“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
When I was in college, a private and conservative institution, an unusual and impromptu revival occurred on campus. For several days, the school’s chapel was packed for hours a night with individuals publicly confessing their self-perceived `sins’ and hundreds of others witnessing those confessions — a cathartic process that was both moving and disturbing. I went one evening to observe — having nothing to confess, I thought.
As the crowd sweated and wept and prayed, caught up in an emotionally charged “King Mob,” I realized I wanted to speak. Now, as the only (and decisively) `out’ person on campus, I had some infamy and responsibility. I could not, in good conscience, encourage these kids’ self-identification as less-than-worthy, since I disagreed with their pervasive idea that human beings are created dirty and imperfect by God. At the same time, I felt it important that I participate, contradicting the stereotype that LGBT people are anti-Spirit and offering an alternative spiritual point of view. I got out of my pew and joined the line filing toward the microphone without knowing what I would say.
The chapel was still full, standing room only, when I reached the front. More than a thousand faces turned toward me. I waited for silence and for words. When they were quiet, I said, “Most of you know I’m gay, but I’m not up here to confess the `sin’ of homosexuality. I don’t believe in `sin.’ But I am up here to ask for your forgiveness.” Curious silence. “I owe each of you an apology. I have prejudged you. It’s so easy after one experiences some prejudice to assume that everyone is a bigot. I almost didn’t participate, actually I almost didn’t come, because I was afraid that I would be unwelcome. I’m sorry that I have lived in fear of most of you, because I judged you without knowing you. I assumed that you were my enemy, without ever asking you. I’ve treated you as `the other’ in many ways, and I apologize. I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want to feel separate from you. One of the sacred books of my tradition is the Chinese Tao Te Ching, and it says, `There is no greater illusion than fear, no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself, no greater misfortune than having an enemy. Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe…’ I guess that’s it. Thanks.”
There was a moment of silence, then some applause as I recessed down the center aisle. People came out from the pews, friends and strangers alike, to embrace me. I was told later that it was a powerful experience for many people who heard me that night. Ever since, I’ve been very aware of when I am prejudging others — especially heterosexuals and particularly our `enemies.’
Frequently in our struggle for full, unequivocal legal and ecclesiastical equality, we demonize and distance ourselves from those with whom we disagree. Like any abused creature, we growl and bark at, and occasionally bite, the one who hurt us in the past. We can even see how we directly `make’ our own enemies, giving them power and influence just by virtue of our defensive reaction to their anti-gay activities — we’ve given them more free publicity than they could ever have afforded! It’s a basic metaphysical Law, folks: “That which you pay attention to, you get more of.” It’s not unlike the Law of karma, that what you put out into the universe comes back to you sevenfold.
Of course, the Law of Attention doesn’t mean to not pay attention! We have choices about how we pay attention to our `enemies.’ We can hate them, fear them, call them names, lampoon them, counter them, fight them with every ounce of our being — or we can forgive them and develop compassion for them.
A Course In Miracles teaches that forgiveness is necessary, not because others have actually wronged us, but because we participated in believing in our vulnerability. We are culpable co-creators of our experience. When we forgive others, we exalt the light in them — the light that is in everything; that is everything. We also exalt the light that is in us, as well, linking us to the rest. “Fear condemns and Love forgives. Forgiveness thus undoes what fear has produced, returning the mind to the awareness of [Mother/Father/Creator/Spirit/God].” (II.73) The wise and indomitable Marianne Williamson writes in Healing the Soul of America that “It is in forgiving people that we release them from the darkness we might judge them for; it is in refusing to judge people that we have the most power to affect them; and it is in loving people that we heal them of the wounds that have hardened their minds and hearts.”
We might also say that “Fear divides, and Love joins.” The goal of the TBGL rights movement is not to conquer. We don’t really want to just switch who’s on top and institute a form of domination more in line with our thinking to replace the patriarchal, ethnocentric, heterosexist culture we have now. Our goal is what Martin King called the “Beloved Community,” We envision a nation and a world in which all people — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — live with equal opportunity in open and affirming social and faith communities, free from blatant and subtle forms of discrimination, intimidation, harassment, defamation, and violence.
Dr. King also said that, “Peace is not the absence of tension but the presence of justice.” Even in a Beloved Community, there will be those with whom we disagree, but we will be able to communicate and respect those differences without attack. If the Beloved Community is our goal then we must begin by forgiving our enemies now so that we will be able to join with them in harmonious partnership later. We cannot join together with those we hold grievances against. We may have to forgive them every day, but we have to keep on keeping on until our attention is focused on what we really want, the Beloved Community, and not focused on the illusions of hate and separation that appear to bar our way.