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Why We’re Sorry & Why It’s Not Enough

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John Knight & Lindsey Ainsworth of Little Flowers at Pride Winnipeg 2012

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.

28 Comments

  1. I am very out of many communications loops (apparently). I did not even realize it was Pride Day until the day was almost over . . . too bad.

  2. David, we’ll be better organized next year.

  3. I have not been around so much, life has pulled me in other directions, but you and your community are ever in my prayers! I was talking about you on Sunday, and I have been meaning to send your link to the friends that I was with. This will be a great post for me to share with them.

    Thank you for your witness. God bless you always! What you have done, what you are doing, it is a great gift.

  4. Byron

    Thanks for the report, Jamile. Such bridge-building and vulnerable stances are really important for the church these days.

  5. Thanks FRS! I always appreciate your affirmation. Peace!

  6. Thank you, Byron.

  7. Gibby

    beautiful…

  8. It was a beautiful & humbling experience, Gibby. Thanks.

  9. Hey Jamie:

    I’m excited to hear about you and Little Flowers being involved in the I’m Sorry campaign! What a good start to building bridges and opening people’s hearts to each other. And thanks for unpacking some of the next steps which are so needed.

  10. Thanks Rob.

  11. Mark B.

    I saw these signs as I walked by while marching in the parade and had very mixed emotions. First I apprecaited the apology, but I also thought that there is a long way to go. Jamie, had I known it was your church and Hope, I would have stopped to chat.
    Thanks for what you’re doing – it means a lot!

  12. Thanks Mark. As the post stated, we do indeed have a long way to go. I hope it was one small step in the right direction. Let’s connect!

  13. Matt

    Yeah Dad!

  14. Matt, his sign was the most popular by far.

  15. Greetings from one who’ll be doing this in less than 2 weeks with The Marin Foundation for the third year!

    I don’t say that to toot my own horn, but simply to say that I believe in Andrew Marin and The Marin Foundation, what they are doing as well as their presence with living within Boystown. Despite the recent flack Andrew has received, I am not dissuaded into think something other than what they’re doing is truly God honoring.

    Be blessed and continue to bless others,
    Nathanael

  16. Nathanael, great to hear! Andrew is a great guy & the foundation is a real gift to us all. Peace!

  17. Jenny

    Thank you! I am Kleinde Gemende (Little Church) Mennonite from Gospel Mennonite Church at Sublette, KS. My husband and I are also bisexual. We are Christian, we are Mennonite and bisexual and we are not ashamed!

  18. kailey

    wow.. this is a truly incredible thing and brought up alot of mixed emotions for me.
    I have been in ‘bisexual’ relationship before and the church kind of just stripped me down to nothing, other Christians would either dance around the subject or show me verses in which I was going to go to hell. me and my now ex girlfriend actually wanted. and did for a time leave the church. I chose a different life style now though. but thank you for this because honestly I COULDN’T Count on 2 hands how many times I considered suicide ‘If I can’t be with my girl and get tortured for it, I might as well be dead’. because the thing is,, people don’t seem to understand you can’t pick and choose from the bible. it says homosexuals won’t make it to heaven but it also says liars, sexually immoral, embezzolers and what not. you took a log from your eyes so mabey now more ‘homosexuals’ can let you help them take out that ‘speck’ God bless you guys.

  19. Kailey, I am deeply sorry for the suffering you have experienced, especially that which was caused by Christians. The dynamics of sexuality and faith are very complex and I know that most Christians are sincerely trying to be faithful, but too often others get trampled in the process. Thankfully I see signs of hope in the wider church that is resulting in safe and welcoming communities of all varieties. Thanks for your honesty & encouragement. Peace!

  20. Greg J. Plant

    People who are gay should be treated w/ as much respect as any other people, polite social kindness. The Bible also does say that homosexual lifestyles (sexual practices) are sin and not a healthy way to live. If you see someone doing something you know is wrong and say nothing about it then THAT is not showing love. Being tolerant of sin isn’t being loving it’s being just the opposite. The Bible is a weapon, a sword with 2 edges and it’s truth divides people. Jesus came to divide the clean (those who repent and follow Him) from the unclean (those who are full of will and stay in their dirt). Sorry for nothing.

  21. Greg, thank you for sharing your perspective. It seems to me that you have missed the fundamental point of the post, which is unfortunate. Further, even holding to what you believe, if you think there is nothing for Christians to say sorry for to gay people for how we have generally treated them, then I am not sure what more to say except that I find that can only be true if Christ is not love at all. I pray that God will change your heart in this.

    P.S. You would do well to read Richard Beck’s book “Unclean” to correct your deeply flawed view of what unclean means and what it means for Christians.

  22. MJL

    “because the thing is,, people don’t seem to understand you can’t pick and choose from the bible. it says homosexuals won’t make it to heaven but it also says liars, sexually immoral, embezzolers and what not.”

    How society is trying to steer the conversation on each of these is so different that it’s hard to compare how to respond to each.

    Take lying, for example. If there were Liar Pride parades, activists pushing for the Supreme Court to legalize perjury, and legislation being proposed such that all schools had to affirm prospective Lie/Truth Alliances or lose their funding, etc, etc. I would think that the church would probably take a much stronger stance on how important it is to affirm what scripture has to say about lying, and I think they would be at least partially justified in doing so.

    This is all outside of the context of an honest-to-goodness personal relationship, though, and I agree there are a lot of people who in their efforts to remain faithful end up acting unloving in the process. Which brings to mind the topic of apologies as a whole.

    There is, to my mind, a difference between:

    An individual apologizing for a sin they have been convicted of, asking for forgiveness and repenting of that behavior (which is an important and essential part of what it means to be a Christian, and is something that I agree that many Christians have probably needed to do when it comes to how they have responded to the issue of homosexuality),

    vs.

    Trying to apologize and ask for forgiveness on behalf of the Christian community as a whole, when a large portion of that group may strongly believe that they have nothing to apologize for regarding how they have treated people who are gay (and a subset of them may be right). Furthermore, a necessary aspect of asking for forgiveness for sin is repentance, and while you may set an example of what that looks like, you do not have control over whether the Christian community as a whole repents of its wrongdoing on this.

    Worse yet, from my perspective, apologizing for a group without very, very, heavily emphasizing that this apology is primarily for things that the individual has done comes too close to the type of self-righteousness that I get the impression you’re trying to avoid in the first place.

    My two cents.

  23. I am very sorry you feel that way, Matt. Nehemiah repented of the sins of his forefathers, for action he did not personally partake in, but were done in the name of God’s people. Such repentance is not only important, but it is biblical.

    In the end, those who equate church with hate saw an alternative witness. An openness to God was planted in many hearts today among people who would otherwise have nothing to do with Christianity. We can say with absolute certainty that hundreds of people experienced in the intended impression.

    Let me end with this question: What are you doing with respect to this very critical issue? If you have an alternative that you are practicing that is better, we are more than willing to hear it.

  24. MJL

    Thanks for your perspective. I read Nehemiah 9 (your reference, I presume) and note that there is room for acknowledgement of the sins of those who have come before us and with whom we end up associated, and committing not to do them.

    I note, however, there is an eventual shift to the first person in the version I read (“you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong”,”because of our sins”). Does this confession read differently, to you, if it is entirely with reference to “our” suffering for “their” sins? (I feel as though it does).

    It is in this sense that I find myself being careful not to confess/repent of the sins of others without being fully aware and convicted of my own, lest it turn into being thankful I am not like that tax collector. People are different, though; if that’s not a problem you have, more power to you.

    As for what I am doing? Truth be told, my exposure on this specific “very critical issue” comes mostly from what I read in the newspaper or whatever people are copy/pasting on Facebook, rather than in the context of my own relationships or sphere of influence. So to this point, my course of action is to confirm that I’m not in error, and make sure that when the time comes to respond to sin, my response is not only consistent across sins, but also is consistent to how I appreciate people responding when I am guilty of something.

    PS I should also say that I hope I did not come across as trying to authoritatively condemn/correct you, as it was not my intention. (PPS I noticed the time stamp on the post after commenting and felt silly responding to something a year old; so there’s that, too.)

  25. Matt, don’t feel silly replying. The post we re-featured recently and many people are reading it (over 500 yesterday alone).

    It is not so much about confessing the sins of others as it is recognizing collective responsibility- that is, that for which we apologize was done by Christians in the name of Christ. There is only One Body, of which we are a part, therefore we bear a degree of responsibility for those action. If not moral stain, then at least the responsibility to present a better public witness of Christianity than that which dominates the public eye.

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