The letter below was first published by Reverend Ngeo Boon Lin, an openly gay Malaysia-born pastor who serves at the Metropolitan Community Church of New York; and is republished here with permission. The letter-writer, who is of Singaporean origin but currently lives in the US, says she has come to accept gay people and hopes to be reunited with her friend.
Photo: The Marin Foundation, a Christian organisation that has dedicated
itself to saying how “mainstream” Christianity treats the LGBTIQ community.
The "’Im Sorry Campaign" was the original activism of love apologizing
to the LGBT community for the ways Christians have caused harm.
It has been almost 12 years ago since we have last spoken. You haven’t responded to any of my emails or attempts to contact you. I don’t blame you if you are still upset with me. When you shared your deepest secret with me, I had let you down. I was your biggest nightmare that came true.
"I am gay." You almost whispered those words to me.
We were sitting by the waterfront steps of our favorite river. It was past midnight and we have been talking for hours. We watched the tourist boats steaming up and down the water reflecting the neon lights of the city while sipping our supersized drinks. You turned to me out of a sudden and told me you had something important to tell me. I held my breath.
When you finally gathered sufficient courage to share with me that you are gay, I didn’t know how to respond. So I spoke out of reflex the most hurtful words to you, words which I have been “programmed” to say from my 20 over years of Christian learning. Those horrible words shut the doors of friendship between us.
You can change and you will be saved, I said to you. I can never forget the horror and pain in your eyes hearing what I said. It was as if I took a gun and fired a fatal bullet right at your open heart which you risked baring to me.
“Why does God hate me? Am I a mistake to God?” you asked.
“No, God loves you and He can help you to become “normal” again,” I replied naively. You closed your eyes and your entire body was almost shaking. I didn’t understand what I have just done to you.
You didn’t tell anyone about your deepest struggles, not any of your friends or your family. You thought you could trust me. But I failed you.
When I was leaving, you didn’t come to see me off at the airport. I waited almost till the last boarding call, longing to see you somehow popped out in the middle of the crowd. You never showed up. I was so mad at you. I still didn’t understand how I had single-handedly destroyed our friendship. I thought you would somehow get over it and we could be friends again. I was wrong. I had hurt you so deeply that many years later I heard from a friend that you couldn’t even stand hearing my name being mentioned. Everyone wondered what happened between us. We were best friends, like shadows to one another.
I cringe every time when my pastors ask us to pray for homosexual individuals because “homosexuality is a sin” and unless they repent or change, they are condemned to hell. You are one of the kindest and most genuine persons I know. While we, the “Children of God”, were holding hands, singing hallelujah and vowed to condemn and obstruct your freedom to love and marry, you were busy spending most of your free time volunteering at social agencies mentoring troubled youths and gave away the little extra money that you have to buy school supplies for children from poor families. I was often surprised by how insightful and intuitive you were towards their painful struggles as if you were in their shoes. Now I understand. You knew from personal experience how painful it is to feel rejected and socially oppressed by others.
I became very embarrassed almost ashamed with how some of my “Christian” brothers and sisters were behaving towards gay people. There was so much irrational hatred and eagerness to judge and condemn. Now I understand why you always looked so sad. There was always sadness that lingered in your eyes even at your happiest moments.
I didn’t have a peace of mind until God open my eyes to the truth that you are perfect just the way you are, as intended by Him. It took me a long time to understand my cruelty towards you. As Christians, we are not infallible and have made a lot of mistakes. Looking back at history, we at one point thought that the earth was flat, felt slavery was right, and women should not speak in church.
I went through a personal crisis with my faith because if I cannot believe the Bible “word for word” literally, can I believe the Bible at all? It is funny how God sent people to our lives to help us learn and grow. You would never believe that I married a scientist. Remember those heated arguments we had about creation versus evolution? My husband has no problem believing there is a God as well as evolution. God creates and his creation evolves. They are all beautiful in his eyes.
Oct 11 is National Coming Out Day in the United States. I wanted to send this out on that day but it was difficult writing something so emotional and having to deal with an uncooperative 2-year-old. Yes, I’m a mommy now. We adopted her when she was a few weeks old. We couldn’t have children of our own. You would love her. She is just like me excitable, strong willed, and fearless. Ironically, some people think that if you cannot procreate, then you should not be married. Yet I know you would be one of the best daddies a child could ever dream of.
I’m so sorry to be so late in my understanding. Late is better than never, right? Today, I’m an out of the closet Christian that supports homosexuality, if there is such a thing. I pray and hope you would somehow read about my apology letter to you and give me another chance as a friend. I hope you haven’t completely given up on me.
Your fight is not over yet but this time I am with you, my friend.
Stupid cow !!!
I wish more "christians" were actual Christians.
Believing in things without logic and evidence also means you ignore evidence when it contradicts the belief. It can literally be in front of your face and you make up a lie about it so you can ignore it and keep believing your belief.
On my part, I do apologise however for the "stupid cow" as it was uncalled for.
But consider... would I really want the melodrama in my life and welcoming back the awkwardness and energy that this is going to consume? Would this "friendship" really be worth it, when I could spend my time with other friends that do not have to rekindle horrific memories?
Is it our socially-assigned "role" by birthright as LGBT people that we get to be abused without mercy as society's doormat, and as a fair-hair child prodigy whipping-boy pariah - but then "have" to be perfect ourselves in our response, and thus step-up into that perfectionist role and forgive?
Seriously, is this supposed to be some deterrent to prevent homophobia, or are we really society's pushovers, who are presumed to crave and yearn for acceptance so strongly, that like an insecure puppy dog, we get beat and always crawl back whimpering to our owners? Do we have to act that helpless? Are we as LGBT people relegated to child or puppy-like status in society? If so, how condescending is the entire forgiveness model? Does the forgiveness model give society a license to abuse LGBT people?
To her credit, the letter appears genuine. For me personally it would a difficult decision. I disagree with the notion that every time someone asks for forgiveness, that "I'm sorry" just magically makes everything right again.
For me the last line of the letter is telling, 'Your fight is not over yet but this time I am with you, my friend'. Forgiveness would hinge upon what, if anything, tangible, of substance, has this person done?
Has she volunteered as a mentor in an LGBT homeless youth center? If so, and she is putting her money where her mouth is, then I would consider a very slow-gradual reconstruction of cautious acquaintanceship first only via email and only meet again in-person after years of getting past the whole awkward stage.
Thank you for your splendid posting.
Quoting you, if I may: ..."I disagree with the notion that every time someone asks for forgiveness, that "I'm sorry" just magically makes everything right again. " THIS WAS PRECISELY MY POINT, WITH A BARKING !
I came out at the tender age of 17 and ever since I have made a stand -when occasions call for it- to be "accepted" and not "tolerated" (which not acceptable to me).
I have found that most of time apologies regarding homophia are an act of late self-pity as pathetic as the old " but some of my best friends are Jewish as well" !
Again, thank you. You made my day.
There is a sea-change difference between words versus actions, or feelings versus results, or apologies versus accountability. The most genuine of apologies has substance to demonstrate sincerity from the value of hard work or some effort that goes beyond words alone.
The different is the level-of-effort: it is relatively-easy, by-comparison, to say "I am sorry". Three words. Humility, yes, but compare this to volunteer work, organizing, resource planning, delegating, management...and instead of mere seconds we are looking at hundreds of hours of time and effort.
I did twenty years of volunteer work myself, spanning seven different agencies, alongside my own career, without a single thing to apologize for in the first place.
I am not implying that if someone cracked an anti-gay joke 30 years ago and made a bar room of drunks laugh, that they are required to spend the rest of their life in toil and the service of others. But what I am implying is that, to the greater degree than anyone harmed someone else, or to the greater number of people who were harmed, then as these things increase in significance, then "I'm sorry" just does not cut it anymore.
I would consider Fred Phelps liquidating his entire net worth to be bequeathed to the Cyndi Lauper Center for Homeless LGBT youth to be a good start. This would take any value in any words of
reconciliation of someone to the likes of Fred Phelps, and begin to ad sincerity. Scaled down to anyone, in any situation, and tangibility of some kind, even a single day of volunteering, attending a PFLAG meeting, a Matthew Shepard Foundation fundraiser - or some service to others, gives the words I am sorry actual sincerity. Otherwise, they are only words, as the level of effort behind them is seconds of air.
Some would argue, "but they *feel* bad".
Do I care about feelings? If I no longer care about the person anyway, then I certainly do not care about their feelings either. They are dead to me.
I care about what people actually DO. Feelings are potential energy - until put into motion, it is mere feel-good idealism. Actions are kinetic energy - this is reality with real-life consequences.
If a person expresses homophobia through their actions, which has real-life consequences to another person, then the reciprocal reconciliation must be within the same arena, otherwise, an apology is merely an idealistic cop-out - and all about the homophobe's feelings, for which live in a vacuum of their own reality apart from my own. Does any really care if Osama Bin Laden was "sorry"? Or how he felt? Or if he was remorseful? If someone hits my car with their car, do I really care about if they are sorry or not? Show me an insurance check, and yes, this is something tangible - that can replace my car. "I'm sorry" cannot.
This is not to imply that everyone who has ever said or done anything homophobic needs to reach for their checkbook. No, but there are alternatives to words or money - time, energy and effort that shows a commitment to what they claim sincerity towards in their understanding.
*Genuineness* can be gauged on several different levels: Was this an act of homophobia a product of misinformation, digested in earnest, with good intentions, yet presented with unintentional or
unforeseen consequences, insensitivity or lack of awareness resulting in misspoken words or such that were not intended to actually harm? And regardless, were any corrective actions or proactive efforts performed that are substantive beyond words alone that clearly demonstrate the giving of time or energy to give those words actual power.
Or was the act of homophobia a sadistic product of delights in hurting others, just to enjoy watching them suffer and takes pleasure in permanently destroying them psychologically while administering pain, torment and antagonism - and if so, then could a reasonable person discern that they are indeed truly hurting another human being on an unimaginable level?
If so, then uttering "I am sorry" is a far cry from actually doing anything about the damage caused. This is like crashing your car into someone else's car, not having insurance, and shrugging your shoulders and say, "gosh, I am really sorry. But you pick up the pieces. I put the burden back on you to not only deal with me and my problem, but to ALSO forgive me too - because it is all about me. SO while you carry the burden of being the target of abuse, you also as gay get to carry the burden of accepting a round-robin of I'm sorry's as you get to encounter everyone else's moment of personal growth theater, to your own expense, while otherwise trying to live peacefully as a productive and contributing member of society.
For which is of course, the mere act of existing and breathing, is thus bastardized into some "homosexual lifestyle".
My growing understanding has gathered that forgiveness has its place in the world, but cannot bridge every gap, nor should forgiveness be expected to. Forgiveness is very personal and in many
cases, should never be imposed on anyone.
If the burden is put only on the injured party to forgive, then forgiveness is entirely one-sided and self-serving entirely for the one who has wronged someone else. In addition, there is the social awkwardness factor that past abuse defined the entire relationship.
I just think that there are parameters to forgiveness and that these should be qualified, as opposed to holding up forgiveness as an absolutist ideal.
Sincerity is everything. The sincerity of the mistake itself, and the sincerity of how that person uses their time, energy and resources to demonstrate a commitment towards their understanding.
“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
I am not divine and do not pretend to be, nor should I be expected to be divine. I refuse to live up to that expectation (or implied social role) as gay man, I am human being like everyone else.
You painted him as "one of the kindest and most genuine persons" you know. Hence, you said he ought to know from personal experience how painful it is to feel rejected and socially oppressed by others. Are you suggesting that he therefore ought to openly say he accepts your apology?
You said God opened your eyes to the truth, which is really a good thing. But I do not detect anywhere in your letter that you have forgiven yourself for what transpired 12 years ago between you and him. I think it is very important for you to forgive yourself first, if you have not.
And some things are best left to rest. This is a case of him exercising the power of silence. He being the kind and genuine person that you so remembered, he must have put the past behind, too. And be at peace with himself. It is important that we respect that right.
"I am gay." He had almost whispered those words to you. That was subtle. I imagine he was not out then. You are now out, which is a good thing. But he probably still isn't. And there is nothing wrong with him, or with that. That's just the difference between you and him. Longing for him to re-connect with you may put unnecessary pressure on him.
Get on with your life. And leave him his. In Buddhism, karma sometimes works wonders. And if you both are destined to meet again in the most unexpected circumstances or place, you both will. Good luck. If you do not, you just wish him, All the Best. That's perhaps the least you can do for your "friend".
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