I grew up in the UMC. My grandmother was a choir director for her small town church in Cushing, Oklahoma for 35 years. My parents still attend the church where I was baptized as an infant. I left the UMC in 2004 when I left for college. I had a very long road ahead of me in reconciling and healing from the trauma inflicted on me by my church and my family. As a 33 year old gay woman, it is easier for me to talk about this now and name it all but the pain is still very real and has had a lasting impact on my life. It is the very reason I feel compelled, no, I’ve been called by God to serve Her Church. The Church must be a safer place for LGBTQ people.
My counselors from the summer sports camp I grew up going to, Kanakuk, outed me to my parents when I was 16 years old. Against my will. They said it was a life threatening situation and my parents need to be notified. But, they thought it would be too much to tell my girlfriend’s parents too. So I had to take the blame, the shame, the guilt, the knife in the gut. I went to them in confidence and in seek of spiritual guidance and got left with nothing. No resources, no one to talk to and a shit ton of self-hatred. And this isn’t the UMC’s fault here but how they responded to my parents after wasn’t helpful either. And, they didn’t help me. Didn’t even talk to me. My parents had no clue how to handle it and the Church had zero resources. Maybe try “Christian counseling” or maybe “reparative therapy.” Huh? There was no language, no theology, no response, no pastoral care, nothing for me - the victim - the confused and depressed and completely undone little adolescent child.
I went to college angry and full of hate and confusion. I trusted no one and nothing. Thank God my Catholic University saved my life. Funny how the largest Catholic institution in the world had space for my pain and my questions and could treat me like a human being, a beloved child of God but my home Church could not. But this is what happens when Churches don’t talk about real life things. When churches sweep things under the rug. Disregard people’s humanity and “pray for them.” What the hell is that going to do? The church leaves LGBTQ people to die. Total exclusion and cut off from spiritual and communal connectivity. As if we are a disease or a virus to get rid of and somehow everything will be better. The problem is that we aren’t the problem. The church is the problem. Bad theology is the problem. Bad pastoral care. Bad prayers.
As much as it pains me to see my old home Church go through this growing pain it is absolutely necessary. The Methodist Church is one of the last mainline protestant churches to have this conversation and deal with it square in the face. I’ll never understand how a matter of human sexuality that we know so much more about in our day and age is a question of such theological concern that we banish folks from the sacraments of the Church. That’s not the Gospel I read growing up. Thus, my deep deep confusion. Where is God’s Love in all of this division and hatred and exclusion? How is my humanity causing offense to my God who created it in the first place? Perhaps it's just offensive to you and your ego. We know the psychological effects of denying one’s identity sexual or otherwise. It causes death. I’ve experienced it. Is the church in the business of death dealing or life giving?
I hope folks stay in the UMC. I really do. Just like I hope my Catholic friends stay in the midst of all their pain right now too. Both Traditions are beautiful and can be so so life giving. I’ve experienced both of their Loves. I also understand the pain it is to be a part of an institution that doesn’t recognize or validate your humanity. I chose to leave. It was the safest option at the time for me. That is valid too, leaving is what some will need to do. But for the Tradition to last and be life giving folks must be willing to stay in it and fight for it to be so. I pray for my UMC family as I pray for Catholic family. But the Church must repent. It has sinned against me and my LGBTQ community. It has tried to kill us and it has many times succeeded. This is the problem. It must change its structures and its ways or it won’t be relevant to the changing times and needs of our people.
I wish we didn’t have to talk about human sexuality. I wish I didn’t have to come out every other day to an acquaintance just having a normal conversation. I wish I didn’t have to filter myself when I talk about my partner or interest in caring for LGBTQ folks as if that is a dirty word to say. I wish who I was attracted to and who I sleep with wasn’t on public display for theological debate. I wish my very humanity wasn’t being questioned as if I were some sort of alien like gay people haven’t been around from day one. IT’S DEMORALIZING. As if queer folk don’t need God and spirituality and love too! Queer folk need Church as much as straight folk. Is the answer really to keep dividing? Gay here, straights over there. Whites here, blacks there. Seriously. Is that what the Kingdom of God looks like? Nice little divisions of categories, HUMAN MADE CATEGORIES. What does the UMC really mean by “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” anyways?
All I really know for sure is God is Real and Loving. The God that captured me in the wide open pews of my youth in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is Active and Moving, Living and of LOVE. This is what is so damn compelling about the Gospel message. Our God is a God of LOVE. There are no conditions. There are no actions or beliefs that make this available. It is and was and forever will be freely given. Our salvation doesn’t lie in our ability to have sex with the right person or have to do with sex at all. Salvation is already here. It’s a part of our genetic make up. We are of God and in God and made in Her image. We chose how to live that out. We chose how to believe but that’s up to us to control. God is already here among us. Queer and straights alike we are ALL loved by God. My God is available to all and I hope you join me at the Table.