Our words can wound others deeply.
Sometimes they hurt us even more.
Eight years ago I was emerging from religious beliefs that held me captive for 40 years. Fear of rejection and condemnation by God had my beliefs locked in black and white. If Bible-based Christianity decreed something wrong, there was no room for argument or question.
It was my step-mother’s 90th birthday. Relatives came from far and wide to celebrate her big day. It was a great opportunity to catch up with extended family. Handshakes, hugs and kisses were exchanged; life’s latest headlines were shared; love, warmth and laughter flowed freely.
I hadn’t seen my relative Tom since he was a child. Now a grown man, all I knew about him was he was gay and in a relationship.
In those days much of the “truth” scripted into my thinking still controlled my attitudes and actions. To me, homosexuality was sin; homosexual relationships were unnatural and repulsive.
Tom and I were sitting at the same table. He introduced me to his partner Mike. I don’t remember the conversation but my feelings remain crystal clear.
Being warm and friendly is my default for relating to others. My ‘love and acceptance’ dial is normally set to ‘maximum’. This time it flicked hard off. I had no intention of being rude or hurtful, but offering Tom and Mike acceptance conflicted with my beliefs. It would be wrong to affirm their ‘sinful’ state and relationship. So instead of being warm and friendly, I was cordial and cold.
Reflecting on the encounter later, I felt an awkward, uncomfortable stirring within me. Something about my response was wrong. The call to “love one another” had collided with “homosexuality is evil”. I was being challenged to question my beliefs.
Withholding love from a person because of their ‘sinful ways’ was in direct contradiction of offering them unconditional love and grace. I realised that I had treated them unfairly and without love.
Ever since that time I’ve felt regret. I hoped that one day I’d be able to set things right.
Eight years later my beliefs are in a very different space. Life experience found my religious belief framework wanting. Black and white beliefs stifle healthy questions; they deny us the opportunity to learn new things and change and grow accordingly; they lead to judging other people’s actions as ‘right or wrong’. Worse still, we judge and devalue the people themselves as flawed, inferior beings. Depending on our beliefs we may see them in need of Salvation (by conversion to our beliefs).
Changing my beliefs and attitudes regarding LGBTIQ people and relationships did not happen overnight. The step by step process of letting my old beliefs go took years. I felt confused and conflicted along the way. Stepping out of a secure belief framework into the uncertainty of ‘no man’s land’ is very threatening, especially if you fear God’s disapproval and judgement. At times I felt very insecure and guilty as I let go of ‘The Truth’ and contemplated a new way of thinking.
Recently I was on a cruise to Papua New Guinea. Much to my surprise Tom and Mike were on the same cruise! We arranged to meet, and greeted each other with genuine warmth.
In the course of our conversation I apologised for my behaviour 8 years ago. Tom and Mike exchanged knowing smiles and told me I had nothing to apologise for… no doubt they’ve seen this scenario play out time and again. I am one of the multitudes journeying out of the ‘dark days’ of prejudice and discrimination against those who don’t fit bipolar views of gender and sexual attraction.
Tom and Mike felt no need of healing… thankfully they’d been loving enough to not be hurt by my behaviour 8 years ago. Ironically, I was the one who needed healing from the pain and regret that I still carried. It was me who had been damaged by the lack of love that flowed from my previous beliefs.
A few reflections…
If you are currently on the journey of revising your beliefs re: gender preference and diversity, be gentle with yourself. It can take years for clarity, peace and a new understanding to emerge out of the disturbing questions and feelings.
If you’ve already made the leap, be gentle with others who are struggling through the transition or yet to reach the starting blocks. Keep caring for those who are not as far along as you. One of the biggest traps is to heap disdain and criticism on those who still hold conservative views. (Sadly, this is all too prevalent on social media.) Before criticising someone else, remember where you have come from, and how long it took you to make the change.
We need conservative people in society. Progressives run the risk of implementing social change without thinking through all the consequences. Our fellow conservatives raise the thorny issues that help ensure the implications of change are addressed before society lunges forward. Let’s be more gracious and less indignant toward them… even be grateful to them for the role they play.
Keep in mind some people will never change. Many will stay locked in their beliefs until the day they die. We must never stop loving and respecting these people. They have reasons for holding their conservative views. Criticising these people as “fundamentalist, conservative, religious bigots” will only reinforce their thinking. Arguing logically with them is unlikely to change their thinking; they see their logic more tenable than yours. If instead you listen to them, treat their views with respect (even though you disagree), and show you value them as people, you might just catch their attention and “love them into the new Kingdom”.
Ian writes to share his life experiences, both uplifting and painful, to help others know they are not alone, and to share the insights and lessons he has discovered along the way. He believes that life is a great teacher; that authentic sharing, “telling it like it is”, can encourage and inspire us, and help us learn and grow. He hopes his stories will touch our hearts, and help us better handle the issues and challenges life inevitably sends our way. Ian resides in Melbourne, Australia.
See previous articles written by Ian James