The other day on the vast, rolling sea that is Facebook, I saw and reshared an image originally shared by Mark Sandlin who is an ordained PC (USA) minister, co-host at The Moonshine Jesus Show, blogger at Patheos and The Huffington Post.
As of this writing, 99 folks signaled their approval with their god-given, handy-dandy thumbs-up. Only one seemingly lost fellah registered his disapproval with the following statement:
Wayne asked, “Why? Opposition to homosexual marriage does not equate to rejection of homosexual persons. It does not even *necessarily* equate to viewing homosexual practice as sin. And even viewing homosexual practice as sin does not necessarily equate to rejection of homosexual persons.”
While I was originally uninterested in engaging his question (how many times must we say the same damn thing??), I now feel a squeench more motivated to respond because of subsequent conversations that percolated up as a result of my clickity-click sharing.
I need to start by (once again) differentiating between welcoming and affirming. Now, a whole lot of congregations out there slap snappy “All Are Welcome” banners on their church’s facade, place spiffy “Come one, come all” ads in the local paper or post absurdly inclusive ads on the interwebs. These good Christians are generally not tossing around the phrase “welcoming but not affirming” but unfortunately, what I’ve experienced, read and heard over and over again is that in many of these churches, most notably those in the United Methodist Church, the “welcome” usually comes with less than affirming strings and closet attached.
Homosexual money is welcome. Homosexual singing is welcome. Homosexual casseroles are welcome. Homosexual alter flowers are welcome. Homosexual volunteering is sorta welcome (just not around the kids, y’all) and did I mention that homomoney is welcome?
But welcome the WHOLE heart, mind and soul (with which they are commanded to love God and neighbor) of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender parishioners who also wish to fully live into who God created them? Weeeelll, not so much.
So, while I initially felt it an utter waste of my time to respond to Wayne; after receiving a heartbreaking private message a little while later…well, you know me, I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer. Thank you God for making me a mouthy broad!
With permission from the friend who reached out to me, I’m sharing her messages with you. Names have been changed to protect the hearts and minds of those involved…
“Your post sharing Rev. Mark Sandlin’s picture has hit me in the gut and taken the breath out of me. I started to publicly post several times but can’t find the words. You know that I worship and work at a UMC. I helped develop our vision and mission to become an increasingly diverse church that lives out the teaching of Jesus – love unconditionally, accept without judgement, serving with generosity. A part of our mission mentions tearing down the walls of race, gender, orientation, etc. etc. We are a small church where about 10% of the congregation is gay, with a lesbian out front working in the office and singing lead in the praise band. However, your photo made me rethink it all and wonder … am I doing good? Or am I being foolish? My partner Mary and I are engaged and planning to be married next year. But we can’t do it in our church – our church with the above vision and mission words on large banners hanging in the front of our sanctuary. Our last pastor and current pastor have spoken to us privately, telling us how they wished they could be the one to perform the service but their hands are tied. Recently, we have considered moving churches – for lots of reasons irrelevant to this conversation – and now wonder, do we move away from UMC? It’s rhetorical. Regardless, thanks for sharing. It’s given me a lot to think about.”
She went on to say later in our chat…
“It is such a painful and confusing place to be. Torn between leaving a church because they don’t put their words into action and fully embrace the vision and mission that they promised to uphold and staying at a church where you have been a part of bringing gay and lesbian friends in and showing them that Jesus is in that place and that they are loved and that they do have a place to worship. A place without fear. I feel like our church has made great strides but when people hesitate to discuss this topic publicly, when I have to explain why it’s important to reach out to the gay and lesbian community right now especially on the heels of such a huge ruling, when I have to talk to the pastor for a third time to tell her how important it is that we speak to our youth honestly and openly about suicide, when one voice in a church meeting of 50 people says out loud “we need to be biblically led and stop being so concerned about being politically correct” …. That’s when I question if I’m in the right place. Leave and go where I can live my authentic self and know I’m fully loved and be surrounded by people who firmly believe I have a place in heaven and aren’t afraid to say it out loud? Or stay and continue to be a part of the change that is so needed. I hope all this makes sense. I would love your insight and I know so many in my position who could benefit from hearing your wise words.”
My heart aches every damn time I hear a story of such love, devotion and service to a community that is met with the stark denial of the basic human dignity to marry the partner God has given you to love. I am also immensely grateful to be able to carry these sorrows with others who are on this sometimes treacherous journey of living faith in community.
My gut, not totally disconnected from my head and my heart, tells me that not only no, but hell to the naw! No way should any queer Christian remain in a community that expects them to live a lie. If your church asks you to secret away the most sacred love of your life, if your church asks you to whisper your love while encouraging others to shout it from the mountaintops, honey, that ain’t the church for you. There are thousands of Christian congregations, and more every day, across this country that fully affirm the sacred worth of LGBT people. And by fully affirm I mean invite into the full life of the church – membership, baptism, Eucharist, marriage and ordination. There is no need, none at all, for queer folk of faith to beg for scraps from the table when there are communities of faith that truly welcome everyone, everyone, everyone to God’s feast. My own tribe, The United Church of Christ, is a whole denomination of such cray-cray Christians who actually try like mad to love others as God first loved us. All means all.
That said, I really do understand the desire to remain in community with the people you know and love. I understand the impulse to stay and serve in such a way that your presence might REALLY open hearts, open minds and open doors. I respect the call to create a loving space where other LGBT people can meet Jesus and know that they are loved in ways they may have previously been told was impossible. But at the end of the day, as much as those who stay want to believe they are preparing a feast for everyone, everyone, everyone, if the leadership and powerful purse holders are enslaved by doctrine and dogma, fear and ignornace rather than free in the extravagant love of Christ, I have to ask…what promise are you making and can it ever be fullfilled?
I was raised a baptist, am a bit Wesleyan and am passionately neck deep in the UCC. I actually love all of these tribes and just pray like the dickens that they can all get their heads on right (or their heads out of their asses) so as to find a way to truly claim and live into the love of Christ that knows no limits.
Ultimately, I don’t have an answer, but I can honestly say that what I want most for myself and for everyone is the freedom to live and love fully as God made us and to never be asked by another human to deny our humanity for the sake of belonging. Least of all, at God’s table where indeed ALL are welcome.
Go where you are loved. Worship God and serve others where you can do so with your whole self. And if there’s not a place to go? Make one.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.