Thoughts on the Apology Overture from a Bisexual Pastor

Do you remember how arguments went when we were kids? The offense would happen, shouting would ensue, and when an adult got tired of the noise they’d find out what was going on, assign blame, and make the guilty apologize. These apologies always came in a flat monotone with a side of eye-roll. Nobody believed they were sincere and in my experience, they did little to help. I am not a fan of empty apologies. At best, they’re hollow. At worst, they have the power to smother any real, purposeful reconciliation.

I have not weighed in publicly about 11-05, the overture being sent to our PCUSA General Assembly this summer that proposes a denominational apology for the injustices done to LGBTQ folks by the church (read it here). I’ve talked plenty to friends about my complicated thoughts on the document, but I haven’t been vocal in any public space because it seems clear that I risk being told that I’m a “bad queer” if my view don’t align as they should, and frankly, I’m not sure my views entirely align with anyone’s.

Do I think our denomination has committed grievous injustices to queer and trans people? Absolutely. Do we deserve an apology? Yes. Do I want an apology from our church? Yes. Do I believe that an intentional institutional apology has significant power to heal and reconcile? Most definitely.

But only if we mean it. And here’s the thing: I don’t think we mean it.

I don’t think we mean it because the very same constitutional changes that this overture points to as justification for an apology were literally constructed with loopholes to allow for the continued marginalization of queer people by those whose theology differs. I have personally never promised anyone that they wouldn’t be forced to participate in justice toward LGBTQ people like myself because I don’t think it’s really justice or inclusion until it comes without exception. But our denomination has very clearly split that semantic hair. We did it so that those constitutional changes would pass because we knew the church wasn’t ready for them to pass in any less compromising way.

This is why, when I discuss the recent shifts toward more inclusive ordination standards and marriage definition, I describe them as moves toward justice. I describe them as being more inclusive. We have not arrived at a place where justice for LGBTQ persons is being fully enacted or embodied. It has been a long road, I know, but like or not, we are not at its end.

We are not yet a just or fully inclusive church and not just because there is still clear evidence of persistent sexism or because we’ve only just begun to confront the depths of our institutional racism. We are not yet a just or fully inclusive church even for queer people. There has not been a single denominational move—as far as I know—toward justice and inclusion for bisexual people other than the degree to which our justice and inclusion is assumed into that of gay and lesbian people. We have only begun to name the existence of those who are transgender, let alone recognizing and seeking to dismantle the transphobia emanating from our denominational pores. As the brother/sister language of this overture itself makes clear, we still don’t recognize and include those whose gender identity is nonbinary—that is, falls outside the categories of man or woman (and thank you to the friend and colleague who pointed this out, when my own privilege had allowed me to miss it completely).

The perpetuation of injustice within our denomination is not just the story of our past: it is our ongoing present. And it is not just the problem of a handful of vocal conservatives, or even of the straight church—it is also a problem within the queer church itself. I say that as someone whose queer identity is often met with suspicion and rejection from gay and lesbian siblings in faith and who often feels almost as unsafe in queer spaces as I do in straight spaces. None of this even scratches the surface of the intersecting injustices faced by queer people of color or queer people with disabilities. We all have a lot of work to do.

Look, I love this church. It gives me so much joy and hope even despite the ways it has (and continues to) deeply, deeply hurt me and others I love. And I also care about those in our church who don’t believe I should be allowed to be ordained or married to a partner who is not male—those who believe they have nothing to apologize for. But I am not now, nor have I ever been, willing to circumvent justice in the name of their comfort. I am not opposed to this overture passing because it will make them uncomfortable. But I am concerned that its passing will allow comfort for some others who should also be uncomfortable.

I am angry at how broken our church is and how callously it has rejected and wounded its own children in the name of bigotry and fear and ignorance. I am angry that injustices in our church have gone on for so long—much longer, I realize, than I have had to experience personally. I am overwhelmed that there is still so much work to do.

I absolutely want an apology. And I want us to mean it. But I don’t know how we can when we cannot yet even recognize—let alone repent of—all the injustices we are doing to queer and trans people even now.

I’m glad this overture exists. I’m glad it is making sure that the push for full LGBTQ justice in our church doesn’t go away. I’m glad for the hard but necessary conversations this overture is stirring up. I hope that conversations about the need for the church to recognize and apologize for injustice never go away and that eventually they lead to legitimate action, confession, healing, and reconciliation. But I am not at all convinced that this current overture should be passed by our General Assembly.

We don’t believe in cheap grace. We believe in genuine repentance. Our beloved broken church shouldn’t have projected onto it or get credit for an apology that it isn’t ready to mean or live into. I am not interested in a flat monotone with a side of eye-roll. And I am profoundly worried what injustices will be quietly allowed to persist if that’s the apology we settle for.

I expect more. We deserve more. God calls us to more.

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