It has been a long time since a movie made me cry, but I wept in the theater last night as the credits rolled.
The Imitation Game is based on the true story of Alan Turing, the British WWII code breaker who, in the words of Churchill, made the single largest contribution to defeating the Nazis. Turing invented the machine that would decode German correspondence, possibly shortening the war by two years and saving 14 million lives. Today, we call the machine his work led to “computer.”
I had never heard Alan Turing’s story, but the ending was all too familiar. Turing was gay, and practicing that sexual orientation was a crime in England. Less than 10 years after saving the world from a foreign fascist dictator, Turing’s own people sentenced him to “chemical castration.”
This postscript closed the movie:
After a year of government-mandated hormonal therapy, Alan Turing committed suicide on June 7th 1954.
Between 1885 and 1967, approximately 49,000 homosexual men were convicted of gross indecency under British law.
In 2013 Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous royal pardon, honoring his unprecedented achievements.
Unthinkable. In the words of a petition with half a million signatures being delivered tomorrow calling for the pardon of the rest of the 49,000, these men “were victims of an intolerant law that brought not only unwarranted shame, but horrific physical and mental damage and years of wrongful imprisonment.”
I wept in part for those 49,000, but also over the fact that it is still happening today—in my own country—in my own United Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Church still maintains intolerant doctrine that LGBTQ people are “incompatible with Christian teaching,” barring marriage and ordination—two of the potential ways United Methodists are called to live out their Baptisms.
I wept for the unwarranted shame inflicted upon LGBTQ people unable to hear through the noise of The UMC’s harmful teaching that they are made in the image of God .
I wept for the horrific physical violence inflicted upon LGBTQ people by bullies, citing the teachings of their church to justify their bigotry.
I wept for the mental damage inflicted upon LGBTQ people who have tried to live as someone they were not created to be, or were sentenced to reparative therapy.
I wept for the LGBTQ people wrongfully imprisoned in closets or locked out of the church altogether.
I wept for the LGBTQ voices silenced by The UMC.
And I wept for a church that desperately needs to hear those voices. As theologian Justo González taught me—when the church silences the voices and gifts of the oppressed minority, we miss the fullness of what God has to say. Or, said another way to Alan Turing by his code-breaking colleague Joan Clarke:
This morning I took a train through a city that would not exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. If you wish you could have been ‘normal,’ I can promise you, I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.
Today isn’t merely Oscars Sunday.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent—a season of repentance, of turning away from the ways we have harmed our neighbors—40 days leading to a royal pardon of sorts—a calling to self-reflection, code breaking who God created us to be—the time we remember Jesus with his disciples, intimately washing their feet, sharing in a last supper, and inviting them to imitate him:
Love one another as I have loved you.
A gay mathematician named Alan and a Jewish carpenter named Jesus—“Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine”—a quote from the movie that God is kicking herself for not putting first in The Bible.
The Good News is that this Lenten journey ultimately ends not in shame, violence, or imprisonment, but culminates in life abundant and resurrection—a journey we individually and collectively as the church are invited to imitate—the greatest Imitation Game ever played.
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If you are an LGBTQ person called to the ministry in The UMC, check out this national retreat: Be Encouraged!