When Ada and I first started dating, I was attending the church that had been my home through college. The Living Room was a Southern Baptist-lite church bustling with twenty-somethings, all gathered around a charismatic worship band and our bearded, blue-jeaned preacher Mel.
From the outside, I still fit in. I put on my name-tag just like everybody else. I hugged the same friends and cleaved to familiar songs, occasionally even raising my hands waist-high and closing my eyes in a posture of devotion.
But on the inside, I was in turmoil. I perpetually wondered what others thought of me. (Some people already let me know.) I wondered if someone was praying right now that I would turn from my “sin.” I wondered how long it would be before church leaders approached me, imploring me to receive their counsel. Should I annul my church membership preemptively or wait for the hammer to drop?
I tried to overcome those nagging questions. I tried to grow closer to God in a community that told me that I couldn’t.
But it was tiring to run into the wind. It’s hard to grow when a body’s always ready for fight or flight. Too much energy gets spent on defense.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16
For the rest of my senior year, I stayed at the Living Room in a state of self-defense but clinging to my faith in the tradition I knew. I hoped to “be a witness” to my non-affirming siblings. I hoped that the light that warmed me would radiate. And I hoped that God would glimmer through the exclusionary darkness. But my determination waned.
I was surrounded by a community, but it was no longer my community. I didn’t have allies at the Living Room. On campus, I had allies that picked me up when non-affirming friends knocked me down, but on Sunday mornings those allies were spread across town in a handful of other churches – some where LGBTQ Christians were not asked to stand outside the church-constructed courtesy barrier. The loneliness hurt like hell.
It didn’t help that my motivation for going to church had inverted itself. A person shouldn’t go to church to prove themselves to others or to prove themselves to God. And a person should definitely not go to church to prove God to others. Church should be a safe harbor, a cleansing water, or a propelling breeze. It shouldn’t be a proving ground.
But for countless LGBTQ Christians, a non-affirming church can quickly become just such. Your conversations with friends, mentors, and pastors can all too easily become myopic, focusing on one piece of your theology, not realizing that this one piece is not just a belief: it’s identity. (How come no one asks me to coffee concerned about our disagreement on Christ’s second coming or about the young earth “theory”? I was a Geology student, after all, so they oughtta hit me where it hurts.)
These theological conversations end in stalemates where minds battle and hearts are wounded and the work of Christian witness is ultimately left unstarted. Friends and fellow church-goers process down the aisle to ask you to prove yourself over and over again, all while their own theology remains an assumed default interpretation.
In many churches, an undue burden is placed on LGBTQ Christians, where you are expected to have a firm, unshakeable grasp on your interpretation of the Bible. Straight Christians don’t face these same requirements: not for their sexuality ethic, not for their staunch premillenialism, not for any aspect of their theology. Straight Christians are certainly not asked to find definitive biblical proof that they should date or marry the person that they love.
These burdens grew heavy fast.
I believe wholeheartedly in the affirming theology that took root through my discernment process with Ada. There’s not a doubt in my mind or my heart that God intends for us to be together and for other queer folks to have the same freedom of love and expression. But hearing others cast doubt – or worse, shame – on my beliefs and my beloved and my identity… it still hurts. I wish it didn’t, but it does.
And so I’ve taken flight. Flight from churches that hold me back from running to God, whom I love and want so badly to know.
But more importantly, flight to churches that cheer me on, encourage me to push ahead, and hand me cups of Gatorade along the way. As I rounded the twentieth mile, I found that the cloud of witnesses is larger, more diverse, and more beautiful than I ever thought it would be.
So here I am, still running.
One of our close friends keeps a blog titled, Where God Meets Gay. She shared her recent experience of leaving a non-affirming church-home. We highly recommend it for its beauty, heart, and clarity. In fact, we recommend the whole blog, so make sure you follow for regular updates.
Here’s a snippet from her post, “The hardest decisions are always the most important”:
I attended my church for nearly two years before I quietly slipped away in mid-August. Part of me feels relief to be done with that journey, and I increasingly find myself more relaxed now that I’ve left my old church. However, the act of leaving was not easy at all, and I still have some loose ends to attend to.
Does anyone know the proper etiquette of breaking up with a church?
…Read the rest here.
Photographs from AmeliaEarhart.com