Yesterday I posted the below question from a friend and responded with a story of my own life. Today, I will write my response to that friend, what I would tell him if he were sitting next to me.
Here is his question one more time:
“I go to a church that does not affirm queer people but whose pastor affirms me and loves me and wants the best for me. But he tells me, and I believe him, the the church in its entirety is not ready to affirm queer people and queer relationships. They are not there yet. I still want to be a part of this denomination. And I still want to go to my church. It’s all I’ve ever known, the denomination I’ve been a part of since my birth, and it’s what I am most happy with. What do I do?”
To this friend,
I want to tell you to stay. I want to tell you to hold onto the love they are giving you. To know that he really means it when he says he cares for you and affirms you and believes in you. To know that the people in pews next you really can’t hear a message other than what he is preaching and that he is doing the best that he can. That this is part of the process, the process towards full affirmation and celebration. I want to tell you that we have to step back and give people grace for where they are at and allow them to be in their authentic place. That we must allow people to be in community with us that are different than us. That that’s part of being a good human and that’s part of being in a church, of being in a family. We put up with one another even when we disagree. I want to tell you that one day, in Heaven, this will all be okay. That you will be heard and known and seen —and in your fullness. I want to tell you to hold tight to the fact that you are the Beloved child of God, but keep going. That is your family. And we don’t leave family.
I want to tell you that because I know the result of not telling you those things. I know what it would mean to leave. I myself left. To say ‘this doesn't work for me anymore’ and to reform communities and practices and beliefs really really sucks. It feels like I’ve ripped up the foundation from which I have built my house and now I sit hovering above the ground, lost as to what to grab hold to. Waves come and wind blows, and I no longer have the scriptures and the beliefs and the promises to keep me steady. The presence of loss is thick. Friends regurgitate my old Christian lingo when I try to explain my house and it makes me feel like I’ve got it all wrong. Like I ripped up the foundation for some petty reason and I will forever sit here, hovering above the ground. Floating on the empty.
But friend, if you actually want to know what I would tell you to do, it is to leave. I would tell you to leave your church and find one that is fully affirming. Or maybe to not even find one at all. At least for now.
Dr. Maya Angelou talks about homophobic, sexual and racial pejoratives as poison. She says this:
“It’s created to make a person less than human and that means it’s poison. Nobody can use it, safely. I mean poison is poison. You get it from a pharmacy and it has P-O-I-S-O-N on it and skull and bones. You can’t take that content and pour it into Bavarian crystal and make it otherwise. It’s still poison. And you don’t want that. It’ll cling to the walls, get into the upholstery, in your clothes. And sooner or later right into you.'“
“You don’t stop it by doing it immediately. You develop courage. Courage is the most important of all the virtues. Because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently. You can be anything erratically, now and then —kind, fair, true, generous, just, blah blah, but to do that thing time after time. So what you do is you do it in small ways. I mean, if you wanted to pick up a hundred pound weight you wouldn’t just go pick up a hundred. You start with a five pound, then ten pound, then twenty.
Well, that’s the same way you do with courage. You do the courageous thing, a small one, and you like yourself. Then you do another, two or three, and you like yourself better. And before you know it, you’re able to say, ‘Excuse me? Not in my house you don’t. You don’t paint my walls with poison and vulgarity. You will not do it my house. Out. Is this your purse? Thank you. Bye.”
[“Because you believe that words are things.” says the interviewer]
“Yes ma’am. I know they are. You can put some words together and make people want to go to war. Put another few words together and make them long for peace. Words are so important. And this is what you take to God: Words. You may not frame them, but God knows your heart. So when you go down on your knees or in your bed or riding in a car and you pray, you’re using words. “I’m lonely.” “I’m hungry.” “I’m lost.” “I’m in pain.” Whatever your words are. “Help.” They are words. They inform not only God, but anyone around you how you really feel. You are able to speak in nuances. So be careful how you use them. Because they carry the power.”
I never heard homophobic pejoratives spoken at my church in LA. My pastor never used them. But I believe institutions built on that backs of these pejoratives bear the responsibility to speak against the pejoratives of their past. They must be honest that their ancestry carried them and they must speak loudly that they will carry them no more. They must tell everyone the wrong that has been done and that the wrong will be committed no more. Anything less is unacceptable. Without that, the words still lingers on the walls, in the upholstery, in the clothes, and inside all of us.
What I tell you now is this: I believe the pain that comes from leaving is better than the damage done by staying. I believe we must live our lives ridding ourselves of poison. And when we don’t do that work now, we just toss the poison onto the next. And then the next. And the next. And we know the stats about suicide and depression in the queer community. We cannot afford anymore passing. We must let go of the poison.
As for me, I don’t believe there is anything I can do to separate myself from God, from the Divine. I don’t believe there is any good thing, any thing done in honesty and authenticity, with care and with intention, that can move me from the Divine.
I believe the divine is inside of me and inside all of us. Not just inside our one core, not just in our souls, but in all of our parts. God is in our cells and our molecules. I believe God wraps all around us too. Like the way light wraps round a plant. Both touching all of its parts and giving it the ability to grow. Giving up the bounces between its own electrons to allow bounces within the plant’s electrons. Then within its cells, allowing the plant to make for itself sugar, and then leaves and stems and branches —and before long, it’s a whole tree.
I don’t think we can escape that.
But also, I don’t think you should go, in whatever that means to you, until you’re ready. Start with the five pound weight, then the ten, then the twenty. Whatever that means to you. To me, it meant going to a friend’s church every few Sundays, then leaving LA, then, for now, finding something else to do on Sundays. Those were my weights. Your’s should whatever you define them to be.
Christianity is still important to me. I still consider myself a Christian and hope that never changes. I question my credentials for that statement and I question if that is even what is best for me. But it’s where I’m at. It’s who I am. I long for a reconciling and for a readopting what I knew in the past. I know the past won’t be back, but I am confident new will come. I know new has come.
I can tell you that I look at my face in the mirror a lot. I like the shape of my eyebrows, the texture of my skin. I like the strikes in my iris. I like the flow of my hair, the curvature of my cheekbone.
I don’t remember that in the past. I don’t remember getting out the shower, pulling my face to the mirror, and admiring it.
But I do it now.
To find a queer-affirming church, go to churchclarity.org.