I often hear this: “There isn’t a problem.” I hear of churches that are “open,” and from that perspective alone I’m told there is no problem. It is nice to know that there are churches that are welcoming to all, and that there are churches that allow people to be people, but I still hear a denial. Based on experience alone people have decided one of two things: 1) There isn’t a problem, or 2) It isn’t their problem, because their gathering is welcoming. When I hear these words I get frustrated. I get frustrated because experiences of LGBTQ people are overlooked. Some have had true and deep hurtful experiences at the hands of those who call themselves Christians. There is a problem.
I got a lot of attention from my last post. It touched a nerve. For some it touched a nerve because their church is welcoming and they only hope for me that I find that. Then came a woman, I don’t know her, but she commented on my blog. She said something that rings in my ears. She said that her bad experiences were enough to keep her away from the church. She said that it wasn’t fear and it wasn’t her responsibility to deal with the box. In her opinion it was the church’s responsibility to deal with. She had suffered greatly at the hands of those who call themselves Christ followers. Here is what she said, “My trust with the church has been shattered as that is where the damage was done for me. It not only closeted me, but made me acutely aware of what happens behind those doors. Now, I choose not to hide who I am and feel like I have no interest in changing the minds of a community of people so strongly opposed to me as an individual. I agree with the part about accepting the whole person and not compartmentalizing, but to me it’s not fear that holds me back but experience.” You see, there is a problem. She’s not alone. Sadly, she has a lot of company. Having a little bit faith in God’s people just isn’t enough. That faith and trust was damaged. There is a problem.
For all the churches and people who say they welcome everyone to their gathering there is still a problem–a PR problem and a denial problem that must dealt with. I admire Rich McCullen. I was privileged to meet him at Transform back in May. I listened to his story which included his gathering reaching out to those in his area with a public apology on behalf of Christians who voted for California’s Proposition 8, calling for a redefinition of marriage to include only a man and woman. They put up the following billboard that says, “MissionGathering Christian Church IS SORRY for the narrow minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative, actions of those who took away the rights and equality of so many in the name of GOD. Our hearts are with you!” Rich and his gathering got something right. They knew that there was an apology and acknowledgment that needed to happen and they did it. They knew of people who were pushed further away from the gospel by the approval of Prop 8. They knew, as the commenter above said, it was beyond fear; it was experience that drives the hurt. MissionGathering took a chance and decided to acknowledge that there is a problem. They decided to get past the PR and denial problem, they embraced it.
Can we admit there is a problem? Can we, for a second, say that although it is nice that we have been given a gift of inclusion, there are way too many gatherings out there that don’t have this gift? I don’t want to denigrate the idea that we should celebrate gatherings of inclusion, but there is still much work to do. There still are those out there, like the commenter, who need for gatherings to testify and to embody the gospel. It isn’t just about me, but about two communities I believe in–the LGBTQ and Christian communities. I don’t want LGBTQ Christians out there to be the focus of whispers, or worse, to be ignored. One’s faith is too valuable to put up in a shelf. I want the silence to become a roar, but one that envelops the whole church, so that we might walk held hand-in-hand with all members on the journey. We can’t do this unless we acknowledge that there is a problem, so that no more will the experience of our youth push them into the closest, but will let them celebrate the community of Christ.
By Jules Kennedy
Julie Kennedy lives in the bootheel of Missouri. She works with special needs students and a full time student at Southeast Missouri State University. She is a constant spiritual wonderer with a never ending love for the gathering of Christ followers.