I consider myself fortunate on my church home. Our minister is a true man of God and my fellow members are warm and caring. We’re active in local, national, and international mission work. We enjoy a true sense of family that I’ve found to be rare.
Not all people are so fortunate. Most mainline churches aren’t terribly up front about their stance on gays, so you can’t always tell what you’re getting until months have passed.
Such is the case for “Mike”, whose letter I ran across last night. Written in early 2007 about an incident in early 2006, the letter illustrates the danger at hand when we gays search for church homes.
I’ve decided to protect the identity of the writer, the pastor, and the congregation in this post. For reference, I’ll just say that this United Methodist congregation is located in the Church’s South Central Jurisdiction.
During the last 9 months, I have debated whether to write these words strictly for catharsis or to write them and actually send them to you. When I began this morning, I figured that I would choose the former. But as the day progressed, two events galvanized my decision to proceed with the latter. The first was during lunch at [restaurant]. My partner had mentioned his father in passing but then began to cry: the man died of cancer almost a year ago. The second was my hearing you on a local radio station, advertising â–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆ â–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆ Churchâ€™s assortment of Easter services. I wish listeners had access to the list of tacit conditions and exclusions.
Surely you recall having e-mailed me in mid-July 2006 and asking whether I could meet with you. None of the times you suggested fit with my schedule that week, so you then said that you were going out of town but that you would be back in touch with me during the last week of July. I waited.
Guessing what you wanted to talk about was no mystery. I am not oblivious to where I live and the kinds of people that surround me. But before you write me off as just another deviant suffering from inner brokenness, I will explain the gross assumptions that you have either made for yourself or accepted on the secondhand testimony of others.
My partner, whose name I imagine you never bothered to learn, is an unusually tender-hearted, sensitive, and deeply caring man. Hallmark commercials, cute babies, and small acts of kindness will bring him to tears. Mere days after his father died last year in [other state], we were sitting in church here. â–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆ â–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆ was preaching, and she made a comment about God wanting people to have strong family connectionsâ€”with our brothers, our sisters, our fathers, and our mothers. When she said “our fathers,” he started crying. Seeing this was painful because I hate to see anyone hurting. I put my arm around him to reassure him that he wasn’t alone. He was shaking a little from the crying, and I did my best to comfort him.
It would appear that others sitting in church saw one man with his arm around another man and on that sole basis concluded that two gay men were scheming and plotting to flaunt their aberrant lifestyle for all to see. Of course, had he been a woman, no one would’ve thought anything of it. But men, real men, don’t show their emotional weaknesses, I suppose. In the weeks that followed, other statements from the pulpit would resonate with his loss, and he would cry or lose his composure; I would hold his hand, although each time he recovered a little faster. But the damage was done: entire groups of people evidently assumed that I am a homosexual, concluded that I had brought a filthy outsider into the church, and mobilized to treat him and me with, at best, cool civility, lest God think they condoned my evil choice. Jesus would be proud. When I stopped coming to services, presumably there was no longer a need for you to contact me, as you had promised.
You’d think, since God is said to be love and has promised in scripture never to leave or forsake me, that his church would be the one place in the world I should be able to go without fear of being judged or treated with disdain. I ask myself how Jesus would have responded had he seen someone anguished over the loss of a family member. Would he have stopped to think, Hey, I’m a man, and so is this person suffering here. Maybe, since my showing him compassion could be misconstrued as overtly homosexual behavior, I’d better play it cool.
Iâ€™m not denying that Iâ€™m gay and that I brought my partner to church with me once he moved here from â–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆ (where we met when I was working there in 2004). But people saw me touching another man and, without stopping to think, assumed the worst. They didnâ€™t try to find out anything else; once their minds were made up, the unconditional love, kindness, and compassion of Jesus Christ evaporated. I assumed that people complained to youâ€”or maybe you drew these conclusions yourself. Either way, hating for the sake of pharisaical righteousness is easier than thinking for oneself, than following Christâ€™s model. People who once greeted me warmly every week would look at me with barely concealed disgustâ€”or, in some cases, wouldnâ€™t meet my eyes. I’ve run into members of the church and clergy in public, and where once they would seek me out, now I have become invisible. They will look everywhere in a room except for the spot where I am, their eyes glossing over me as if retroactively I never existed.
One exception to this unfortunate trend, however, reminds me that there are Methodists here who, per the Book of Discipline, are committed to “social witness against the coercion and marginalization of homosexuals.” And he might well also believe the passage stating that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Christian teaching. Regardless of his beliefs, [another pastor at the church] has many times found me in public, looked me in the eye, shaken my hand warmly, and asked with seemingly genuine curiosity how I am doing. Many of the friends I made in that congregation continue to treat me with that same decency and kindnessâ€”as I imagine Jesus would.
As for those who presumed to know my heart and mind, drawing broad-sweeping and vast conclusions based on fractional minutiae, I’m not sure they would know the love and grace of God if it bit them. A friend told me how it works: the most generous donors to your church also happen to be the most conservative. We must always keep them happy, even at the expense of emulating Christ.
One other thing: my partner knows nothing about any of this: not people’s putative reactions, not your e-mail, not this response. Please don’t contact us, lest he learn of these issues. I will not risk poisoning him to the idea of church. He might see your church as not only tolerating but also embracing people who are kind only to those of identical mind. The real test of Christianity is how you treat people who are different. The real sermons of Christianity are the lessons people learn from observing you, not from listening to your words.
When did Christianity become nothing more than decrying abortion and homosexuality? When the church newsletter stopped coming in the mail, I got the message. I took the money that I had set aside for your church and gave it instead to the American Red Cross and the â–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆâ–ˆ Food Bankâ€”two organizations that practice religion that is pure and undefiled, as the scriptures define it. I’m fairly certain that both groups, and the people they benefit, are grateful for my help, no matter what sex I’m attracted to.
Your church got the best of both worlds, though: you kept cashing my checks even after defaulting on the Christ-like behavior. Jesus saved his harshest words for ostensibly religious people who were certain of their doctrinal accuracy but whose hearts were necrotic. Maybe you should change the churchâ€™s motto: “Sharing the heart of Christ â€¦ but only as long as we’re in our comfort zone.” My sharing the heart of Christ will manifest itself through caring for my partner during his time of emotional turmoil. Maybe that’s how he will perceive Christianity: individual kindness rather than the warped version that I encountered.
Thanks to Mike for letting me publish his letter on the blog. I’ve been in a similar circumstance (though not (directly) because I’m gay), and revisiting the experience is not my favorite pastime.
In an email this morning, Mike mentioned that Jeff made one attempt at email contact (against Mike’s expressed wishes), then months later when he saw them at a restaurant. He also said that the pastor he had praised in this letter has now been maneuvered out of direct contact with the congregation.
Is it any wonder so many LGBT people have divorced themselves from religion? Do you begin to see why so many of us have a sense of urgency about the changes the Church must face?