This autobiographical essay and testimony was recently published in Touched by Grace: LGBT Stories in Community of Christ.
I knew I was different early on, but I didn’t have a word for it until I was a teenager. I told a few of my high school friends about it, and then went off to college. Eventually there was no one in my life that knew. While a student I was baptized, and to me part of that meant that being gay was a sin and I accepted that to be true. I dated a few men, and eventually just stopped trying to date men or women. The inner turmoil was more than I wanted to deal with.
During the next twenty years my theology evolved from literalism to something less rigid, and I was able to release myself from the idea that being gay was condemned by God. I still kept it all to myself.
In 2006 I had a priesthood call. I only knew of about a dozen of people in the whole of Community of Christ that were lgtb affirming. I didn’t want to accept the call and later have the congregation feel deceived, and I also didn’t want to come out publicly because of the turmoil it might bring to my niece and parents. I decided I would ask someone to help me make a decision. A person from my mission center was coming to Toledo to teach a weekend temple school class, and I planned to ask him to be a sounding board for my fears and thoughts and questions.
To this day, coming out to someone brings a great amount of anxiety and fear. With my heart in my throat, I went to a lesbian book store, looking for a book that might help me in coming out to the man from my mission center. As I left the store, I noticed a man just getting into an SUV across the parking lot. He stopped, looked at the store I had just came out of, came over and wouldn’t let me get into my car. He never spoke, just looked at me with hate and jockeyed back and forth and blocked my path so I couldn’t leave. I didn’t want the situation to escalate into something more violent, so I pulled out a pad and pen to write down his license number. The pen didn’t work but it did the trick. The man suddenly looked alarmed, and went back to his vehicle. He didn’t leave, just watched me get into my truck.
I rushed to the Church just 5 minutes away, hoping I wasn’t being followed.. When I got there people were waiting in the parking lot for someone to unlock the door. I let them in and busied myself helping them set up and finding supplies that they might need for the weekend. I felt so lost. If I had just experienced some road rage or other violence I would have been able to tell them about it. At that point I couldn’t share gay rage. Before the weekend was over I had come out to that one person, the first person I had told in 20 years. I was drained. I felt fear, relief, and a new freedom. That weekend began my truer life.
I am a long time member of the Church’s online community called the CyberCongregation. At the same time I was struggling with my role in the Church, an unidentified young man there was struggling with his own sexuality and identity. He was having a rough time. Many people were encouraging him to renounce homosexuality and they gave their full support to him in that endeavor. A few people were encouraging him to accept himself first, and then make his life decisions. The lgtb folk of the CyberCongregation were erupting in anguish, and told their heartbreaking stories of condemnation, rejection and sometimes violence from their families, friends, and church.
In the midst of all the pain, anger, and condemnation, I found myself spontaneously telling my own story. To my surprise, I was not condemned, perhaps because I am a woman? People asked genuine questions, and held me in their prayers as I came out there, even though most were completely against homosexuality. It was then that I realized that sharing my truth could help people get close enough to see, and to feel compassion, and to begin to re-think what they have always believed to be true.
I eventually decided not to accept the priesthood call in my congregation. It seemed to me that asking the congregation to consider a call for an lgtb sister would be too stretching for me, and all of us. Later, I came out to them after a prayer service, and I have never doubted their love for me.
This is from my journal, written on the eve of that prayer service. I was realizing that my life was taking a turn that would change my life and ministry forever. I tried to capture a snapshot of my feelings, and explain to myself why it felt important to live openly in the Church. I had been reading Luke, Chapter 15… the stories of the lost coin, lost sheep, and prodigal son.
For now, my silence buys me a place in the safety of the 99, but as I begin to speak my truth, I step into the vulnerability of that 100th sheep. The shepherds of our church are not really going to come looking for me, though. They say that they will stand with me, but only up until that point where they have to take a stand. Then, they will look away, pretend not to see, say a shamed prayer of petition that I will quietly leave.
I am not the coin of great worth. As this prodigal is walking up the road to her spiritual home, there are no servants of my God running to greet me, to welcome the authentic me home. I will be worshiping in the same house with the family of God, but to many will no longer be known as a sister. I don’t know what grace will be afforded me. I don’t know who will be able to accept my reality, my presence, my servanthood.
I do believe that our leaders long to be true to the call and obligations of the kingdom, but the poverty of our spiritual lives limit that response. In the economy of our church today, it is the 99 sheep, not the Good Shepherd, who calculate the worth of the 1. The cost of accepting the truth of the outcast is too high to attempt. We will lose our illusion of unity, we will lose our ignorance of the boundaries we place on God’s love, we will lose our status among the competing kingdoms in Christianity.
My shame is that I support this economy as well. I am not willing to endanger the body of Christ to save the outcast, even when it’s me. I am painfully aware that my actions and inactions are prolonging the estrangement of my gay brothers and sisters, and I knowingly compromise their worth for the non-confronted comfort of my congregation and denomination.
My prayer is that by becoming visible, I will help the church to better see Christ’s this-world redeeming love. In a way, I am the found, seeking to draw the 99 more fully into the Light of God’s grace.
Since that time, I have processed my thoughts a bit more. These reflections remain true for me, but more like I’m looking through a wide angle lens. When I zoom in on individual relationships and encounters I can see that the larger picture is indeed moving–although sometimes painfully slowly–in the direction of compassion and grace.