At the beginning of January, I was returning home to Washington, D.C. after a third consecutive year of attending the annual Gay Christian Network Conference (gcnconf.com). It was another powerful year of inspirational and forward-leaning workshops and keynotes, some of which I was able to lead for the first time as a recently minted seminary student and member the organization's board.
Among the keynotes at the conference was my friend, mentor and colleague, the Rev. Allyson Dylan Robinson. Rev. Allyson challenged my 1,499 fellow LGBTQIA Christians and me in attendance, to not only embrace the fact that we had been victorious in the "Culture War", but that now was the time for us to show more grace to those over whom we had been victorious than we had been shown before the war had started. It was a challenging and controversial call, not only because of its claim of victory, but the way she pin-pointed a fault in our human nature, which is to look for opportunities to accumulate power for ourselves -- not to serve a greater purpose.
I was inspired. Many were inspired! It was a simple, clear message, delivered masterfully. Rev. Allyson would even remark to me later that it was perhaps the greatest preaching experience of her 12 year career. A fantastic description of the experience, and certainly a remarkable moment propelling her forward in our mutual work to bring meaning to our fellow queer Christians' lives.
As I sat in seat 26C on my American Airlines flight connecting from Charlotte to Washington Reagan National Airport, I glanced up and instantly recognized infamous Kentucky County Clerk, and national icon of the Religious Right, Kim Davis as she passed me boarding the same flight. It was reported later that she came to Washington as part of a political group to attend the State of the Union Address at Congress the following evening.
All the oxygen left my body. Here within the touch of my hand had been a woman whose sole employment now was to openly mock and fight the rights and recognitions that so many of my friends and I had fought earnestly to achieve. I attempted not to stare, instead looking down, then left, anywhere that would allow me a personal moment to process this event. My enemy was ever present, and I didn't know what to do.
Tray tables went up, engines roared and soon we were in the air. I got up to use the restroom -- an activity I have volunteered to do on a plane maybe twice before, but it was the only way to catch an innocent glimpse of her, again. My eyes panned back and forth searching for her. I failed. I returned to my seat morbidly curious and unsettled.
Not knowing what to do, my next logical move was Facebook. Downloading the in-flight internet service, I quickly posted a frantic alert to my list of friends about the seemingly absurd situation in which I found myself. Friends commented, laughed, yet provided no immediate thoughtful advice on how to handle myself.
Finally, I began to pray. Asking God for a reason why I was living in this moment, looking for wisdom. Should I find her? Should I say something? Do I just continue to gawk at her? Do I leave her alone? The questions rushed through my head, unanswered. Then I thought about Allyson and the Golden Rule. I reflected on other times where other people of some power or celebrity had crossed my path, and how in some cases I interacted, but only when welcomed. But, this felt different.
I finally resolved to meet her. And as the captain announced our decent into DCA, I hatched a plan. I would walk to about mid-way down the sky bridge and wait for her. I would wave her down and say... Oh my God, what would I say?!? The oxygen left my body, again. I began to run scenarios through my head. Keep it simple, Ben. Tell her how you feel. Three seconds.
The plane landed. I grabbed my carry-on and I sped out into the sky bridge. I counted to myself while I examined each face that departed the plane. Deep breath. She de-planed in front of me, wearing what I think was a nude-colored dress, over-laid with a thick winter coat.
Waving my hand in the air. "Hi, Miss Davis? Can I take a picture with you?" She agreed. We leaned in for a selfie -- the most modern human activity of which I can think. I quickly stated, "Miss Davis, my name is Ben. A lot of what you've done has hurt many of my fellow LGBT Christians and beyond, but I want you to know that I offer you the Peace of Christ." I extended my hand so as to shake hers.
Blank faced, either from being stunned or afraid, she lightly grabbed my hand and said, "God bless you." She quickly turned and walked away to a waiting group.
I shook for about three seconds, collected myself and resumed my exit from the airport. As I went to meet my checked bag in Baggage Claim, I filtered and posted the picture on Facebook with only the quotes of my interaction with Kim Davis above it to my private friends list. It was a viral hit among my friends, and with each like or friendly comment, I felt like something interesting had just happened. I had achieved something, but I didn't quite know what it was. The overwhelming response was immediately positive. I was brave, courageous and had lived up to my Christian principles, said many. I had inspired others and been true to myself and to the greater good of humanity. That felt good.
However, the story didn't end there. With each acknowledgement from friendly voices, suddenly came something dark and unexpected. As the news of the event spread due to my friends' sharing of it, I started to receive personal messages and public comments about people's disgust with... me. I was called a brazen self-promoter, a hypocrite, a secret conservative, disloyal, hurtful and, most onerous to hear, of a low character. Not being a regular public commentator, or accustomed to such personal attacks, these comments -- mostly from friends -- really HURT. I soldiered on, and tried to ignore the comments, but they nagged at me, and a few hours later, wanting to avoid the stress of hearing that I was a bad person, I deleted the post.
Many friends reached out with curiosity for my reason for doing so, and I posted about the event, again, this time without the picture, saying that I had not wanted to deal with the hurt I had apparently and inadvertently caused, and that I wanted to find a better way to express myself than a momentary response. An attacker and friend posted that if I had any conviction that I would have left the original post up and stood by it. A perfect catch-22.
In my work at Cook Ross, I daily remind my clients to express and embrace their humanity and that of those around them. My colleagues and I are paid to give people good reasons and better strategies to treat each other with honor, respect and, hopefully, love. In fact, our founder Howard Ross instructs us to go out and fall in love with our clients. This is not unlike the instruction of Jesus Christ whom I have professed faith in since I was a child.(See Matthew 5, preferably in the NRSV.)
I fell in love with humanity a long time ago. And, that love doesn't waiver just because someone denies my friend a marriage license, or calls me or my friends faggots. It doesn't change for the person who tells me how proud they are of me, or the one that tells me that I lack any integrity. My love for humanity is open and inclusive. It is a hard, daily struggle to see goodness in all that God has created.
I love Kim Davis. I love my friends and family. I love my community. And, I love those who would choose to tear me down. If you don't approve of my message or the tactics by which I choose to share my story, I still love you. And, ask anyone whom I have dated, I don't throw that word around very much. It is, however, what I feel in this moment. Maybe, tomorrow I'll be cranky or mad, but in this moment, I feel free to speak my truth. And, I want to offer you this same freedom.
My prayer for you, my reader, is that you will find the same love from God that I have found. That it will heal you in the places of your humanity where you find yourself discouraged, flawed, or damaged. Take courage and know that someone out there loves you.
Go in peace.
(This was reposted with permission from www.agentofconciliation.com.)