Why I Support Our NC Apology Billboard

Earlier this month, as you may know, I joined Missiongathering Christian Church as their new Pastor of Worship & Arts here in sunny San Diego, CA. One of the main reasons that Katie and I were so compelled to join MG is because of their commitment to loving Jesus and to spreading the Good News of Jesus’ love that is available and open to all. Close to the heart of MG is a commitment to loving, caring for, respecting, valuing and welcoming gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals and transgenders (commonly referred to as LGBT... sometimes there’s a Q at the end for ‘queer’). If you’ve followed Kate and mine’s journey over the past few months then you can imagine what a great fit we are for MG and vice versa.

So, after only being here a few short weeks, I’ve already got to participate in a radical and bold statement of love towards our LGBT brothers and sisters. I’m referring to the billboard that we put up this week in Charlotte, NC, right on Billy Graham Parkway, offering an apology to those who recently had rights and equality further denied them by the passing of Amendment 1. The billboard says:

Missiongathering Christian Church is SORRY for the narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative actions of those who denied rights & equality to so many in the name of God.

Here's a pic...

As I’m typing this, the above picture of the billboard is currently going viral on Facebook (heck, even Keith Olbermann shared the photo!). Thousands of people are sharing the photo, passing it on, commenting on it, etc. It currently is #3 on Reddit.com. Multiple news organizations and blogs have already picked it up and written about it. It's kind of exciting, really!

Now, as with all things that are even remotely semi-controversial, the internet can be a cess-pool of haters and lovers. Discussions abound between those who think it’s the best thing ever, and those who think Armageddon must be moments away.

We’ve received, as was expected, much criticism. Generally they have fallen under one of the following three categories:

-  Why are you all up in our biz-ness! (North Carolinans don't like Californians, I guess?)

-  Why would a church go against the Word of God! (the tired old argument that there is only one interpretation of the Bible with regards to homosexuality)

-  Why the harsh language? (people, it turns out, don't like when you call them things like narrow minded or judgmental... or at least, when they THINK you are calling them those things)

Some of my own friends and family have also questioned why I would put up this billboard, or support the putting up of such a message. And so I wanted to share some thoughts here to address some of the criticism surrounding our billboard and its message.

Primarily I'll address the First and the Third Criticism above (for my thoughts on the Second Criticism, I invite you to follow along my current and unfinished-as-of-yet blog series titled "UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible")

So Why ARE We All Up In Their Biz-ness?

(actually, it would help if you went here, to our Givimo page, and quickly read the brief history of our Apology Billboard. This is actually the SECOND time Missiongathering has put up such a billboard. The first time was in 2008, here in San Diego, in response to the passing of Prop 8.)

Many states over the years have passed anti-gay laws (specifically relating to gay marriage), so why North Carolina, and why now?  Amendment 1 gained national attention recently, and when it passed something interesting happened. A photo of our original billboard (the one we put up in 2008, here in San Diego, as a response to the passing of Prop 8) re-surfaced online and went viral. People from all over the country (and even other countries) saw the photo and contacted us “thanking” us for putting up the billboard. When we started returning people’s emails and phone calls to tell them “thanks, but that picture was taken four years ago,” we began asking the question, what if we did it again? What if we made a new billboard and put it up, not here in California, but on the other side of the country in North Carolina? 

We received a few gracious donations to get the ball rolling, launched a campaign on Givimo.com, and decided to just go for it. Let's take this message and show people on the other side of the country that we stand with them and we will stand for them.

What IS that message?

Here's what I (and we, as a church) believe: when you strip away everything, the heart of the Christian faith is Love.

Fundamental to this Love is the understanding that it is open to all people, regardless of whatever adjective may be used to describe them. For too long the LGBT community has been, at best, marginalized and ignored, and at worst, oppressed and discriminated against. These postures do not represent Love. They do not represent the message of Jesus. They do not represent the heart of God.

Sadly, much of the marginalizing and discrimination has come at the hands of churches, and this breaks my heart even more. Therefore, when moments like Amendment 1 happen, I instantly hurt with those who hurt. My soul is heavy with the thought of gays and lesbians being reminded, once again, that they will never be allowed to marry the person they love.

It is important, I believe, that those who identify with the LGBT community know that not all Christians believe in the messages delivered through devices like Prop 8 and Amendment 1. The point of our apology, then, is to say, “we recognize that people have used the Name of God to defend their positions that deny you rights and deny you equality. We recognize that people who identify with the Christian Faith have told you that you are, in some respect, a second class citizen, a miserable sinner, a danger to society, and/or an abomination. But please hear us when we say that NOT ALL FOLLOWERS OF JESUS feel this way. Please believe that God, as we understand it, loves you and created you just as you are. And for those who tell you differently, for those who treat you differently, for those share the same “faith” as we do, we apologize. It’s not okay. And on behalf of (some) Christians, we want to say SORRY."

Billboards are big, and are designed to make big, bold statements. The statement we are making is big and its bold. It is a message we are passionate about sharing. Knowing how well it worked here in San Diego four years ago, it made sense for us to try it again in Charlotte. It is our passion for Jesus and this message that fuels us to reach as many people as possible.

This message isn't for the churches or the "Christians," per se, in North Carolina. It is for those in the LGBT community who feel like they are standing alone. Those who were handed yet another blow, another reminder that they are second class citizens in some people's eyes.

So if our billboard can function, in any way, as a message of love, of support, of encouragement or hope, then praise God.

But Why Such HARSH Language?

I think this is fair criticism, to be honest. I think it is okay for people to push back and question why we would use the words we did. They are jarring, no doubt. And they have caused quite a stir.

Let me offer three thoughts on the choice of our wording:

1.)  It is important to note that our billboard uses the above harsh language to describe the ACTIONS of people, NOT the people themselves. It would be entirely different to say, “we are sorry for the narrow-minded, judgmental, manipulative and deceptive PEOPLE who denied you rights... etc.” I agree with what many of our critics have said, that “name-calling gets us no where.” I hope, though, that people can understand the difference between calling out someone’s ACTIONS versus attacking them as people. There is a difference, and we are not interested in putting up billboards that call people names.

Sidenote: here's where I readily acknowledge it can get sticky. That sentence I just typed, "I hope that people can understand the difference between calling out someone's ACTIONS versus attacking them as people" is a sentence/concept/idea that many people I've come in contact with ALSO use when articulating their stance towards gay people. The argument goes like this: I think homosexuality is a sin, and gay people who practice that lifestyle are living in sin. I love that PERSON, but I am against their ACTIONS. Or, to put it bluntly, 'love the sinner and hate the sin.' And if you've read anything I've written (like during this 142 comment long FB post, for instance) then you know how I've combated that position vehemently. My belief is that you cannot disconnect a person's sexual orientation from them as a person, and so you cannot (or rather, it doesn't "work") to actively "hate the sin" but still proclaim you're "loving the sinner." When you condemn a gay or lesbian for living out their sexuality in a healthy and God-fearing way, you are by nature condemning them. (If you don't believe me, go find a gay person and tell them "I hate what you do, but please know, I love you!" Let me know how that works out. Furthermore, a person who takes the "love the sinner hate the sin" posture generally has zero space in their worldview for healthy, appropriate, God-honoring expressions of same-sex love. So any and all expressions of same-sex love are viewed as sinful. They will easily grant distinctions for heterosexual actions, and have categories for "good actions" and "wrong actions," but they cannot or will not allow those distinctions in the same-sex world. I think what God is interested in is a standard of healthy sexuality for ALL types of people, that is consistent and honoring to all people.) So then, am I stuck in a double-standard? Am I saying that "I" should be allowed to separate someone's actions (narrow minded, judgmental, manipulative) from them as people, and be allowed to call out those actions as wrong while simultaneously contending that I'm not judging/hating/condemning them as people, but NOT allow YOU to separate someone's actions (living gay) from them as a person, call out those actions as wrong, and still contend that you don't judge/condemn/hate that person? In short, yes, I'm saying just that. But I don't agree that this is a double standard. I believe they are fundamentally different, and that difference makes all the difference. To elaborate:

A) Being gay is not a choice. Being narrow-minded and judgmental is (even that, though, I imagine is debatable. Do you think that this kid really has a CHOICE to NOT be narrow-minded? Guh... so sad.) But for the most part, I think it's safe to say that one can CHOOSE to be more open minded and less judgmental, but one cannot CHOOSE to be not-gay. Maybe you could say this: you may judge me or call out my actions if I am obese, because that (for the most part) is something I can choose to be or not be, but you may not judge me or call out my actions for being tall... sorry, I cannot control/choose/change that. This is not a double standard, this is different standards for different realities.

B) A person may be a non-narrow-minded person, or a non-judgmental-person, but still take part in narrow-minded and/or judgmental actions. Just to commit the act (or to hold a certain narrow-minded or judgmental belief) doesn't necessarily or automatically make that person, by and large, a narrow-minded and/or judgmental person. SOME of the people (maybe a lot?) who participated in voting yes for Amendment 1 might just be downright judgmental and/or narrow-minded people. Others very well might not be. But in THIS case, in THIS action, in THIS instance, they are. I don't think that necessarily implies they ARE that type of person. So if I call you out for doing or saying something that is narrow-minded, that's not to say you are a narrow-minded person. It IS to say that you did a narrow-minded thing.

C) These sorts of actions and behaviors (narrow-mindedness, judgmental, manipulative, deceptive), in my opinion, are inherently wrong and morally bad. Being gay is not inherently wrong or morally bad. Living in a God-honoring, respectful, loving, committed relationship (be it same sex or opposite sex) is not inherently wrong or morally bad. Therefore I feel it is a different thing altogether to separate a person from their actions and "judge" or "call out" those actions if they are evil actions and remain free'd from the accusation that you are judging or condemning the person. (The story of Jesus and the women caught in adultery comes to mind. He called out her actions, "go and sin no more," but did so while simultaneously NOT judging/condemning her as a person, "then neither do I condemn you.") But this isn't a viable option when referring to a 'love the sinner hate the sin' posture towards LGBT folk. I understand that you (or someone reading this) may THINK it is a viable option, because you BELIEVE that any expression of same-sex relationship is wrong and sinful. But I reject that, therefore I reject this as a viable option.   .... phew! That was probably overly convoluted. And I understand if you didn't follow me all that well. But I gave it my best shot! End of Sidenote.

2.)  While it may be true that we could have communicated our message by JUST offering an apology without also calling out the actions that led to the passing of Amendment 1, the reality is that for us that doesn’t go far enough. It isn’t enough to simply say, “it’s not okay and we’re sorry.” The beliefs and actions of those who perpetuate the postures of marginalizing, oppressing and discriminating must be called out, must be held accountable, and must be challenged.

I believe it is NARROW-MINDEDto deny rights to gay people, to treat them as second class citizens. To say that only straight people are allowed to marry the ones they love.

I believe it is JUDGMENTALto think that God did not create gay people and love them just as they are, and to deny them rights simply because of their orientation. To contend that they are terrible sinners living in perpetual animosity towards God.

I believe the efforts of those who were pushing Amendment 1 (and Prop 8) were fraught with DECEPTION. They gave mis-leading information and used scare tactics. Many people were unclear as to what the amendment actually WAS, and what the implications of it would be. Dated and ignorant information was used to demonize or criminalize the LGBT community.

I believe it is MANIPULATIVE to invoke the Bible, God, Jesus, the Christian Faith, etc, as weapons to rally support. To isolate passages of Scripture (the Clobber passages) that have been incorrectly and poorly interpreted to create a theology against gay people (just like the Bible was used against slaves, against women, against "colored" folk, etc).

For me, the actions that led to the passing of Amendment 1 were not representative of what I believe are the heart of God and the message of Jesus, and certainly not indicative of how all Christians believe. As such, I feel called to speak out. To be a voice of love (hence the apology) as well as a voice of truth (hence the calling out of the actions).

Though they are jarring and harsh, I stand behind each of the four adjectives used to describe the actions.

3.)  I understand that one of the risks of putting this message out there like this is that we might alienate some of our Christian brothers and sisters. We might be viewed as being divisive, causing further division in the Body of Christ. However, I feel it is mostimportant that we love the unloved and defend the discriminated.If, in the process, we ruffle the feathers of fellow Christians, perhaps that is an okay price to pay. Perhaps those feathers need a little ruffling. By no means do we want to cause division in the church, but sometimes that cannot be avoided. Especially when ideologies collide like this.

Imagine This

Imagine life in the South just 50 years ago during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement. And imagine a state in the South voting to amend their constitution to say, for instance that marriage is only legal between one man and one woman of the same race. Or perhaps they vote to require blacks and whites use different restrooms, eat at different restaurants, receive different pay, etc etc.

Now picture a church who believes it is fundamentally wrong to say interracial marriages are illegal, wrong to deny rights to non-whites, wrong to segregate. That church decides to act on these convictions and puts up a billboard in the state that says something like: “_________ Church is sorry for the narrow-minded, judgmental, manipulative and deceptive actions of those who deny rights and equality to non-whites.”

Certainly there would be those in the Christian faith who would be angry. Who would accuse that specific church of name-calling, and judging, and being divisive. There would be those that would take issue with being accused of being narrow-minded and judgmental. The church would probably have to defend the usage of their language.

But what do we know NOW about those issues?

Viewing non-white people as second class IS narrow-minded. Segregating because of color of skin and denying interracial marriages IS judgmental. Using the Bible and the name of God to deny non-whites equality IS manipulative.

No one argues these things. We would look back at that church, and their billboard, and their language, and no one would question it. Most, in fact, would be in full support of it. While we grant that not all people want to relate the civil rights movement with rights for the LGBT community, I see too many similarities NOT to. And I believe our language is (and will be found to be, through the lens of history) appropriate, accurate, and true. One day I believe most people will agree that it is narrow-minded to view gays differently, judgmental to call them sinners and abominations, and manipulative to use select Bible passages as weapons against them.

What I am NOT Saying

Lastly, let me say this: I do not believe that every person who voted yes for Amendment 1 or Prop 8, or that every person who believes marriage should only be between one man and one woman, is a narrow-minded bigot, or a judgmental jerk, or takes part in deceptive campaigns, or manipulates others with the Bible.

I know many good hearted followers of Jesus who deeply love God, love people, and cherish the Bible, but who also cannot agree with same-sex marriage. These people have wrestled with the issues, studied the Scriptures, prayed and sought council, and have just simply landed in a different place than I (and many others) have.

Just because you disagree with me on this does not mean I think you are narrow-minded or judgmental. And I can honestly understand how our billboard would cause you to feel that that is what I/we are saying.

So to those family and friends of mine who felt attacked or snubbed or were offended because you felt I was calling you names, I apologize.

That being said, I cannot apologize for my commitment to fight against the theology and worldviews (and the actions that flow from them) that view LGBT folk as less than who they are.

I cannot apologize for my conviction that Jesus has invited me to follow him down this journey of being a straight-ally.

I cannot apologize for those moments when my soul aches on behalf of the marginalized and discriminated.

And I cannot apologize for ultimately hoping that one day you will change your heart and mind on this issue. I respect the fact that you may disagree with me, and I would never let that tarnish a relationship.

I hope you can understand where I'm coming from, too. And if not understand, than at least respect.

Thanks for reading.