By Their Fruit I Came to Trust Them
Three weeks ago it was my privilege to be at the meeting of the Union of Affirming Christians – a Faithful Coalition for LGBTQ Equality at Union Seminary in New York City. The conference was under the capable leadership of Josh Dickson, Fred Davie and Derrick Harkins. For two days, 25 of us talked about the need for LGBTQ equality in the evangelical world.
The meeting was a reminder of how much my world has changed over the past few years. For most of my evangelical life I was in the company of leaders who were almost all straight white evangelical males. At the Union meeting straight white men were a decided minority.
Those attending the Union conference have had ample opportunities to spend time with people of varied backgrounds. That has been one of the most refreshing aspects of my new church world. For the most part, those with whom I worked in my previous life came from the same background. I did not encounter gay clergy. I did not interact with women who were pastors, seminary presidents or non-profit CEOs. I interacted with very few people of color.
The beginnings of my own interaction with warm, intelligent, loving non-evangelicals began in my childhood in Akron, Ohio. It continued after I moved to New York and was surrounded by people who did not know an evangelical from a kumquat. These people were intelligent, well educated and accepting. By their fruit I came to trust them. They loved well. Proximity promotes understanding.
I believe those with whom I worked in my previous ministries were good and devoted people. The majority also lived in silos. While being in close proximity promotes understanding, living in silos promotes prejudice. The world I now inhabit is much larger than my previous world. It has been enlightening.
As is most often the case in my new life, the people with whom I worked three weeks ago were not particularly interested in my gender. I am not the first transgender person in their lives. They were far more interested in my knowledge about the evangelical church. They are accustomed to being with people of varied backgrounds. They are not accustomed to spending time with evangelicals, primarily because evangelicals show little interest in spending time with them.
Occasionally I am asked to speak in evangelical environments. I am never invited to speak about the expertise I gained over four decades in ministry. They only want to know about my gender identity. If I am at an educational institution, monitors are in the classroom to pull me from the lectern, should they not like my comments. If I am at a church, the venue is chosen for the ease with which people can choose to make an unobtrusive exit.
I have chosen to place myself in those environments for the primary reason that proximity does promote tolerance. And I appreciate the opportunity. I know those institutions pay a price when they ask me to come. But invariably I must do so at my own expense, and my financial generosity has its limits. I cannot continue to self-fund a one-person campaign to educate evangelicals.
One of the harder lessons of the Union meeting was being reminded of my white privilege. Eighty percent of those in attendance were white, and we knew that was not all right. But I was grateful to at least be in an environment in which that was painfully acknowledged.
I still miss my old friends. Losing their friendship is one of the most painful losses of my life, devastating really. But there is nothing I can do about those losses. When they ask to meet with me, we meet. But not many ask. (The only time I refuse a meeting is when I am being invited to an interrogation, not a conversation. I have no interest in being ambushed.)
Difficult as those losses have been, I am grateful for my new world of wounded healers and faithful questioners. They are fresh air for my tired lungs. Those friendships remind me of the words that close David Whyte’s poem, Sweet Darkness:
The world was made to be free in
You must give up all worlds except the one to which you belong
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness
To learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive
Is too small for you