For the first time in my life, I felt empathy for what it must have felt like to be told to sit at the back of the bus and to be told to use a separate restroom so as to not contaminate those who are clean. For the first time in my life, I truly felt a personal injustice. Granted I have had mild experiences with racial discrimination, but nothing this close to where my heart was attached and it was being beaten with a baseball bat.

And so I cried on the way home from that meeting last Thursday. I weeped. I was filled with images of rejection and hatred towards me - people like me. It was personal. And all I could think of was all of the things - the wonderful things - that I was witnessing God do in my life. And these people would refuse to hear any of it - because I am gay. Their concern was whether or not some people may be offended if they knew what kind of a location the event was held at. They neglect the reality that in raising such a concern, they had already offended me. Profoundly. Yet, that was somehow, acceptable.

Is this acceptable? Is it acceptable to deny justice for one group of people for the sake of offering comfort to another group? Is it acceptable to casually lie about true discriminatory motives and to sweep the issue under the rug? Is it acceptable to host an event designed for identifying hope and life in a city while divisively and disgustingly disassociating from the Christian lepers?

My heart aches. My heart is aching. And I weep over the reality of a society too huge for me to change.

What is God weeping over?

20 comments:

grace said...

"Is this acceptable? Is it acceptable to deny justice for one group of people for the sake of offering comfort to another group? Is it acceptable to casually lie about true discriminatory motives and to sweep the issue under the rug? Is it acceptable to host an event designed for identifying hope and life in a city while divisively and disgustingly disassociating from the Christian lepers?"

Eric,
It was acceptable enough for Jesus. I don't see alot of justice in his story.
grace

Ian said...

With all due respect, you have personalized a decision that has larger ramifications apart from your personal plight. Pragmatism may not always be pretty but it does have a role to play in decision making. Shouldn't your primary concern on this occasion be for the success of the venture rather than concern for the venue? Maybe, just maybe, this isn't the occasion for pushing the envelope. There is a lovely English novel for children in which one of the characters is always saying, "Everything has its own time." Maybe this simply isn't it.

Eric said...

I appreciate your comments Ian, but that's simply not the point. As we continued to hash it all out over the past several days, my point with them was clear that I wasn't wanting to push having the event at the original venue. My point was expressing my hurt in how it was handled. As i stated in this post, they did not give the entire planning committee an opportunity to give their input. That was the offense.

My other point in this post was to describe how I felt when for the first time i experienced an injustice. It wouldn't be accurate to say that this was simply a pragmatic decision because it was clear that the decision was made because the pastor was gay. In addition, it was clear that the decision was made by a select few - not the entire planning committee.

We are proceeding with the event but what we have learned together is that decisions for the group should be made by the group.

Michael said...

I am a great pragmatist, and so I can appreciate Ian's concern that one look at the possible and put aside one's own feelings for the greater good. I think, however, that sometimes putting something aside to let a fairly blatant injustice take place undoes any "greater good" that can be claimed.

I know this is not what Ian meant, and it greatly exaggerates the situation to put it in these terms, but a religious leader once said that it was better for one to die than for the whole people to suffer.

I weep with you, but Jesus wept over doomed Jeruslaem and still loved it. May you find that love in your broken heart.

Mind the Bear said...

Eric, of course there are pragmatic reasons for moving the venue. Of course there is a "greater good" at stake (possibly). Yes, yes, that's all true.

But your pain is very real, as well. And, the way it was all handled (even though very pragmatic) was wrong.

All the issues about the decision making and the decision made are one thing. But your pain and deep hurt are something too. Thank you for sharing this, though it is painful for me to read.

As someone very active in the Church, I am so sad that it can sometimes be such a shitty place. And, when the shit does hit the fan, it is not thereby evenly distributed.

Now, more than ever, the struggle is yours. You have "owned it." And, you can feel some of the pain Jesus must feel.

Grace, I think you comments are way off. Injustice was NOT acceptable to Jesus. That is part of the meaning of the cross and the power of the resurrection - because it is NOT acceptable. And one day, within God's great commonwealth of love and justice, all shall be well.

Eric, I offer prayers for and your ministry. Let God be the one to bring new life from this tomb.

Peace, Joe.

Dave_62 said...

Eric,

I once wrote to a brother in Christ about my estrangement to the greater body of Christendom. The reasons why was because of the discrimination and outright loathing of gays. During the civil rights moment of the ‘60’s people of color said enough is enough and would not take it any longer. The era of my birth taught me first hand what discrimination and bigotry was all about and some people wonder why people of color have attitudes from time to time. Enough Is Enough!!!

Fortunately there are many open and affirming bodies in the greater Long Beach area I can participate in without trepidation. There’s a lot of hurt in the gay community and reconciliation with healing is greatly need. I’m more concerned about people drinking themselves to oblivion or crying to sleep night after night.

jeremy sawatzky said...

eric,

that really sucks man. nothing else i can say. some christian folks can be horribly cruel/judgemental/ignorant/arrogant/whatever you want to call it.

praying for ya man, i really like your site, and your ministry, and what youre doing. keep going.

Eric said...

thanks guys,

i was a bit worried last night after only reading grace and ian's comments that maybe i was wrong for feeling so offended.

as someone who puts on events often, i absolutely know the kinds of things involved in choosing a venue for an event. i think the key here for my "processing out loud" in this post was exactly what Joe said - you hit in on the head i think - that now more than ever, the struggle is mine and i've owned it.

as i went to bed thinking about your comment grace, i was thinking that i don't think it was acceptable at all to Jesus. You are right that there wasn't a whole lot of justice in His story, but that doesn't mean that injustice is something He condoned. In fact, injustice is something, i believe, He weeps over. That's why He did what He did for us. Not only did He experience the temptations that we do (through Him becoming flesh), take on our sins (through the cross), but in a way, He also took on our injustices - sharing the empathy with us and having compassion for all of us - both the just and the unjust.

grace said...

I guess that's why I was thinking when I posted that you would be encouraged by it. Sorry. Wasn't trying to offend or discourage you.
I'll not butt in again.
grace

Eric said...

Grace,

i appreciate your comments and perhaps i misunderstood what you were trying to communicate through them. please know that you are more than welcome to "butt in" - in fact, i think it's important that we continue ongoing conversation!

also know that you are absolutely welcome here!

bless you,
Eric

Jory said...

First They Came for the Jews
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.


Pastor Martin Niemöller

grace said...

Eric,
Thanks for replying to me. I was thinking it might encourage you to be in a position as he was, particularly there at the end when he was the victim. That's all. I thought it might encourage you to look at it from that perspective.
in Him,
grace

Ian said...

I'm sorry if my previous caused you distress. That was certainly not my purpose. Rather I had hoped to get you to step back from your emotional response to a more sanguine view of the matter. Although we all tend to view things in stark terms, most of time reality falls into one of the proverbial forty shades of grey. We also are all naturally myopic and any individual who protests very loudly that he/she can view controversial matters from all points of view, is probably more myopic than most. Keep your chin up and move on.

Becky O said...

My Lovely Eric-This entry once again brought tears to my eyes and yet again is something that I talk to my friends about.

The paragraph that states What if people choose not to come to the event because it's at a "place like this"? What if God doesn't show up because it's at a "place like this"?

Is that something that they really talked about. I do not think that God has to show up. In fact he is already here, there, and everywhere. We had a teaching recently on that subject. After studying it...I believe that God does not need to show up anywhere. He is alreay in it, suffering with us...ect.


I feel your pain Eric...but also know that the people that you are dealing with are hurting and broken also. You know how I feel about all of this...I wish the world love everyone as they are and where they are at...I believe that is what Jesus did.

Keep going and pushing for justice...you know I am with you.

Love you

Becky O

Kelly said...

Hey Eric,

Been a while since I checked your blog. I feel your pain, but as I was reading, God just impressed on my heart that you are His, and asked me if I would remind you that your identity, who you are, is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

You've shared that on here before, and deeply encouraged me in my own walk with God. So many times, I want to take offense because of all of the rejection I have faced, but when it comes down to it, Jesus Himself was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

Hot zone or no, our deepest desire as believers is (or should be) to know Him and the power of His resurrection... and the fellowship of His sufferings. Let the sorrow and suffering be for Christ's work in you. Thank you for displaying His love for so many. Keep seeking Him.

And have a merry Christmas.

grace said...

what Kelly said! :)

Eric said...

gosh this support is incredible! ian, as i said to grace, i must have misunderstood your comment and so thank you for your heart in wanting to help. bless you both!

wow, this is tough isn't it? with such hurt, it can be easy to misunderstand words from people who may intend good. i've found that when it feels like i'm emotionally falling, it makes it so important to reach out for Christ's hand - especially when it "seems" there are no other hands. He is our Rock, our support.

Becky- as for the "will God show up at a place like this"... they didn't verbally say that. but when they start going down that path of panic, that's practically what they're saying. the forget the reality that God is already there and moving and stirring. that's what i've seen in my journey these past several months. that while others were praying against the whole homosexual community, God is already here, among us touching lives.

as for the event, i went to visit the new site to plan out the logistics and we'll do our best to make it a great event. it's a predominantly african-american congregation in a mostly hispanic community. it's definitely more neutral than the original site and will serve the goal of the event nicely.

nevertheless, there continues to be both fallout and redemption because of the hurt caused by raising the issue. some are apologetic, some are not. universities, colleges, and seminaries were a part of this and offering credit to registered students - one college backed out but there are still others hanging in with us. there's alot of people still excited about it and it looks like we'll still be able to get some well known people there as panelists (i won't mention names).

it's still a rollercoaster but God is still redeeming this whole thing and we are all very excited about the event and the ongoing relationships that will continue after the event.

i still get choked up when i stop to reflect about being a Christian leper. thank God i'm not untouchable.

Elizabeth said...

I'm really sorry, Eric. I feel horrible and I was almost in tears.

It is horrible that Christ has such followers that are so lost that they think that they follow Christ with hate instead of love.

Angel said...

((((((((Eric)))))))))) I'm so sorry :(

Eric said...

wow, it's exciting to see how God has been redeeming this whole thing. the planning committee had an unscheduled on the spot meeting yesterday, friday, and we got everything out in the open.

i felt heard.

the end result was that our committee is really working as a team now. we all had an opportunity to demonstrate honesty, humility, grace, and forgiveness. in a way, we modeled what we're trying to do with the event, which is to bring all aspects of the city together, with all of our differences and disagreements, to look for hope and life and ways that we can come together for the greater good.

may i solicit your prayers for this event? i know you may not know specifically what the event is, but i trust Jesus will know what you're referring to - seeing as how He's involved in it.

thanks and Merry Christmas!
Eric