Fire and ice. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Courageous love and righteous anger. We're entering a campaign season at a time when much is being said about the vitriol and polarity of our political discourse. Many decry the angry rants that characterize both sides over certain divisive issues such as abortion and gay marriage. People tend to say you should not address prejudice from anger but rather from a more reasoned position. I'm writing today to make a case for the occasional value of anger in bringing about change.
This is the story of two women I knew in college, two women whose very different actions played a pivotal role in bringing about a change in my own attitudes about an issue that was divisive in my faith community at the time, the issue of homosexuality. One of the women was a respected leader in the campus religious group that was my spiritual family. Her senior year, she spoke out at several of the group's meetings, two in particular that I remember, taking a stand in love and compassion against the homophobia on campus and for the notion that gays and lesbians were loved and welcomed in God's eyes. In taking this public stand, she sacrificed her place in the group. She became something of an outcast. She lost her position of leadership and respect. She shook the community to its core. And she pushed me to question where I stood on this issue, to question where others stood, to question where God stood. I doubt any of us knew how hard that must have been for her.
The second woman wasn't part of that group. I knew her through other activities on campus. She confronted me one day about this same issue. There was a sit-in at the campus library in support of the Gay and Lesbian Student Alliance, which had disbanded due to the homophobic climate on campus. As a result of the first woman's actions, and her participation in the sit-in, I had gone to check it out. I don't remember how the confrontation with the second woman started, or even what was said, but the intensity and power of her anger towards people of my religious faith who contributed to homophobia left an intense and lasting impression on me. That day, when I returned to my dorm room, I spent hours hunting down every single biblical reference to homosexuality, determined to understand once and for all, to reconcile what my conscience was saying and what my faith and my spiritual community said.
These two women, together with two incredibly courageous men in our religious group who chose to come out of the closet my senior year, were instrumental in bringing about a fundamental change in my point of view, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they brought about a fundamental self-examination that helped me find my point of view. I don't know if they have any idea what an impact they made on me. Both of them. Fire and ice. Courageous love and righteous anger. Lasting change.