Tom's Shoes Founder Steps on Gay Toes

Recently, Blake Mycoskie, founder of Tom's Shoes, issued a public apology for his affiliation with Focus on the Family, the megawatt fundamentalist Christian power brokerage founded by Dr. James Dobson. Blake said he did not know the extent of Focus's anti-gay beliefs and efforts and that if he had known, he would not have agreed to present at one of their events.

Media reports now indicate that Blake has distanced himself from Focus on the Family and their leaders have responded that it is a shame that he separated from them since all they want to do is help people and win them to Jesus.

And, Blake could have helped them do that but for the interference of a bunch of pesky gay people who called him into account for the company he was keeping.

I appreciate Blake's apology and the need for space he has created between Focus and his organization. I hope he takes a break to reflect and then I hope he will take advantage of the media attention he has garnered to go back and help transform Focus on the issue of gay people.

My family loves and wears Tom's shoes. We love the mission of Blake's company and I am grateful for the good that Blake has done in the world. Like the Jesus I follow, Blake has been taking care of the "least of us" and for that dedication he is to be commended. Much of the work of Focus on the Family is also good. And, some of their work is, at best, harmful and, at worst, deadly for gay people.

Blake has a great opportunity to take the next step in his work of transforming the world and engage Focus in a new conversation about everything Blake says he believes -- in an inclusive global community that cares for everyone. His only obligation as a person of peace is to ask them into dialogue. They may turn him down. But, I want to encourage him to ask anyway.

Nothing changes as a result of public statements of apology that end in stalemate. And, nothing changes very much when we shame people like Focus (even though I am often tempted and sometimes succumb to that temptation). What changes us is our willingness to talk face-to-face with those we perceive as our opponents and to do so with relentless love.

I also want to invite Blake to refuse any future invitation to speak and/or support any organization that rejects or shames or criminalizes any human beings, including gay people unless those organizations are willing to engage in direct dialogue about the spiritual violence they commit.

I was on the Abilene Christian College campus in Abilene, Texas in September 2010 when Blake spoke there and shared the story of Tom's and the message he wants all young people to understand: that they, too, can make a significant impact for good on the world in which they live.

On the day after Mycoskie's presentation, nearly 1,000 participants came together for a campus-wide "Style Your Sole" (SYS) party and custom-designed over 700 pairs of shoes - the most shoes ever decorated at a single SYS event. It was an amazing and beautiful and grace-filled day.

Kris Evans, ACU director of strategic marketing, said they asked Mycoskie to speak because his story aligns with the university's mission statement. Evans said, "Our hope is that our university mission will be imprinted on our students for life."

Imprinted for life. Just to be clear, in the midst of all of the good that they do, part of that imprinting at ACU is a permanent tattoo inscribed by certain leaders at the school -- a message of rejection by God that indelibly tears at the souls of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, faculty and their families and allies.

Abilene Christian University is a member of a national association of "distinctively Christian colleges and universities," which typically have student codes of conduct that prohibit homosexual expression. You can be gay but don't act gay.

Do so and lose your scholarships, face suspension or expulsion or, worst case, go to "ex-gay" or reparative therapy in order to remain in the campus community. All of this happens under the guise love the sinner, hate the sin. There is a higher rate of suicide amongst gay people subjected to this invasive experience. And, sadly, there is a much higher exit rate from all churches by gay people as a result of this painful experience at Christian colleges.

Abilene Christian University is one of the stops for the SoulForce Equality Ride. In 2012, we will visit ACU for the third time to non-violently resist their open discrimination against LGBT students as documented in a recent New York Times article.

After reading about Mycoskie's dilemma, I think perhaps we should invite him to hit the road with us for a day on the Equality Ride. It has changed my life to get on the bus with the young adult Riders. They are so courageous and willing to start hard and loving conversations with people who don't want to listen. I am reminded of Jesus and his conversations with the religious authorities of His day. Maybe a day with the Riders would do Mycoskie (and all of us) some good.

Public scrutiny is tough business. My hope for Blake and for the rest of us, is that we turn our missteps into opportunities to inform and educate and advocate for justice and peace. Ghandi continues to remind me that all of my work to transform the world into a more peaceful and just place must begin with my own transformation. This is my prayer for Blake, a good man with a good heart. Keep up the good sole-soul work.