Excuse me, are you listening? 12-15
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Dear Readers,
I got an envelope in the mail. It was from the person who usually sends me loving messages about God or quotes from the Bible.     It is always anonymous.  They never sent anything that was discriminatory in nature.   The handwriting was familiar on the envelope and I was excited to see what was sent. 
I am hoping that whoever sent me the envelope  is reading this now.  I was sent a “Homosexuality in Your Child’s School” hate brochure, hate pamphlet or/and hate mail.    God should not be about hate.   
I was so deeply offended that I could only read the first few pages of the pamphlet.   It was written by the Family Research Council, which has been placed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (www.splcenter.org) hate group list.  If the sender of the brochure believed so much in telling me about “pro-homosexual activist” and condemning them, I believe that you should have at least put a return address on the envelope so we could have responded to you personally.  
Let Me Choose
The pamphlet says, “Thank you for choosing this resource….”   I would say to the sender that I would have never chosen to pick the pamphlet up that you sent me.  If you want to educate someone about “homosexuals” call me up, I would be happy to tell you my experience with some of the most loving people that I know.  I have an especially interesting story to tell you about discrimination and love but it has to do with a young girl who was sexually assaulted and was excluded, bullied and called awful names by other students but was accepted by the “drama and audio visual club kids”, who were struggling with sexual identity.  
This is so personal and I would usually not respond but I have to say something.  I was just so disturbed by the language.  The pamphlet states in the first paragraph, “Despite decades of activism and media propaganda promoting acceptance and celebration of homosexuality…. A clear majority of Americans still believe it is “morally wrong.”  
I have my opinion and you have yours.   We all have our own opinions.  I think that if we concentrated on how much we had in common and respecting each other, this world would be a much better place. I watch commercials about quick fixes for wrinkles and losing weight without working for it.  I have also in sixty seconds or less seen how people can go into a home that you can see that you can smell the stench for three blocks but apparently one or two sprays of this product will cause anosmia, which is the inability to perceive odor, in other words a lack of functioning ability to smell.
I think sending me this brochure “stinks”.  Over the years, we have had every type of person write for us and have always given persons like yourself respect enough to help, move forward and promote what you are doing without discriminating.  I am assuming that the mail was sent in response to 2 letters to the editor regarding Lansing’s Sister City St. Petersburg, Russia to condemn and resist enforcing the new law.   Who responds to editorials by sending out hate mail? We are crippling our nation with hate groups.
I am not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered and I am grateful that my mother taught me that everyone is created equal.  When you sent us the brochure did you think that we would just process the information and change a lifetime of love and respect?  It is not often that I even have to do this, however, I see what this type of hate mongering has done to individuals and families.
The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States and exposes their activities to law enforcement agencies, the media and the public. They publish their investigative findings online and they print a newspaper.  The Family Research Council does not represent the majority of Christians that I know.  We run a multicultural newspaper, we see discrimination in all demographics and race.  No matter how little discrimination one is exposed to, it is still against the principle of love.
Since I am not a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered , I thought I would find some quotes from individuals who had experiences that impacted them. 
We All Deserve Respect
I found this on Pew Research Center’s page: Voices: On Religion and the Coming Out Process*
Comments from LGBT survey respondents on the conflict they feel between religion and their sexual orientation:
“The only thing holding me back from being open about my sexuality is the very strong religious Christian views that most of my family has. I have come out and been open with anyone and everyone who I know won’t judge me based on their religious views and have yet to encounter any negative responses or discrimination. I am confident that the religious members of my family will judge me based on their conservative and radical views of their religion and will end their relationships with me, and I’m not prepared to lose such a large part of my family over it.” -Gay man, age 26
“When I came out to my parents 30+ years ago it was very difficult. Both were very religious and felt homosexuality was a sin. Gradually they accepted my lifestyle including my partner. My life felt easier after I [came] out to them.” -Lesbian, age 59
“When I was younger, I grew up in an extremely conservative [omitted] religion. I had suicidal thoughts ever since I can remember until I left the religion and accepted who I am. Coming out to my family was very difficult because of their religion. Fortunately, my family loves me still.” -Gay man, age 34
“When I was 18 I couldn’t handle it and attempted suicide. I became religious thinking God would make me straight. I gave that up at 26 when I finally realized it wasn’t God who had a problem with me but his followers.” - Gay man, age 64
Comments from LGBT respondents who are active in a church or other religious group:
“… I’m also very involved in my church as a youth leader, and I have not breached the topic with anyone. However, I do believe that both of my pastors “know” that I am gay but it has not been brought up and they don’t appear to have any issue with it. I attend a church that does allow gays and lesbians to be ordained. However, it would be an issue for some people in the church and I’m not ready to open that can of worms.”-Lesbian, age 49, evangelical Protestant
“When I told my parents, initially our relationship grew weaker. However, after speaking with their pastor; it started getting better. With time, my life became to them a picture of normality, stability, and morality. Now everything with my parents is awesome, loving, and spiritually sound. My brothers have been by my side from the start. My sister won’t speak to me even after 21 years of being ‘out.’ All relatives with the exception of one aunt has been supportive, welcoming and family to me.”-Gay man, age 40, Catholic
“I was a religious professional in a denomination that essentially had a don’t as[k] don’t tell policy and though I was active in efforts to change those policies at every level I was not free to be out in my work and I eventually … had to give up that work. [I]t was economically and spiritually and emotionally very difficult… I experienced the days of the really dark closets and after [S]tonewall everything was getting more free … so in a sense better … I never imagined then that life would be for the glbtq community what it is today …” -Lesbian, age 65, mainline Protestant
I Am Sorry
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Family Association has declared that “homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler … the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews,” suggested that gay sex be punished like heroin use, and said that the “homosexual agenda” endangers “every fundamental right” in the Constitution, including religious freedom. This group also promoted “reparative therapy,” which claims against the bulk of the evidence that it can “cure” gay men and lesbians and make them heterosexual, but in fact has left a string of people behind who were badly hurt by the process.
It seems like there are many who deserve an apology too.  But we are talking about this one specific issue.  I received hate mail.  I like people.  The propaganda needs to stay where it is.  There are some that I really admire for changing their opinions.  Jesus said a lot about judging other people. We need to pray that people have loving hearts.
I have many friends, acquaintances and colleagues who have differing opinions than I do.  I do not judge them for using their First Amendment right which allows free speech.  I too, want to know who I am talking to.
It is a very difficult thing to apologize and admit wrong doing. I was really amazed while reading this letter from a man that I watched on a show demoralize and demean lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgendered.  It was disturbing.  However, there is a glimmer of hope in some people.  Read on:
I Am Sorry
JUNE 19, 2013 
Three years ago, Leslie and I began a very public conversation with Our America’s Lisa Ling, from the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) regarding some of our deeply held beliefs about Christianity and the LGBT community.  Today, we have decided to carry this public conversation even further. While this conversation has and may well continue to be met with many different responses from supporters and critics, it is our desire to keep having these honest discussions in the hopes of arriving to a place of peace.
Several months ago, this conversation led me to call Lisa Ling to take another step on this messy journey.  I asked if she would, once again, help us add to the unfolding story by covering my apology to the people who have been hurt by Exodus International.  Our ministry has been public and therefore any acknowledgement of wrong must also be public.  I haven’t always been the leader of Exodus, but I am now and someone must finally own and acknowledge the hurt of others. I do so anxiously, but willingly.
It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church’s treatment of the LGBT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt. Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.
It is also strange to be an outcast from powerful portions of both the gay community and the Christian community.  Because I do not completely agree with the vocal majorities in either group and am forging a new place of peaceful service in and through both, I will likely continue to be an outsider to some degree. I imagine it to be very much like a man I recently heard speak at a conference I attended, Father Elias Chacour, the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Israel. He is an Arab Christian, Palestinian by birth, and a citizen of Israel. Talk about a walking contradiction.  When I think of the tension of my situation I am comforted by the thought of him and his.
My desire is to completely align with Christ, his Good News for all and his offer of peace amidst the storms of life. My wife Leslie and my beliefs center around grace, the finished work of Christ on the cross and his offer of eternal relationship to any and all that believe. Our beliefs do not center on “sin” because “sin” isn’t at the center of our faith. Our journey hasn’t been about denying the power of Christ to do anything – obviously he is God and can do anything.
With that, here is an expanded version of the apology I offered during my recent interview with Lisa Ling to the people within the LGBTQ community who have been hurt by the Church, Exodus International, and me.  I realize some within the communities for which I apologize will say I don’t have the right, as one man, to do so on their behalf.  But if the Church is a body, with many members being connected to the whole, then I believe that what one of us does right we all do right, and what one of us does wrong we all do wrong. We have done wrong, and I stand with many others who now recognize the need to offer apologies and make things right.  I believe this apology – however imperfect – is what God the Father would have me do.
To Members of the LGBTQ Community:
In 1993 I caused a four-car pileup.  In a hurry to get to a friend’s house, I was driving when a bee started buzzing around the inside of my windshield. I hit the bee and it fell on the dashboard. A minute later it started buzzing again with a fury. Trying to swat it again I completely missed the fact that a city bus had stopped three cars in front of me.  I also missed that those three cars were stopping, as well.  Going 40 miles an hour I slammed into the car in front of me causing a chain reaction. I was injured and so were several others.  I never intended for the accident to happen. I would never have knowingly hurt anyone. But I did. And it was my fault. In my rush to get to my destination, fear of being stung by a silly bee, and selfish distraction, I injured others.
I have no idea if any of the people injured in that accident have suffered long term effects. While I did not mean to hurt them, I did. The fact that my heart wasn’t malicious did not lessen their pain or their suffering. I am very sorry that I chose to be distracted that fall afternoon, and that I caused so much damage to people and property.  If I could take it all back I absolutely would. But I cannot. I pray that everyone involved in the crash has been restored to health.
Recently, I have begun thinking again about how to apologize to the people that have been hurt by Exodus International through an experience or by a message. I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me. 
And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does.
Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.
Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated. 
Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine. 
More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.
I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself. 
You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good.
Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.
To the person who sent the brochure, they are creating a new website at 
Currently the ReduceFear.Org website is in development but you can sign up below to receive announcements and updates. Their mission statement is: “We serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about faith, gender, and sexuality; and partnering with others to establish trust, reduce fear, and inspire hope.”
I think I have said and written enough.
Love people,
Rina Risper
This was printed in the August 11, 2013 - August 24, 2013 Edition

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