A few years ago, my wife and I tried an experiment. We went to visit a sister church of the church I grew up in. On our first Sunday there, the pastor preached a sermon about their doors being open to everyone in the community. “Everyone is welcome,” he said. He went to extensive lengths to explain that no matter what your background or financial status, no matter where you lived or what “sin” you committed; whether you were a single mother, or had been incarcerated, or lived on the streets, you were welcome and belonged here.
My wife and I sat listening carefully to that list, but (not to our surprise) heard no mention of the LGBT community among the people listed. I knew this pastor and his wife from the parent church we had all previously been a part of. So following the service, I decided to challenge him on it.
I wrote him a letter, mentioning my background, my long involvement at our parent church, and my recent marriage to my wife.
I asked him if he truly meant all were welcome, or if his statement meant everyone…except me.
He didn’t remember me at first. But upon agreeing to meet us both for coffee to discuss the matter, he remembered both me and my family very well. Our mutual connection to a former church world and memories we both shared softened his heart toward us a bit, and the door seemed to open a little as we sat and dialogued about the journey my wife and I had been on. He asked questions with a fairly open mind. He seemed open to learning. He admitted that he didn’t necessarily feel “called” to minister to the LGBT community (whatever that meant), but that his church was rather neutral on the subject and that we would never hear him preach about it from the pulpit one way or the other. He wanted us to feel welcome in his church.
So then the real question came.
“So if I wanted to join the worship team, or lead a small group, would I be allowed to do that?” I asked. He paused, and admitted he wasn’t sure. No one had been gutsy enough to ask him that point blank before. He said he would pray about it, talk to the church leadership, and let us know.
Any of you who have been through a similar process know what the answer was. Like many other churches, we were “welcome” to attend, to give our money, to volunteer our time, but not to lead. Leading as a gay Christian woman wasn’t a risk they were willing to take or theologically support.
For some reason (perhaps longing, perhaps nostalgia…perhaps stupidity) my wife and I decided to visit just one more time. The day we decided to go, we ironically ended up in the middle of a two weeks sermon series on sex. The first sermon (which we had missed the previous week) had been on “Good Sex” and the week we showed up, was the discussion of “Bad Sex.”
A knot began forming in my stomach from the moment I heard the title and continued to church with every passing minute. I waited, in fear and anticipation of what may come.
To my shock (but sadly, not my surprise), when listing out the examples of bad sex (among which were pedophilia, pornography, and incest), this pastor – the same pastor we’d just had coffee with only weeks prior – also listed homosexuality.
I wanted to stand up and walk out right then and there.
But, attempting to give him the benefit of the doubt and the chance for some caveat that would redeem his statement, I stayed glued to my seat. But that statement never came.
I left feeling so deeply hurt that day.
I was hurt because he told me to my face that we’d never hear him talk about this from the pulpit. I was hurt because I felt like we had established some kind of rapport and respect for one another, yet he still listed my beautiful and pure marriage to my wife as defiled. I was hurt because I felt betrayed yet again by someone that knew my history, my family, and with whom I shared years of mutual memories.
We never again went back to that church again.
I marinated on that service for weeks. Finally, I felt like I needed to tell this pastor how his words affected me. After pouring our my pain and heartache, his response was short and simple: he wasn’t going to apologize or alter what the Bible clearly stated as truth. We never spoke again.
For this reason, and many others, I am excited about the launch of this new project of Church Clarity that is advocating for transparency regarding church policies of LGBTQ inclusion in the church. It is so very needed.
It’s needed because the difference between “welcoming” and “affirming” matters. I matters a lot.
It marks the difference between “you are equal here” and “you are welcome despite the fact that you’re flawed.” It marks the difference between “we celebrate who you are” and “we want to fix who you are.” And it marks the different between “we embrace you” and “we love the sinner, but hate the sin.”
Church Clarity is needed for so many reasons:
It’s needed so the LGBT person knows what to expect before they walk through the door.
It’s needed so that we feel safe.
It’s needed so that we know where we belong and where we will feel sub-human.
It’s needed because we don’t need any more spiritual trauma than we’ve already experienced.
It’s needed because we need to feel equal, and included.
For these reasons, I stand with Church Clarity. And I encourage you to do the same.
Because Love Makes All the Difference,