I wanted to share with you what happened this past Sunday at a very special screening in Fortuna, which was planned primarily for the benefit of those nearby at Redwood Camp Meeting. It was one of those small screenings that I wasn't sure would go well, but it absolutely blew me away and had me in tears.
First though, I have to set the context and say that I didn't grow up going to camp meeting. I grew up at San Pasqual Academy, an Adventist boarding school in rural Southern California (yes, there are rural parts!), and there weren't camp meetings in that area, or, maybe that's just what my parents said because my mom isn't crazy about camping, especially with a thousand Adventists! So, in my mind, people who went to camp meeting were really, really Adventist, possibly a bit fringe. It's always good to have our assumptions challenged, as, of course, this film does. So I found myself wowed by how much I enjoyed Redwood Camp Meeting. The setting is glorious and, at least in the Adult 2 tent, the music was great and the speaking challenging, renewing, and inspiring (Herb Montgomery of Renewed Heart Ministries was the speaker, and his message is one of an unconditionally loving God and a Jesus that calls us to love all "indiscriminately, as the sun shines and the rain falls").
The screening was one of our smaller crowds (60 or so), but they were an engaged audience with a decent sprinkling of pastors and thought leaders as well as average Adventists. I kept hearing the laughter and sniffles in the right places. The discussion was a space with a lot of personal sharing, and towards the end, a gay Adventist man who just married his partner of 16 years (because it's legal in CA now) spoke up. He talked about how much he loved the church as a kid and never missed a Sabbath unless they were gone, and even then they always found a way to have their own church. But now he hasn't been in years because he can't handle being treated like a second-class citizen. Someone else pointed out that as a divorced and now single mom she feels marginalized in the church too--our challenge to truly step into community and love without caveats goes beyond LGBT issues and is indicative of a bigger issue.
And then Herb Montgomery, the main speaker for the Adult 2 camp meeting tent, spoke up. He talked about his gratitude for the chance to watch the film and experience these stories. It was clear that he was very moved by them. And then he turned to the gay Adventist man who has just shared and said, "I don't know how many people I'm going to need to say this to in this room, but I'll start with you, and I want my kids to witness this. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so very, very sorry." This continued, and soon he had tears streaming down his face. The man he was apologizing to had tears. I began to cry. I looked out at the crowd and saw many other eyes being wiped. It was one of those miraculously beautiful moments of heart connection that we've been privileged to witness with this film and with these special--really sacred--spaces that happen at screenings. I'm reminded of one of my favorite Henry David Thoreau quotes, "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
I'm used to so many thought-leaders in the church needing to be quiet about their appreciation for the film, but he posted this endorsement on his Facebook page:
"If you are processing how a 'follower of Jesus' should respond to someone whom society has labeled as LGBT, you owe it to yourself to add this documentary to the list of resources you are considering. I was unexpectedly blown away...I cannot recommend this film highly enough."
On a serious note, I deeply wish those in leadership at all conservative churches, Adventist and otherwise, where this topic can be so divisive would witness these spaces where hearts connect. I'm not sure where we got the idea that 100% agreement and total theological unity is required in order to unconditionally love and respect each other as equally beloved children of the Divine. As a noted author likes to say, "Jesus didn't say that 'They'll know you are my disciples by your firm stance on divisive social issues.'" Why is loving others so much harder than it sounds? Maybe that's why Jesus had to make it a new commandment.