I’ve played the conversation over and over in my head, and in all cases, I still come out looking like the asshole. Dammit.
It’s one of those moments when I had the chance to speak out, to speak up for social justice, and I didn’t. The anger still burns a hole in my stomach. Anger for the actual thing I didn’t speak out about, anger that I didn’t speak out. It all mixes up in my stomach, a tiny ball of lava that sits there, just under my heart.
Maybe it’s my heart, leaking.
Here is what happened:
Back when I worked for my church, I was the Community Involvement Coordinator. A big part of my job was to develop partnerships between my church and local organizations like homeless shelters and rehabs. I liked to form long-term, meaningful partnerships, so that our people could find serving opportunities, but also so that we developed roots in the community and deep relationships with these organizations and the people they served.
We were not fly by night, let’s drop in for a quick feel-good service opp, then move on to our happy suburban lives. We were there for the commitment. We truly wanted to walk with these organizations on their service journeys, and the members of my church who served rose to those occasions with a sense of dedication, love, and service that amazed me. Every. Single. Time. Even now, I’m awed by the way some of those partnerships are still thriving, and it’s due to the people who continue to volunteer, week after week.
Back then I spent a lot of time in homeless shelters in Newark, NJ, and I met a lot of amazing people. Good people, who truly wanted to do the work of God. Many of the shelters I worked in were really not so bad, considering. Others were smelly, crumbling, scary places to be. One, in particular, was a crumbling mess, but had recently been granted some funds by their new board members, and a new, high-energy CEO had been installed.
I met with him a few times, and he would take me on tours to show me the work that was slowly being accomplished. Here that bathroom, which at first was not even functional, now had a face lift and actual running water. There, that wall that had been disintegrating was patched and painted. It was a slow process, but it was moving right along, as more funds became available.
The CEO — let’s call him Joe — would often sit back and sigh in a moment of overwhelm. There was much to do. He was committed and earnest, a man of great integrity. A capital-E Evangelical, he was most proud of the shelter’s program that would allow the men to stay for quite some time if they participated in their long-term program designed to get them on the straight and narrow, empower them with job skills, and learn about Jesus.
The shelter also served as a soup kitchen, and would feed hundreds of hungry men, women, and children every day. At night, when they pulled the cots out, it was only for men; but they had a room set aside that needed some work that was planned for women. Joe was excited about that — you could see the dream of it take over his face, lighting up his features from the inside, as if the vision of the actual room in his mind had changed from its drab, crumbling reality to the warm and well-lit facility he envisioned.
It was during one of these conversations, in which he was describing his preferred future, that it happened. He said, “We have a huge space in the back that we want to set up for families, but we have to think that through, because what happens if a gay family comes in? We have to maintain our values, but still treat them with dignity. So we are not serving families right now. Only individuals.”
I was silent. I am so angry that I was silent. In my defense, perhaps a better way to say it is, I was silenced. I had already been reprimanded at least once for speaking out in support of gay rights. I also knew that had I spoken out at that exact time, and at that exact place, the entire relationship between my church and that organization would have been jeopardized.
Evangelicalism is like a minefield for people like me. We never know what we’re going to step on when we vocalize our beliefs. It’s why I’m never comfortable around Christians. I’ve met some great ones, mind you. People I have fallen in complete love with. But I’m never sure to start out. I always wonder — what does their Facebook feed say? And what in the world would they think of mine?
Anyway. I was silent that day, and for a long time after. A big part of my decision to leave staff was driven by my voice, which was bubbling up out of me, and refusing to stay silent on these issues. I gave up a steady paycheck and a job that let me do amazing work in the world and a bunch of co-workers I adored to be able to use my voice, because my voice is stubborn and demanding and wants to manifest itself in the world.
And here is what that voice says:
The only gay agenda a Christian should have is to love gay people the same way we
allegedly love everybody else.
If we are more concerned with keeping two hungry, homeless gay people from sleeping together than we are with feeding and sheltering them, we have our Christian values backwards. If we are so afraid that two gay people might show affection for each other under our roof that we will choose instead to not feed and shelter families — straight, gay, or otherwise — something is off kilter in our faith. And our God is a God who then makes no sense.
In a church setting, loving gay people means allowing them to be wholly and fully themselves, and wholly and fully Jesus Freaks. That means we don’t tell them they can come to church, but they can’t lead worship. Or teach children. Or take any leadership role. We don’t relegate them to licking envelopes when their skill set is decisive governance or creative command.
I’m so frustrated by the way Church has relegated gay people and laser focused so much energy on this one perceived speck in the eye, while lugging around a truck load of our own damn Pharisaical logs.
I want to love people. I want to love the outsiders, the marginalized, the ones Jesus came for. As an institution, if there is one group that we have done a great job keeping out, it’s the LGBTQ community. I want to set a table for them, invite them in, break bread together, talk about Jesus together.
Oh who am I kidding? There are many things I am frustrated about with the church. So many things. I’m really struggling. I am still mad in love with Jesus, but I am really struggling with church. I still feel like an orphan, like there is no place I really fit. I wonder if there will ever be a place I actually fit here on this earth.
If there is, it will most likely be with the drag queens and the drug addicts, the homeless rovers and the addled youth, the ones who are broken and so they don’t fit in places like they used to, the ones who are done trying to shave down the shape of themselves to please other people. Our edges are meant to remain a little jagged, and our only agenda is to find Jesus in everyone.
That’s the table I’ll be at. You and your jagged edges are welcome to join us.