I was totally immersed in a church in Savannah, GA for 5 years. Everything in my life revolved around church and more church. I socialized with mostly Christian friends, and I was a worship leader for multiple services weekly. I ate, slept, lived and breathed church. And in some ways, it was glorious. I was deeply and profoundly fulfilled because I was living my calling. In other ways, not so much fulfilled…as terrified. The part of me called to lead and teach, to bring people into the presence of God in music and worship? That part was totally alive and enjoying days of heaven on earth. The part of me that is gay? Well, you can imagine…oh, did I mention the church was non-affirming? Or “name it and claim it” word of faith? Legalistic in some ways? Thought to be a cult by some in the community? Yeah, there’s that, too.
Many LGBTQ Christians who choose to live their spiritual and sexual truth find themselves in a similar place. I deeply desired the beauty of serving God with my gifts, talents and calling. Yet, I ignored my sexuality completely for much of that time. One day, God started whispering in my ear that it was time for me to integrate all areas of my life into a whole, functioning existence. God also said I couldn’t do that in this church, and I needed to move back to Atlanta, my hometown, and move into the next phase of my life, calling and ministry. I didn’t listen. I was outed by someone close to me. Things ended badly. I broke up with the church; at least that’s how I felt, and Church got to keep all our mutual friends. That is when I became one of the unchurched and started picking up the pieces of my life. I felt like the past five years meant nothing.
I was so hurt by the pastor, the minister of music and people who were supposed to be my friends who just evaporated into thin air. My social support system became a ghost town. In fact, there are people I saw nearly every day I have not spoken with since. Yes, I could have remained in Savannah. Yes, I could have endured the indignity of being removed from my position as worship leader “for a time of refreshing”, as the pastor said, but I realized my entire experience there was a house of cards. I was only welcome as long as I played by their stringent rules. I was only welcome when an integral part of my personality was hidden out of view. As I write this, I finally realize that there was something vital and elementary missing in that church – grace. There was no grace, no mercy, no forgiveness. The church liked to keep its “sinners” wearing a scarlet letter of shame, to hold them in their past. I was already tired of being a second-class citizen, so I washed my hands of the entire church and walked away. It’s been 9 years since I left.
Only recently have I become open to getting back into a church fellowship. I have ignored my calling, convincing myself I couldn’t be gay and Christian and fulfill my purpose. Now I know that is not true. Social media has saved my faith in many ways, which is why I started this blog. I want it to help other people find their way back to fellowship, to realize God loves those of us who are on the margins of organized religion. We are not relegated to the wilderness just because we are Christians who don’t fit in with a large swath of American Christianity.
Unfortunately, my story is not an isolated incident. Your details may vary, your issues differ from mine, but those of us who have been marginalized and kicked out of our chosen fellowship still suffer the same pain of betrayal, isolation and shame. You are not alone, my friend! I will no longer stay silent about my experience. I can’t if I am going to live the full and abundant life I want.
Church leadership wants to know why membership is falling, why so many Christians choose to go it alone as opposed to being involved in a church. I can answer that question. People aren’t finding a real experience of God in church, and they aren’t seeing the Fruits of Spirit in the lives of people who call themselves Christian. Too many people who are in organized religion think they have all the answers for all God’s people. If someone’s faith or doctrine differs from theirs, the other person is wrong, “in error”, backslidden (yes, I was raised Southern Baptist) or full of the devil. But going to church has absolutely nothing to do with knowing and following Jesus. He stood in opposition to the religious leaders of his time. Pharisees and Sadducees still exist today. Jesus is still hanging out with prostitutes, publicans and sinners, the people he came to heal and set free.
And so, here I am, feeling the pull to try church again, to find a group of like-minded Believers into which I can pour myself. It feels daunting and scary. I know the goodness of God, the joy of worshipping in Spirit and Truth with other believers, yet I am downright afraid of the cost of opening myself up to a church family again. I will let you know how this shakes out.