A few years ago when I was new to working as an advocate for inclusion and equality for all in faith communities, Ross Murray from GLAAD taught me that people generally move from active opposition to silence to tolerance to acceptance and then to advocacy. I've seen this happen over and over now in my work with my film, Seventh-Gay Adventists, a character-driven documentary about three gay and lesbian people of faith in a conservative religious denomination.
As we move into the holiday season, when families gather around living rooms and tables, often with very different perspectives, I thought it would be helpful to remember how changes and paradigm shifts happen.
My favorite story of change is about my own mother, who is nicest, most loving conservative you'll ever meet.
When we started filming Seventh-Gay Adventists, my mother was deeply worried. As it became a project that was clearly going to be a major focus of our lives for years, she got even more worried, and we had some tough conversations. Though she knew we had good intentions, she worried we would lead people astray making “sin seem okay” and jeopardize people's personal salvation.
I’m sure many readers here have been on the receiving end of family members feeling that the most “loving” thing to do is alert someone of their “sin.” But the important thing is that we kept talking, sometimes a bit heatedly, but we talked.
And to let you know what sort of person my mother is—she still housed us often in between filming trips, made numerous airport runs, fed us, watched our dog while we were on the road, and more, even though our work discomforted her.
Once when she was babysitting our then 18-month-old daughter while we filmed, I teased her: "You know Mom, this is sort of an in-kind contribution to the film."
She quickly responded. "Oh no it's not. I love you and support you, but I won't give a dime to that movie."
When she saw the film for the first time almost two years ago, she was deeply moved. And the next week there was a check in the mail supporting the film. She told us, "I want my name in the credits."
Now, I can assure you, having landed at my parent's home rather a lot in-between screening trips last year—and going through an election cycle together—that she is still very conservative religiously and politically.
But she has shifted into a positive space where it's her job to love and God's to judge. Now she sends me Biblical exegesis and other moments of inspiration from sermons she hears about how Jesus had such a heart for those marginalized by the religious authorities of his day.
She's the one who first pointed out to me that in the story about the woman caught in the act of adultery, Christians have really missed the whole point.
She was praying with me on the phone before a screening I was particularly nervous about, and she shared with me an insight she’d had during her morning devotionals:
You know, Daneen. I tell people often about your film and how I’ve been convicted that it’s my job to love and everything else is God’s job. And they often say to me, "Yes, we are to love, but even Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery to 'Go and sin no more.' So we have to draw the line somewhere."
My mother continued: “But I re-read that story, and it struck me that it’s Jesus, that is, God, who says that to the woman. There weren’t any humans left to witness that. So again, it’s my job to love.”
My mother is still shifting, but she has become quite the advocate in our family and in her circle of friends for the cause of listening and loving unconditionally—without caveats or clauses.
I am pretty sure she still wrestles with those famous six verses. But I’m also sure she is not a bigot.
My mother is still engaged, and she's still listening. Just a few weeks ago she wrote asking me for my suggested resources to help her understand why I believe that committed LGBT relationships can be blessed and celebrated.
I don’t know where she’ll land theologically, but I know that we have a much stronger relationship because of our openness to dialogue and our acceptance of each other.
And the larger cause of equality and inclusion is better off for each of these personal conversation spaces as well.
That’s how change happens—ongoing conversations over time, through the lens of real people and real stories.
To help facilitate conversations over the Thanksgiving holiday when many families are gathered together, we have decided to offer free screenings of Seventh-Gay Adventists online. Anyone can either stream or download the film (DRM-free to easily transfer between devices) entirely for free on our website starting tomorrow night—from Wednesday, November 27, to Sunday, December 1. Just use the coupon code “watchfree” to redeem a free copy.
This is our gratitude to our grassroots community who more than doubled a recent Kickstarter goal to make the film widely available, and it’s also the very best alignment we can imagine with our goals to help start more authentic and meaningful conversations in families and churches about what is often a hard topic to navigate.
To learn more about the film, see “The Making of Seventh-Gay Adventists." To learn more about how this film has been changing paradigms, see “When a Redneck Loved a Queer." And to read a review of the film, check out links here and here.
May you and your families be blessed this Thanksgiving with authentic conversation, even when those conversations are difficult.
No matter where you or your loved ones are between active opposition and advocacy, may just a little more love, grace, and understanding grow.
Photo provided by Daneen Akers