“Help! I’m an Open-Minded Christian in a Close-Minded World!”

I’m in a bit of time-bind today (closing in on finishing the LGBT letters book), so I thought I would just share with you the letter below, which I got in this week. I’m not sure why I found it particularly touching. I think it’s just because it kind of breaks my heart, to think of this excellent woman unable to find a church where she can, through the joy of the Holy Spirit, share with others her love of God and Christ. Awful. But also, certainly—and fundamentally, even, for me— inspiring, to think of her, and untold numbers like her, out there, keeping the flame alive, when seemingly everyone around them is intent on dousing it.

Dear John,

I just discovered your website today, after hearing about it on Dan Savage’s podcast. [In his podcast on Tuesday---episode 263---Dan recommended this blog to anyone trying to get a Christian in their life to stop hating on gays.]

I am a 35-year-old, married woman (happily married for 10 years: hurray!) with two daughters, ages eight and six. I grew up in a God-fearing household with two parents who are the epitome of all that God’s love is. They taught me to think for myself, believe what I believe because of my research and soul-searching, and to preach it from the rooftops once I’ve become fully vested in that faith. I grew up in a non-denominational Charismatic church, and went to a college affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

These experiences allowed me to really figure out my way, and as such, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is a God of love, not one who is all hell, fire and brimstone. And in that knowledge, I know that my God loves gay people just as He loves me. We are all God’s creatures. And God has a lot more important things to be concerned with than the “rules” of sex.

Here’s my conundrum: my husband and I both share the same view of God, and have tried wholeheartedly to impart that to our daughters. Our marriage is a testament to being open-minded and believing in acceptance, because he’s black and I’m white. Color’s not an issue, and never has been. Our families get together, and it looks like a meeting at the UN. Every race, age, weight, height is part of our family, and because of that, my kids don’t see people “in color.” They see them from the heart. And I am so grateful for this.

Anyways, we are having a really hard time to find a church that’s open-minded and accepting of EVERYONE. We live in a conservative small community, and there are a plethora of fundamental, literal-based churches here that believe that there is only one way to Heaven, and if you’re gay, you’re definitely getting an express ticket to Hell. We had high hopes for this one church that has a more contemporary feel to it, and were willing to overlook some of its literal-Bible views. But the pastor made some anti-gay remarks in one sermon, and the following week went on a diatribe about how men should always be the main breadwinners in a household, and men who stay home are shirking their Christian responsibility, etc.

That was it for us. We both looked at each other and agreed that we couldn’t attend a church that propagated such a limited world view.

The problem lies in the fact that we want to go to a church, but it seems like all of the ones around us are lead by conservative, right-wing quacks who don’t understand that you shouldn’t spend every Sunday berating your congregation for their transgressions, but instead, they should be firing their members up about God’s love and spreading that love on. Are there certain denominations (I hate that “divide” comes from that word, ugh) that have a wider scope of God so that maybe I can narrow my search that way? I want my girls to be excited about God, but I refuse to take them to a church that promotes excitement based on crappy interpretations of the Holy book.

Oh, one thing real quick:

Dear woman who wrote me the above excellent letter:

Thanks for the letter! Google “gay affirming denominations,” and you’ll get all the information you need to learn what denominations are LGBT-affirming. (The Wikipedia page on this matter is good.) It’s been my experiences that such churches generally have a theology with which it sounds like you could get on board.

Also, you could always start a little church of your own. I don’t know how small  your town is, but it sounds like it’s large enough to support … well, as you said, a “plethora” of churches.  So—via a posting on a Craigslist.org site, if your town has one, or notices pinned on laundromat bulletin boards, or whatever—maybe you could find others in your community who share your understanding of God. And you guys could start meeting at your homes, and so on. Be your own little organic “church” that way. That could totally be great. Let us know if you do that; I’d like to hear how that goes. Good luck, and please keep in touch.

[Update: My friend Gwen Ashby from Believe Out Loud wanted me to share with you BOL's excellent Find A Welcoming Church map.]

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Pam

    Sometimes a good place to worship is worth the drive to a bigger town. The people who attend the church where I currently go inspire me to get up way too early on Sunday morning and I can’t participate as actively as I’d like, but for now, it’s a good place to be.

  • http://frenchizal.blogspot.com Jenni

    Try this site to find a gay church: http://www.gaychurch.org/Find_a_Church/united_states/united_states.htm

    This is how I found my current church. It’s amazing! They are open and affirming, and pro-environment and pro-helping the homeless (kinda like I think Jesus is), and progressive in their beliefs while still affirming God’s Word. You won’t hear any crazy “man should be the breadwinner” baloney at my church. :) Anyway, that’s the site I used to find my church – I hope you find one that works for you. I know how hard it can be to church shop, and how frustrating it is to find one and then to discover it’s not quite what you expected.

  • mike moore

    Check out the Episcopalians …

    I grew up in a town where “alternative lifestyle” was being a Democrat. And while everyone from my home church is still a registered Republicans – thank god, they now cross party-lines in the voting booth – they now have a much-loved gay Reverend, who lives with fiance’, until marriage become legal again in CA.

  • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

    We have found a home in the UCC. Here’s a shout out to the them, acknowledging many other wonderful homes to be found in other denominations. Joseph Campbell said, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.” I hope you find yours.

    Blessings, C

    http://www.ucc.org/god-is-still-speaking/ads/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elizabeth-Rossano/100001148589372 Elizabeth Rossano via Facebook

    thank you for the compassion and common sense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jill-Joiner/100000809409370 Jill Joiner via Facebook

    Good advice John I grew uo in a small town and there was indeed a “plethora” of churches but most of them were of the fundamentalist literal version. It is tough but I found a church that met in someones home or a community room.

  • Jeannie

    A problem for me has been limited children’s programs in churches that are more open minded. I have two young girls and neither of them are ready to sit through an adult service. There’s a nursery, sure, but by the time kids are school age (5 and up) many churches expect them to sit in the service. Sorry, my kids can’t do that yet.

    So, it’s a connomdrum. Do I go with a more moderate church that has a great kid’s program (because most of these literal churches really go with the large family, children are a blessing thing) and talk about my more open minded views at home? Or do I wait until my kids are waaaay older and find a more open minded church? I have gone with the first option for now. I hang with the open minded people there and pretty much ignore the others.

    It leads to discussions at home. (No, I don’t believe there was really a God made flood that killed everybody, etc.) In the end, maybe I am helping my girls to be open minded and think for themselves just be teaching them to question the close minded authorities.

    • http://ihopetomorrowisbetter.blogspot.com Molly Bandit

      It might not hurt to put out some feelers at one of the more open-minded churches to see if there’s anyone interested in starting a kids ministry. My church ran into a conundrum when we started getting kids and had no where to put them, so the pastor and I started a kids church program. Now we have dozens of kids, which has other people to start other unrelated ministries!

      Some churches just aren’t used to having kids and don’t realize that a church that doesn’t welcome kids also doesn’t welcome parents. Those churches need a little nudging. And some are just spiteful and make their church unwelcoming of kids on purpose, which kind of misses the point of being “open-minded”

    • Sue

      I am Unitarian Universalist they have always been a welcoming church.The UCC,and as mentioned in other post there are others.Most churches have websites and some do post their beliefs The UUA also has a national site that lists churches by state.Our church for example has a rainbow welcoming symbol on the site.UU’s are very diverse too.We have a kids program as do others. Sometimes shopping on the net for a church to narrow down your search will help. Good luck in your path.

    • http://frenchizal.blogspot.com Jenni

      My UCC church has a kids program. The kids start out in the service with everyone, then there’s a “children’s sermon” where the Pastor sits on the stage steps with all the kids and does a kids’ version of the sermon of the day, then the kids run off to children’s learning time.

      My pastor even told me that this summer one of the kids volunteered to pray during vacation bible school, and when the kid stood up, he said, “My family is Wiccan, so we sometimes pray to the Goddess and sometimes we pray to God, so today I’m going to pray to the Goddess.” I thought it was neat that the kids were able to be exposed to different beliefs in a non-judgmental way.

      • Jeannie

        That is so cool, Jenni!

    • Donald Rappe

      If it leads to discussions at home, I think it’s good. No person will influence them more than you.

  • Molly Bandit

    Sorry for the derailment, but what is the Chromaticism church? My Google skills fail me. All I”m turning up are music terms.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Sorry; that was my fault: in too big a hurry as I moved through spell-check. (It DOES make me now want to start a Chromaticistic church, though!)

      • LSS

        that’s a musical rainbow, right? “sounds” like a good plan.

        • http://supercrayons64.blogspot.com/ Blake

          “Roy G. Biv is a colorful man and he proudly stands at the rainbow’s end. Roy G. Biv is a colorful man and his name spells out the whole color spectrum.” -They Might Be Giants

      • http://ihopetomorrowisbetter.blogspot.com Molly Bandit

        lol, I was thinking “dang, I thought I was pretty up on denomination, but here’s one I’ve never heard of!”

      • DR

        You must have a huge, sloping forehead to become a member.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nwbuckeye Pat Hux via Facebook

    In the meantime, they are like some of us and have left the building. Places like FB are great for teaching and even fellowship. They are a family and are already a ‘house church’. Just like in the book of Acts.

  • Andie

    United Methodist congregations on the west coast are (mostly) LGBTQ-affirming. Although if you go east or south, those jurisdictions become less… friendly.

  • http://www.marstonmmyers.com Marston

    My wife and I have come to love going to the Unity Church for some of the very reasons you are looking for, including the awesome kid’s programs. I would invite you to explore http://www.unity.org and look for a local church. It is important to be with others of like mind and community. Our weekly affirmation is “There is only ONE power in the Universe and in my life, the all LOVING GOODNESS of God”. Blessings!

  • Russell Mark

    Dear Lady – bless you and your husband for rearing your child to think critically and to see the broad view of life and of God’s children. Like John and others here I heartily recommend you seriously consider starting your own church – no ordination is required – just an open an loving heart. There are many wonderful resources on “how to” but the biggest part is to create a fellowship of like believers that want to openly serve one another and the larger community in God’s open and free grace.

    God speed!

  • http://supercrayons64.blogspot.com/ Blake

    Dear person,

    I hope before you left gay bashing church disguised as open minded church you gave the pastor a piece of your mind. People need to know when they’re being assholes.

  • Tammy

    Please look for an Episcopal church. If you cannot find one near by, you can move to our town and we will welcome you into our parish. We have individuals on staff who are gay; a new curate at our parish and a verger who is gay. It is a wonderful place to worship and serve God!!

    • Marcia

      I absolutly agree!! and posted the same suggestion .. we in Christ church exeter have a very diverse fellowship.

    • http://slugcrossings.blogspot.com/ Liutgard

      I agree! My little Episcopal parish has a woman deacon and a woman priest, and a gay LEM who is ordained and waiting for his own parish. It is the most wonderful and welcoming place I’ve been for a very, very long time. (I’m an ex-pentecostal and have a lot of scars.) I also have two friends who are United Church of Christ pastors, and if ECUSA was not in the area I’d be there.

  • Tiffany

    I am a liberal Christian living in Mississippi. I completely understand your predicament. I’m a very spiritual person, but there are few churches here that practice any tolerance or are open to anything but strict literal interpretation of the Bible. My husband and I have 2 five year old girls and want them to be open minded and not feel inferior to anyone in their own church. We drive about 35 miles to the most wonderful church, First Presbyterian Church, USA, in Columbus, MS. The USA distinction is a big one. I think if we hadn’t found this church we probably would not go to church. We have a great active congregation that is made up of all kinds of people. I know the complete spectrum of political beliefs is represented, but I see no judgement or down looking on those with differing opinions. Everyone works together to make it all work, and it’s a pleasure to worship here. I hope God leads you to a place of worship that is just as fulfilling to your family. There are some still out there.

  • Karen

    If you can’t find a good church in your own town, drive to another.

    It’s what I did when I was stuck in a small town for my job. The problem wasn’t finding a church that was gay-friendly (there actually was one); it was finding one that was single-friendly, because most of the churches in small towns are like Noah’s Ark. If you’re over 21 and don’t attend two-by-two , they have no idea what to do with you. They have a children’s group, a teen group, a couples’ group, and a seniors’ group. If you are none of the above, you are the odd one out.

    I ended up driving forty miles to the nearest large city every Sunday morning and one evening a week for choir practice. At that city church, groups were organized by function or interest rather than by age or marital status. It was definitely worth it!

  • Marcia

    try an episcopal church .. very open .. come as you are with all you are.. you have a place here.. check them out.. they are a more liberal leaning church…good luck

  • Susan in NY

    I love my Congregationalist-United Church of Christ church!

    http://www.lichurch.org/

    Susan

  • Donald Rappe

    I am currently dealing with this same problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/team153 The 1-5-3 Project via Facebook

    John, did you ever do a follow-up piece regarding that pastor who was fired for his FB post? Just curious. Can we still send him a letter, c/o you? BTW, thanks for the blog—inspired me to start my own (albeit not like yours, but it will be interesting to see how it evolves).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      No, I didn’t do a follow-up story about the young pastor. Perhaps I should. But he’s fine; he’s got a nice severance package from his church, and he and his family are going to move back to the Northwestern town he and his wife are from, where they have friends and family. From there they’ll decide what to do next. But they’re fine, yes, thanks for asking. And yes, if you’d like to write to them, I’ll see they get the letter, for sure.

  • gretchen

    Dear Writer—(Jumping with joy by reading your post and how your views are!) I think you are my muse! I hope God leads you to a church that is for you, and I do hope that you let your pastor know why you are leaving your former church. He just may be repentant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    Yes: answered this on blog where it got transferred over.

  • NS

    Starting your own prayer group is a rewarding experience, though a fair bit of work. You can get together in someone’s house or pool your money and rent some cheap space, sing, and teach each other.

  • http://www.desposynichurch.org/ Andrew

    I have find quite interesting new information about Jesus’ life on this website:

    http://www.desposynichurch.org/

    The Desposyni’s last Eldest Brother, the one Jesus called “The Comforter”, explains Jesus’ real name, his surname and his “Lost Years” that are not included in the Bible (ages 13 to 29), when he traveled to England and the Orient to study Enoch’s teachings.

  • Eden123

    Hey Andrew:

    I checked this site further and found that the “Secret Autobiography of Jesus Christ” is available as a series of CDs ($12 with $5 going to help children). That’s pretty cool.

  • Lyn

    Curious whether you and your regulars think there’s a point to staying in a congregation from which you have drifted in your interpretation of scripture. I’m in the same church in which I was baptised at the age of 7 some 30+ years ago. They are pretty conservative and fundamentalist. In college (a small Christian college, even), I concluded on my own, without the impetus of a known-to-me-as-gay friend or personal drama, that there was something fishy about my church’s take on the issue (not that they had huge, long discussions of it, but when it came up, it was pretty clearly Wrong with a capital W). Because of my stance and feeling like I was safe in this sea of a lot of intolerant folks, two of my friends came out to me. I was floored, but even more convinced that my inklings were taking me into a deeper understanding of the Biblical texts.

    My thoughts and feelings and spiritual journey on the matter has evolved. Along with that, I also came to an impasse with my church’s usual understanding of the days of creation and the nature of the Genesis flood, and on the place of women in leadership in the church.

    But I’ve stuck with them, because, dangit, they’re my church, my family. They’ve seen me through some of my life’s greatest joys and deepest tragedies. So, I simply agreed to disagree. If asked directly, I’d “come out” on my opinions on these topics, but for the most part, I held my peace.

    And then, about a year ago, my daughter came out as genderqueer and pansexual (on FB in a private post to her friends only, none of whom included members of the church staff or eldership. But, gossip being almost as swift as email in the church, if not swifter, this information pretty much immediately reached the ministers and elders, including my parents– off on their annual snowbird-like migration down south– whom my daughter had wanted to come out to in her own way and in her own time and face-to-face, but the gossip chain of my church stole from her that opportunity).

    Now, mind you, I know my daughter. My church knows my daughter. There was absolutely no reason to suppose her pansexuality in any way indicated she was not– then or at any point in the past– celibate. To add to that, my state had been considering an amendment to the state constitution banning recognition of gay marriage or anything resembling it and I had written to my state senators and posted my letter on my FB. Now, mind you, the letter involved my objection to setting a precedent of the state sanctioning certain religious beliefs as I felt it was dangerous to those of any faith, including Christianity, for the state to show such preference.

    And so my husband and I were hauled before some elders and ministers who expressed “concern” over the situation. We were asked to take a break from our work with the youth because they were afraid the youth of the church might be “confused”. Mind you, the one college-aged kid who asked, when I explained my belief that the state should not be passing laws based on religious principles, even ones based on my own faith, due to it setting a dangerous precedent, was not at all confused.

    We were left to stew for 3 months before we had a meeting with the minister and then were allowed to return to youth leadership. But it has left its marks. My daughter no longer feels welcome in the church and so has stopped attending at all regularly. And I want her to have a church where she feels welcome. On the other hand, my son, who has some neurological and social adjustment issues, has actual friends at church, unlike at school and I’m loathe to take that away from him. And I am gun-shy of saying anything that would make anyone “confused” on FB, though I still do because I can’t not.

    Part of me thinks there is a need to stay– the folks who sidled up to me at church and quietly said, “I saw your post on FB. I think you’re right,” the children’s minister who conscientiously calls my daughter by her new chosen gender-neutral name, the kids at church who set off my gaydar. It may be wrong. But I would like to be there for them if it is not.

    And then there are my daughter’s friends– kids from the local GSA group, maligned and cold-shouldered at school, all from families in divorce, most with a history of spiritual abuse at the hands of Christians. They arrive at my house on Friday– two or three or four or six of them– and take over my kitchen, and discuss politics and youtube videos and Harry Potter, and ask me questions like why the Old Testament laws don’t apply to Christians anymore and what it’s like to grow up in an unbroken home. And they stay through Sunday, crashing on the futon and in the extra bunk in my daughter’s room, because it’s a safe space where they can be themselves and not get lectured (except on their failure to clean up after themselves!). And I want to reach them. I want them to know the Jesus I know. But how can I bring them to my church when that church has made a child who practically lived in the building feel so SO unwelcome for just admitting who she is?

    So here I am, at this crossroads, wishing my home church was a safe space for both of my kids and the kids who call me “mom” and knowing it isn’t, and wondering if I’m meant to be the one to try and edge it just a bit closer or whether I’m meant to be the one to take a stand and walk out of a nearly-40-year relationship with this congregation.

    • Diana A.

      I think you need to discuss this with your immediate family members (separately, together, or both.) It looks like there’s a lot at stake regardless of what ultimate decision you and your family make. Lay all the issues on the table and hear their thoughts about what they would like to do. Wait to make a decision until the evidence is clearly piled in one direction or another–sometimes we rush to make a decision when, if we waited a little, the right direction would be made clear.

      Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

    • http://www.raymack2009.com Ray McKinnon

      Lyn,

      I am an ordained minister and former youth pastor for over a decade. I know the difficult situation where you currently find yourself. It is very tough. None of us can say for your family whether or not your should stay or go. I agree with Diana, you might consider having this very frank and candid discussion with your entire family.

      Personally, I do not recommend remaining at a church that fundamentally make you feel dirty or unchristian. There is a difference in being challenged and maybe disagreeing with certain policies of a church. When it comes to the point where your faith–and the faith of your family–is being adversely effected, I suggest you find the quickest exit. This does not have to be so.

    • DR

      Lyn what a hard thing. I don’t know the right thing to do but if your part of the Body of Christ is making you or your child feel suspected, unsafe or unchristian that seems like a terrible thing.

  • jacob

    Oh, really? I am sorry what they have told you that because you are gay, you will go to hell. Well, maybe the man who told you this, will remember when he is in hell, will wish you where you are. Because Jesus said, it is for us. Okay. Listen. Jesus said, the prostitutes and the pagans are ready for the kingdom of God. Imagine, Jesus saying this! How wonderful is Jesus. If Jesus would have said, and If I were there, I would have followed Jesus and would have become his friend and his servant and listen more of his parables. This is wisdom of what he has brought. It is itching. I want to know more. Jesus is the Messiah. Why did he say, the prostitutes and the pagans are ready for the kingdom of God. Did not Jesus said this because we suffer and the people rejects us and hate us? Are not the churches like Pharisees whom Jesus condemned them harshly while they hated him?

  • jacob

    Gay churches or straights churches are very fanatic is the same thing. If you could understand the extent of the depth of the situation how do people become so fanatic. You know what? Gay churches no good. Why? Because they give you conditions and terms. I do not like it. I go to church to look for a boyfriend. We all want one. We all have the same passions, feelings and needs. Of course, this is not fair. The gay church is like any strict church. Alas! I hate this. I do not like it. When some guys were following me and wanted to get to know me. They were rebuked by the pastor and then they calmed down. They were just playing and smiling and whispering each other. What is the problem? Normal. Why the Catholic church is different. They allow partners. Am I wrong? Why does not the gay churches permit me not to have a boyfriend? Why the gay church does not take the gay life style like straight life style? Am I wrong? I believe it’s possible.

  • http://aisadelacruz.wordpress.com AdC

    Hi John, I’m always looking for inspiring words from Christian and Roman Catholic leaders on issues about race, sexuality, etc. – anything that requires being really open-minded. I’m technically Catholic (from the Philippines) but all the fundamentalist talk that some priests here do irk me because they are not in line with God’s Word. =( Reading posts like these (even those written years back) make me happy and hopeful. Keep it up and God bless!


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