She sat across the table from me with tears in her eyes. I could tell that she wanted to trust me, but she wasn’t sure that she could.
And it made sense. She had been so hurt by people like me before. People who were ministers, people who were supposed to care for her and show her God’s love, had rejected her and hurt her.
Rachel had grown up active in her church. She loved her church. She loved God. As she grew up, she realized that she also loved women.
She wasn’t sure what the people at her church would think about it. She had heard the sermons from the pulpit before about how homosexuality was against God’s will. But, she knew the people of her church. She knew her youth sponsors. They had held her up as a baby and promised to love her. They had told her from the moment of her birth that they loved her. She couldn’t imagine them changing how they felt about her.
So, she decided to tell them.
One night, before youth group, she sat down with her youth sponsors, the ones who had prayed with her and loved her, and she told this truth about herself, that she was a lesbian.
They told her that she was sinning, told her they would pray for her to change her ways, and sent her home. Later that week one of the adults sent her a Facebook message and told her that she would have to choose between being lesbian or Christian, he told her that she could not be both.
For a long time Rachel told no one about any of it. She was too shocked, too hurt, too ashamed. And then, one day, she told one of her friends. Her friend, who is in the youth group at my church, told her that she should talk to me. And so, that is how Rachel and I found ourselves sitting across the table from each other at the coffee shop. Rachel and I introduced ourselves, had a little small talk, and then she told me her story. At the end of the story she paused. Her voice trembled and she asked me, “so which one should I be, lesbian or Christian?”
My heart sank. My eyes filled with tears. I was so incredibly angry.
Never, ever should a child be told that they are anything less than the beloved child of God.
Never should a child, be told that they have to choose between loving and following God and living life the way that God created them to be.
I was angry at her youth sponsors.
I was angry at the church.
Angry might not be the right word, I was livid.
The calling to care for children in the church is a huge responsibility and I was livid that someone had so hurt one of these precious little ones, in the name of God.
I reached across the table, took her hand and said, “hear me when I say this, you never have to choose. God loves you and created you exactly as you are. Never let anyone tell you differently.” We sat there and cried together for a while.
That conversation with Rachel that day has changed how I do ministry. As a youth minister in a Disciples Church I am often quiet around issues of homosexuality. Our congregation, like many Disciples congregations, have people who believe differently on this topic. And we, like many Disciples churches, choose not to talk about it so as not to offend anybody.
But after my conversation with Rachel that day, I realized I could not be quiet any longer.
As a youth minister I firmly believe that my primary job is to help every child that comes across my path know, in the depth of their bones, that they are a beloved child of God.
Our world is telling gay and lesbian young people every day that, because of who they are that they are somehow something less than God’s beloved child.
I realized after my conversation with Rachel, that, by being quiet, I am going along with this lie. I realized, after my conversation with Rachel, that I cannot be quiet any longer.
It’s no longer good enough to just not say hurtful things.
As long as there is any child being told that they are not welcomed at the table, that they are anything less than the beloved child of God, we, the church, cannot be silent.
The weekend after I spoke with Rachel, I went to our midwinter CYF retreat. As we began to sing Sanctuary at worship that night, the youth spontaneously began to put their arms around each other. By the end of the song our youth, gay and straight, jocks and band nerds, black and white, rural and urban were all singing together with their arms wrapped around each other, tears in their eyes, and smiles on their faces.
Until every child, Rachel’s everywhere, feel this welcomed and loved by the church, we cannot be silent any longer.