Update – 11:46pm, March 20:
This evening Michelle Shocked released a statement denying any intention to spout homophobia, saying that her remarks were misunderstood, that she was describing the opinions of other people, and that her statement about tweeting “Michelle Shocked hates…” was a prediction of how she would be misinterpreted. She says that she supports the LGBT community and marriage equality. Included in her statement:
“I am damn sorry. If I could repeat the evening, I would make a clearer distinction between a set of beliefs I abhor, and my human sympathy for the folks who hold them. I say this not because I want to look better. I have no wish to hide my faults, and – clearly – I couldn’t if I tried.”
I am glad to take her word for what she meant to say.
The same evening, audio from the concert has been released. (The relevant part begins at 4:40.) To be honest, it’s really hard to say what she was trying to get at. Members of the audience seem confused as well. In my letter I tried to be very careful to speak from a place of concern, rather than judgment. Hearing the audio, I remain concerned.
Here is the full text of her statement.
And here is my original post of the open letter responding to the initial news reports on Sunday:
We haven’t met. Or rather, we have, twenty years ago, but it was rather fleetingly backstage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and you wouldn’t remember. That was the year that you sang “Kumbaya” and reminded the audience that “Kumbaya my Lord” meant “Come by Here, my Lord.” You were right, by the way – that song was always meant to be an invocation to the Divine. I interpret that word differently than you do, but you were definitely right about the origin of the song. Maybe I’ll write about that some other time.
You’ve made some news recently, and for no good reason. Your comments at a recent concert that you fear the world would be destroyed if gays were allowed to marry, and that your fans could all go tweet “Michelle Shocked says God hates f–s”) – well, they lived up to your chosen name. It’s not even so much the views you decided to express, as the venue, and the manner of your doing it that has left so many of us outraged, speechless, and also worried for you.
I mean it. Because a rant like that, in the place you chose, speaks of profound spiritual pain. It is one thing to believe that homosexuality is wrong; many do. I disagree, but it remains a widely held belief, especially among adherents to more conservative religious movements. These are your views, and you have every right to express them. But to phrase them as hate speech – and it was you who brought up the word “hate” – at a concert in San Francisco, of all places, speaks of deep inner turmoil.
Your words are not those of a woman comfortable in her own skin. They do not speak of the strength of your faith, or of your idealism, or of your values. They seem spoken more to reassure yourself and the world that you are not, in fact, the bisexual woman you once believed yourself to be, or the lesbian so many of your fans believe you to be. They seem an attempt to claim an identity and hold on to it, when so much both within and around you threatens to pull it apart.
I don’t know if this is really what is going on. Maybe you just don’t like people making assumptions about you as a person or an artist. I get that – I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister as well as a folk musician, and I’m always afraid that people will stay away from my concerts because they think I’m going to preach at them (more than folksingers usually do) or that I won’t be able to get away with singing one of the saltier old ballads, because some folks can’t separate the music from the musician. I’d like to just be me, and sing the music I love.
You’ve got it far worse; I understand this. And you don’t want anybody else – not a record company, not a manager, not your fans – to tell you who to be. And maybe you’ve got some things you believe in that you want to say. That’s fine. But before you say them, please let me suggest that you spend some time in prayer.
Yes, I said prayer. One of the most powerful teachings of your church is that ordinary human beings can commune with the divine – and you need that. You need to step away from the whirlwind of public and private identities, of fear and anger and self-doubt. You need to let go of all of that for a while. If you’re going to speak the truth of your soul, you need to be grounded. So pray, and read the Bible that you place your faith in. You won’t find hatred there, but you will find a Jesus who spent a great deal of time with people who were and are considered “sinners,” and who nevertheless respected them as human beings and as his friends. Pray – not for absolute answers, but to still yourself and open yourself to the God of your belief.
You hurt a great many people with your comments, not least yourself. But maybe this experience can move you forward. Maybe it will help you find the right people to talk to about your spiritual crises. Maybe it will help you ask for help in your emotional life. You said yourself that “truth is leading to painful confrontation.” Maybe the truth is your own spiritual crisis, and the confrontation is with yourself.
I don’t know, but I do know this much. The only way to respond to hatred is with love and compassion. And Michelle, though I don’t know you, and I detest everything you said at that concert – you have my love and compassion. I offer you that much.
After all, isn’t that what Jesus would have done?
PS: I still love Short Sharp Shocked, and always will, no matter what you say about anybody. That album is brilliant from beginning to end. Would that any of us could reach such heights of artistic genius.
Note: Please remember the guidelines for comments in this blog. As my friend at Sermons in Stones puts it, “Disagreement is welcome; disagreeableness is not.” Comments that are not civil, or that express hatred for any person or group of people – including religious groups as well as the LGBT community – will be blocked.