Yesterday morning, a small group of us from Little Flowers Community and Hope Mennonite Church gathered at the Pride Winnipeg parade with a simple message: We’re Sorry. It was part of the I’m Sorry Campaign created by the Marin Foundation. The campaign is an effort to apologize to the LGBTQ community for the ways Christians have mistreated them. The goal is to offer an unqualified, sincere apology.
We had invited many other communities to join us, but most opted out for lack of time to consider the implications. The most common concern was that such an approach might leave ambiguity or out-right misunderstanding about our Christian stance on sexuality. Aside from the fact that the participants in the event held very diverse beliefs on the topic, we believed that the ambiguity or any other assumptions were of secondary concern to the primary purpose for which we had gathered: to acknowledge our sin and ask for forgiveness. Jesus was frequently judged falsely for hanging out with “undesirables”, thus we decided that such a “risk” was acceptable.
The response was humbling. Hundreds of people marching in the parade stopped to thank us, hug us, take pictures and ask questions. However, most moving for me was the people who shouted out, “We forgive you!”. We were a small group and did not try to bring too much attention to ourselves (as the day was not about us), but made an intentional effort to let these neighbours know that we know we have done poorly and seek their forgiveness. That message seemed to be well received.
However, we also know that it is not enough. We cannot apologize for our failings, then simply continue as though the slate has been cleared. Repentance requires far more than an apology, it requires a turning, a change of action/direction and even reparation when possible & appropriate. We are under no illusion that participating in this event is an end- it is, in fact, just one small step in the right direction.
The dynamics around this are far beyond the capacity of this blog post, but there are a few things I want to suggest that are critical in this process of repentance. Like the event itself, we must make our own failings a greater priority than seek out the failings of others (real or perceived). This requires a great deal of honesty, humility and commitment. The beauty is this: a demonstrated commitment to acknowledge, repent of and change our brokenness is a far greater witness to a watching world than condemnation (which, in an attempt to be out of righteousness tends to become self-righteousness). And it is living through that process and posture repentance that shapes us to appropriately and humbly support others in their journey to wholeness through and in Christ.
Further, we must be committed to give more time and energy to genuinely ask the difficult questions about what we believe, why we believe it and how that belief is expressed/embodied. All three dynamics are critical. For example, a failure to know why we believe something can lead to destructive and even sinful ways of practicing that belief. So we need to be willing to have the hard conversations. And in doing so, we must do it with a genuinely open heart and open mind. Why? Because too many of God’s people throughout history have been so convinced that they were right- that they were believing and living God’s truth- that they even condemned the godly (see Galatians).
So as we ask the hard questions, we must be willing to allow for three possible outcomes. First, we discern that what we have always affirmed and practiced is, in fact, right and true. Second, we discern that while what we believe is true, it needs to be shifted in emphasis or clarified. Third, we discern that we have been wrong, repent and seek God’s truth. All three examples can be found in Scripture and history. If we believe in the truth of God and the power of His Holy Spirit, then we have nothing to fear to genuinely ask the questions.
Again, this barely brushes the surface, but it is an important start. As our community wrestles through Scripture with prayer, study, conversation, discernment, etc., we have been deeply challenged, humbled and encouraged by the good work it is producing in our hearts and lives. It is a costly and difficult path, but it has been well worth it so far.