It was a Methodist church; a United Methodist Church to be more specific. The Sunday school question was “what part of society has held you back in being a Christian?” or something to that effect. I fought the Spirit all week when I read the lessons surrounding the question. My counselor suggested I tell this group that I’m a lesbian. In my mind there was just no way I could do that. On Sunday morning, I felt the Spirit move me and it made me physically shake when we started the discussion. It fit so perfectly to “come out” on that particular day, given that line of discussion. I shook for what seemed 30 minutes, but I’m sure it was about 2 minutes while I described the difficulty of being a lesbian in America, Virginia, Lynchburg, the Methodist Church, and in my closeted world. I shook while a friend rubbed my back. I shook while I tried to keep my voice from shaking too, but I couldn’t. It all came tumbling out as I rambled on for at least 60 minutes… I mean seconds.
The relief was as many “gay stories” express. It was a relief and a joy and felt really good to educate a small group of trusted church friends on what it was like to struggle in a society where it is still “ok” to bash gays openly; a play on the words “openly gay.” Several in that group cried. Several expressed that they didn’t realize it wasn’t “a choice.” Several just hugged me. The pastor didn’t say much, but that was ok. It was ok until months later he read from the scripture:
9 Don’t you know that evil people will not receive God’s kingdom? Don’t be fooled. Those who commit sexual sins will not receive the kingdom. Neither will those who worship statues of gods or commit adultery. Neither will men who are prostitutes or who commit homosexual acts. 10 Neither will thieves or those who always want more and more. Neither will those who are often drunk or tell lies or cheat. People who live like that will not receive God’s kingdom. (1 Corinthians 6)
I grabbed a pew Bible. Those words weren’t in the pew Bible; he had chosen a different version of the scripture. He knew I was sitting there listening to his every word; I always listened to his every word. I wondered why he would use a version that blatantly suggested I was going to Hell. I felt exposed and discouraged and somewhat betrayed. Certainly I wished I had not told him about myself in Sunday school class. That was the beginning of my exit from the United Methodist Church.
I sat in the church and read the membership “vows.” The UMC had let me down. I had let the UMC down. It was time for a divorce and it broke my heart. That was the only church I had ever joined and although I had been attending church regularly for my whole adult life (I chose church when I was 18 and continued in each city where I lived to find a place to grow and worship), but that was the first I joined. I was almost 30 years old when I finally joined that church. I must have been around 40 when we got divorced.
I found a new love in a Disciples church. They seemed very open to everyone, including the handicapped, biracial, mentally challenged, and gay. I was asked to speak to a forum on becoming “Open & Affirming.” I told this Disciples church they already were “open & affirming” and it was time they “came out of the closet.” That statement resulted in some laughter and I think endeared me to many members at the forum. I worked along side many folks that year at this Disciples church to move the church forward in claiming those “passwords” or “secret code words” as some described O&A. The movement failed and it was discouraging. But I was asked to be on the senior pastor’s search committee and then an Elder. So while many where afraid to claim the words, the actions spoke louder than the words and I could ignore the ignorance in their case.
It was at an Elder’s meeting when the new Senior Pastor suggested very quietly that it was time to raise the issue again; it was time to change the “Statement of Calling” to include the words “open & affirming.” The Elder’s jumped on it; it was a strong group of Elders and they had names and faces (mine included) that came up in the discussion of why it was necessary to affirm the GLBT folks in the congregation. That led to more education, another forum, and it came down to a congregational vote by consensus. It passed easily. We got our words. GLBT people continued to come and go, always saying how welcomed they felt at FCC.
It’s really a shame that so few DOC churches can take that step of faith it requires and become O&A. Those who are afraid of Christ’s radical call to love everyone have no vision of the change it makes, not in the church, but in the individual lives of those who finally find a family of faith. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend, my hero said that (or so they say), and yes, that would be Jesus the Christ. Surely Jesus would love me and affirm me and welcome me into any place in which he dwelled. Why can’t all churches who also profess “Jesus the Hero,” do the same?