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Goodbye, Church (part 3)
Some of you may be wondering why I left the church instead of staying and trying to help change the church from within. (See Intro, Part 1, Part 2, and part 4 if you’re new to the Goodbye Church mini-series).
Well, believe me when I say that I tried.
I tried to change the church.
At least my church.
I spent the last three years at my church trying to help the leaders inch their way towards affirmation of LGBTQ folx. And this was before I realized I was queer (it’s all so funny now).
I truly believed my work and my voice mattered and that my leaders were taking it seriously.
I truly tried to cling to the hope that my church would someday be affirming.
Then I realized I was queer.
All of a sudden, I saw things very differently.
I actually look back and see how much time and energy I wasted those last three years at my church because my church had/has no intention of becoming an affirming church.
I spent those last three years spinning my wheels but literally getting nowhere.
I can’t help but think of all the productive ways I could have used my time and energy at another place than at a church that had/has no intention of changing their stance.
It’s exhausting, emotional work to try to help an institution change their way of thinking.
But what makes it unbearable is when a church refuses to take an explicit stand on whether or not they’re affirming.
At least with a non-affirming church, we queer folx know where NOT to go.
And with affirming churches, we obviously know of a place where we CAN go.
But when churches play this wishy-washy ‘third way’ stance, it does more harm than good to the LGBTQ community.
These 3rd way churches are really intentional about the way they address/dodge/frame the “LGBTQ issue”. The pastors will say things from the pulpit that make a queer person think the church might be a safe place, but they’re never really sure. So each week, queer people enter the church guarded and alert while straining to hear any word from the leadership that they welcome and love and affirm them for who they are. But the leaders never explicitly say such things.
They hint at it, they allude to it, they might drop the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ once in a blue moon but not without shrouding it in a million other words so as not to raise any alarms. They’ll use words like ‘welcome’ and ‘accept’ but intentionally avoid the word ‘affirm’.
These churches care more about keeping their (mostly straight) congregants comfortable than welcoming, including, and making space for the marginalized. And that is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus.
So after 3 years of trying to help evoke change from within my church to no avail, I left.
The marginalized shouldn’t be the ones doing all the work.
Those with power need to start doing the work themselves for once in their lives.
They need to educate themselves and proactively work to dismantle systems of injustice and stop blaming the marginalized for not ‘trying harder or longer.’
Stop shaming us.
Stop blaming us.
And stop doing all of this in God’s name.
I had a dear friend, who is also a pastor, come over yesterday.
We chatted and laughed and swapped stories from our childhood.
We then talked about where I’m at in life, particularly on this journey of deconstruction/rejection of the Christian church.
With tears in her eyes (and one eventually slipping down her cheek like a scene from a freakin movie), she shared how she wasn’t concerned about me but that she was sad at the Church’s loss of my gifts, calling and leadership.
And my heart ached with her.
Because I feel that loss immensely as well.
I had loved the Church fiercely.
I had loved Jesus fiercely.
But because I refused to fit the mold and play the (small, quiet, submissive) part, I was forced out of the Church.
The Church declared there was no room for me.
So I became an exile quite suddenly and surprisingly.
And I wept. A lot.
Church had been my home. My language. My community. My source of support.
And now it was gone. All of it.
What does one do when suddenly found in the desert of exile?
Well, it does many things. It causes many feelings and fears to rise to the surface.
But it can also do this:
- It frees you in ways you never knew you needed freeing
- It empowers you to stand on your own two feet for the first time in your life
- It snaps you awake from any delusion you might have been believing, saving you precious time and energy
- It emboldens you to live a life you actually want to live, versus living a life you’re supposed to live
- It forces you to let go all that no longer works for you and to only believe in that which your mind, body, and spirit completely align with
- It fosters tremendous growth
And while I would never wish for someone to experience the losing of one’s entire community and support system, I truly am grateful for the pain of my past.
Because look where it has brought me:
- I am at a seminary I absolutely LOVE
- I have an amazing community that knows, honors, and celebrates every part of me (#AllTheTears)
- I have found abundance and love and beauty in ways I never thought possible
- I am helping set others free through my work as a life coach
- I am more confident of who I am than I have ever been in my life
I wouldn’t go back even if I could.
First the pain, then the waiting, then the rising.
I’ve made it through the pain and the waiting. Now I am rising.
And I’m bringing others with me.
[Featured Image: Evan Kirby]
So, so good Nikole. I am so very thankful to have found a truly affirming church where the generous love of God is poured out on all. It’s exciting to be in this part of my journey but what a painful one it has been. I am so grateful that you have found your voice and are working to help others find theirs. Bravo friends.
Oh, I am so happy you have found a church to call home! That is so powerful and important and needed. Yes, you’ve experienced a lot of pain, so I’m thrilled you’re entering the part in your journey where happiness, love and healing is becoming your new norm. So much love to you!
Ok, so if a church doesn’t affirm the LGBTQ community —and by not affirm, I mean they don’t believe that an LGBTQ orientation aligns with God’s original intention/design for gender & sexuality— yet that church does believe that everyone is created in God’s image & is valuable, and it wants to be one that is welcoming, including, and making space for the marginalized…
How does it do that?
Or is it all or nothing? (Could it be equivalent to believing that divorce isn’t God’s design for marriage/relationships, yet still being supportive of people who’ve gone through them?)
Hey Andrea, I so appreciate your learning heart. I do believe it’s all or nothing. I’ve seen churches attempt a 3rd way (like what you described in your comment), and it does not work. There are a whole slew of us who’ve been burned by 3rd way churches and in the end, the churches blame us instead of taking responsibility for their (in)actions and looking for how they can improve. Ultimately, it’s not up to the marginalized to try to fit into the social constructs of the church but the church’s task to empower the marginalized. Here are some great resources that tackle this question in further detail:
– Why “Welcoming, but Not Affirming” is Not Welcoming at All: http://www.thekevingarcia.com/why-welcoming-but-not-affirming-is-not-welcoming-at-all/
And a couple other posts that touch on this subject:
– I can’t be your gay friend: https://caitlinjstout.com/2017/06/27/i-cant-be-your-gay-friend/
– Kind homophobia and transphobia is still evil: http://www.shannontlkearns.com/kind-homophobia-transphobia-still-evil/
Hope these help answer your question and also lead you to other articles/posts that might be helpful. <3
Glad I checked back to see if you responded! I thought I’d get an email notification, but maybe I missed it…(or I didn’t check the right box, or that wasn’t actually an option? lol)
VERY glad you took my question as an honest one. Afterwards, I was thinking “Oh man- I hope she doesn’t take it as ‘A Challenge!’ :-/“
Thanks for the links. 🙂 They’re definitely thought-provoking…
Oh man that’s good to know about you not being notified when I respond! I will look into that and see how I can change that. I appreciate you! 🙂