My Mind Made Public -

I held off as long as I could ...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Guest Post: The Divorce of a Church—Part 1

In a previous post DJ, a reader of my blog, made some very poignant comments that I thought were extremely important for everyone to hear. Here is Part 1 of his feelings on being gay and attending a church that is having a hard time living in the tension of what is faith and sexuality:

"Over the past several years, I’ve discovered many revelations about my sexuality, not the least of which is how my former method for dealing with it was chosen primarily by fear: fear of going to hell, fear of becoming a sex-monger, fear of losing my spiritual community, etc. I could no longer survive under the oppressive weight I felt from my former church, especially in the midst of insufficient supportive relationships. For the sake of my mental health, I began to visit another church in the area.

Just 2 weeks into going to services, I could sense God saying “this isn’t where you should be visiting; this is home.” I felt a sense of welcome that I had never experienced in a church before. As I began to take steps towards Christ in accepting myself in the way that He had, I also began to recognize that not everyone in attendance would follow me there.

To say I felt split and confused is an understatement. But at that church, I found a safe space to seek God regarding my sexuality, eventually coming to reconcile my faith and sexuality. This had some unpredictable side effects though:

I felt like I would be the cause of a major rift, being one of only a few gay people at the church.

As this was a transitional period in our church’s history, there was a significant amount of tension in the air, despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact?) that we never uttered a word about the 2 big litmus tests for determining a true Christian: abortion and homosexuality. While I was not able to articulate this then, I now realize that the hushed atmosphere began to feel like the dysfunctional home that didn’t talk about problems, but where it was impossible to escape them. And I felt like the kid who was going to eventually be the cause of mommy and daddy’s divorce. And so we trudged on in virtual silence. I came out slowly to people I deemed safe, and swallowed my true being around those who felt “lovingly” hostile.

At some point along the way, people began to silently (and sometimes boisterously) leave. No one really said it, but it was clear that things were starting to feel very “liberal” and “unsound” to some of the more conservative folks in the congregation, just because there were a few gay people starting to attend. And the great divorce felt all the more imminent.

I can remember talking to our new senior pastor (in my early days at the church), and divulging my sordid same-sex attractions to him. I intimated that I was very confused about all of this, and trying to find my way—since my previous church had brought me nothing but pain and suicidal ideation. This pastor made me feel very loved and valuable. He replied that he would not preach me into the right way to go, nor look down on me and give me his sage advice, but rather, he would walk alongside me and question with me.

It was a huge sigh of relief. And yet, I could very well tell this would not be the posture of several others in the church. I remember pleading with him to keep my journey silent, so as not to stir up controversy. By this point, I had become pretty visible in the church, giving the welcome occasionally, and involved in several lay leadership positions. If news were to break that I was gay, people would protest. They’d do as people have done in other churches I’ve attended upon discovering my “struggle”: they’d deem me unworthy of service, and remove me from the ministries where I felt called. And then, they’d fight. They’d fight those who would dare stand up for me and declare my value to the church. They’d fight those who didn’t feel threatened by me. My deepest fear of course, was not the fighting, but the inevitable split this would lead to, and I would be the cause."

Part 2 to be posted tomorrow...

Much love.


Anonymous said...

If this church would split, it's their problem, not yours. Be yourself & realize that you are loved & supported. There are always a few folks who don't understand.
Other things bother me more than if someone is gay. For instance, remarriage after divorce bothers me as it is so common, including my own (adult)child. Abnormal anger bothers me.
Snobbery bothers me. Selfishness & stinginess are not becoming to Christians.
I have thought if one of my kids said they were gay, it would not bother me as much as other things

You are welcome in my church if you don't already go there!!
If you agree & live in Chicago, I can communicate to you thru Andrew.
><> <><

Jeff S. said...

If I see where this post and part 2are going, it appears to be saying that every church should be accepting of homosexuality and homosexual acts and if they're not, well then, the church has a problem. Is that what I'm reading? Because there is a way for a church to disapprove of homosexual acts based on scripture and still demonstrate love and acceptance of a person as an individual but without condoning the acts or endorsing a person for leadership who is involved homosexually. Similar to Jesus and the woman at the well. Similar to any couple in church who may be living together and having premarital sex. Our church does not "accept" or condone these behaviors, and they would disqualify someone from leadership, but that does not make it the church's problem if they believe these behaviors to be sinful based on scripture. The church is challenged to show love to anyone practicing sinful behavior, but it does not follow that it has to endorse those behaviors for someone in leadership or tell the congregation there is nothing wrong with those behaviors. That is the basis for anything-goes theology and watered-down Christianity.

If I'm misreading this post, I apologize for jumping to conclusions.

Andrew Marin said...

Unfortunetly Jeff, you jumped the gun. You faithfully read this blog, and you know exactly where I'm theologically coming from. The whole point to building a bridge and/or living in the tension is being able to believe as you do and yet still make room to involve yourself with others who don't (coming from both sides).

Your filtration lens for anything gay Christian is clouding your ability to see that the "big idea" to this first part of the post is about nothing more then a gay man being afraid that becuase of his same-sex attraction, his church will divorce, and the potential weight (and burden) he feels from that understanding is overwhelming.

The point of my blog is to help people to live in that tension to advance the dialogue, and it can only truly happen when folks stop trying to jump to conclusions where or when conclusions aren't made.

Jeff S. said...

Andy, sorry. I guess I did jump the gun. I didn't mean to raise the intensity so high. But the post did raise my concerns. Maybe it was a reaction from having grown up in a Methodist church that I saw go steadily more liberal while I was struggling with SSA, to the point of our pastor voting at conference to ordain gays, and I was left with the turmoil of what to believe while still in high school. I have felt much the same as DJ, but felt led to stay true to scriptures and my convictions. The tone of the guest post Part 1 seemed to be that it is better to be "true to yourself" and let the church struggle. Yes, I did react to that.

Ah, the disadvantages of responding in writing.

I'll continue to follow the conversation. Sometimes gut reactions kick in. Please accept my apologies.

D.J. Free! said...

Hello, "Anonymous" :)

Thanks for the offer! I, however, do not live in Chicago, but I'd be more than happy to visit your church if I did!

I'm not so sure it's as easy for me to just say "it's their problem". That may, in fact, be true . . . but I also feel a connection to my own church, and the universal Church, and I would prefer that we do just as Andrew has suggested: stick around and live in the tension. I appreciate your comments and acceptance!

Jeff, yeah, you did jump the gun a bit there. This piece isn't really about who's right and who's wrong in regards to the morality of homosexuality. I'm just sharing my story, and my feelings. This has been my experience. I respect you for staying true to your convictions and your interpretations of Scripture. But recognize that this is what I have done as well. What hurts is that we feel the need to split over such issues, instead of having meaningful dialogue and seeking mutual understanding. Ultimately, that may still lead to a split, but at least that would be a decision that was come to thoughtfully. This is not how most churches operate, however.

You may feel very uncomfortable and even threatened by my convictions, just as I wholeheartedly disagree with yours. But I will not abandon you, nor reject you - especially without getting to know you first, and getting to see your side of the story. I will not leave this "marriage" b/c of disagreements over orthodoxy or orthopraxy. But when others do, it's hard not to feel the weight of that.

Thanks for your grace, and your willingness to engage in this kind of dialogue. We probably don't agree very much on some of our theology, but this kind of discussion is so meaningful, profound, and necessary.