I just finished a call with an old friend of mine — “old” not in the sense of his age but in the sense that our active friendship grew dormant more than a quarter of a century ago.
Space fails here, and I suppose it is unnecessary, to explain how our lives and ministries have diverged over these past 25-plus years. While he has remained in the denomination of our childhood, I have moved on from not only that world but another three or four beyond it.
Today, he called me out of “loving concern” for me. He called to explain that he thought of and prayed for me often. And that he felt led on this particular day to reach out in an effort to “reach (me) and hopefully help (me) recognize how far (I) have strayed from the truth.”
I also felt led today. I really did. I felt led to listen to his concerns, to let him have his say, to let him express his love exactly as he thought best. For the better part of an hour, I was essentially silent as he pleadingly reiterated his concerns, his hopes and his answers for me.
And as he desperately, even tearfully, made his case, I could not help but remember a few of the countless times I had done something so similar. I could not help but remember the time when I also believed the very things he was saying. Deeply and sincerely. Just as I believe he does yet today. And just as deeply and sincerely as I now believe a very different set of ideas.
As we finished our call, he could not hide his disappointment. He could not hide his sadness, his confusion, his surprise that I did not agree with him, that I could not, perhaps would not, see “the truth.”
To his exasperation, I finally asked him what chance I had of changing his mind regarding what he believes to be “the truth.” Without any hesitation or apology, he admitted there was no chance. I asked him why he would think that would be any different in the reciprocal direction. My question did not seem to register.
We ended our call but not before promising to stay in touch. And to pray for one another. And then I took a short walk as I felt the need to process the time we had just shared. And on that walk, I was reminded I would never expect, nor recommend, that those I now serve, (specifically Christian and post-Christian LGBTQ) ever, ever again subject themselves to the kind of conversation I just had with my old friend today. Ever.
“I am eternally grateful for the persistent patience of those generous folk who loved me enough to endure all my efforts to ‘help’ and change them.”
And yet I was reminded of just why I still hold, not their ideas, but those people so dearly in my heart. And why I feel capable of both pressing hard and demanding change while at the very same time maintaining compassion for those who are not yet capable or ready for that change. I personally know the devastating sway those fear-based ideas can have on both a heart and a mind. I know because my heart and mind still bear those scars.
For those who do not agree with my sentiments on this and have run out of compassion for people who still hold those kinds of damaging ideas, I don’t blame or judge you for that. I do not. Those people, though, still feel like a vital and valuable part of my call. My patience for them is rooted in my memories of me.
And, as I think again about my tearful friend today, I am eternally grateful for the persistent patience of those generous folk who loved me enough to endure all my efforts to “help” and change them.
Stan Mitchell is founding pastor at GracePointe Church in Nashville, Tenn, and co-founder of Everybody Church, an inclusive, global online community of faith. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School.
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