“I am not going to sit here and ask you if you’re a lesbian. There are people at church who want me to, but I’m not going to.” She said it as if she was doing me a favor. “I am going to say that I know you are mature enough to step down if there is something immoral going on in your life where you shouldn’t be leading in the church.” Each word hit me harder than the previous, like solid bricks raining down on my head until I was broken and bloodied, buried under the remains of my wrecked life.
[Excerpt from Bailey Jo Welch’s debut book, Making Room on the Pew]
This is how the first of many conversations with several different members of my home church staff began in the year after I came out as a lesbian. I accidentally (and incredibly ungracefully) fell out of the closet on my face in front of my parents one Sunday evening in 2009 when they found a sloppily-hidden note from my first girlfriend tucked into the pages of my school planner.
I don’t quite remember everything from that night. There were tears and my hands shook and it took me what felt like forever to find my voice when my parents stopped talking and sat in the darkened kitchen, my mother’s eyes begging me for the answer she wanted, the answer she needed. I remember heartbreaking disappointment and soul-crushing shame, and I’ve learned that this is not unique to my story. We sought guidance and support from our home church because these people had morphed into our family.
I prayed for someone who, in my mind, mattered (a pastor, a staff member, a respected elder) to hug me and tell me that this baked-into-my-identity Thing did not exclude me from the church, did not make me ineligible for God’s love and grace and the everlasting life He promises to those who believe.
For a very long time, no one did.
For a very long time, I ran from God and the Church. When I was asked to step down from my leadership roles within the church because I came out as a lesbian, I felt like I was rejected for exposing a very real, raw, and vulnerable part of myself and I decided that I did not want to be a part of the Church any longer, if I would not be loved and celebrated. I felt judged and condemned and like no one was listening to me.
So, I walked away because I felt I had no other choice – and I found that God pursues us, even as we run. He chased me with desperate urgency, undying love, and unending grace. He followed me into all the places I thought would lose Him and carefully, slowly, gently called me back into His light. He sent me people to revive my faith in the Church and in God Himself; LGBTQ-affirming Christians who told me God created me to love and be loved, LGBTQ pastors, churches (and entire denominations) that proclaim and demonstrate inclusion as God intended.
God, unwilling to let me go, breathed Hope and Life back into my battered and bruised heart. He wants to do that for you too.
It all starts with a conversation. Real, honest, messy conversation that will expose unfair stereotypes and bias against both the LGBTQ community and the Church.
Conversation that will at first hurt and offend but, if we stick with it, will ultimately reveal Truth and build community. Conversation that is not for the faint-of-heart. Conversation that is not to be taken lightly. Conversation that will require fierce commitment and more grace than we can probably imagine.
We need you in this conversation – whomever you may be.
It’s for the LGBTQ individual whose heart has been shattered by the conservative Christian Church; the vulnerable soul searching for the acceptance, belonging, and community to which Jesus calls us.
It’s for the LGBTQ-affirming Christian who is trying to reconcile the passionate love of Christ for all people, not despite of, not because of, but fully inclusive of, the baked-into-their-identities aspects of who they are.
It’s for the LGBTQ Christians who are struggling with theology – loved ones’ and their own – trying to find a common ground with their brothers and sisters in Christ for the Gospel, rather than against each other.
It’s for the atheist, the agnostic, the one who chooses a beautifully unique interfaith, curious about the conservative Church and why it’s relationship with the LGBTQ community is so complicated.
It’s for the person who stands up, loud and proud, to proclaim the desperate need for LGTBQ-inclusive theology.
It’s for the one who slips in the back pew and opens their Bible, wondering where the Jesus of the Bible, the One who loves liberally, eats with “the least of these”, and gives all of himself for all of humanity is in this Body in front of them.
It’s for the conservative Christian who looks at the Bible and sees only condemnation for homosexuality and doesn’t know how to act toward the LGBTQ community.
It’s for the one who stands firm in their convictions about sexuality and is confused by the inherent, born-with-it sexual, physical, and emotional attraction to members of the same gender or of both genders or of neither gender.
In short, this conversation is with you and for you. We need you – your beliefs, your convictions, your theology, your heart.
Here, I’ll move over a little, there’s room for you to sit. The pew is big enough—there is more room, more room for us all.