I grew up a valued member of an American Baptist Church… until I embraced a part of myself. I want to share part of my story with you, and to show how I was empowered and grew spiritually at another American Baptist Church that was officially welcoming and affirming of people who are gay.
When I was in 5th grade, my family found a home at a new church. It was a great place to grow up and develop my faith. I was a leader of the youth group and was chosen to be on the search committee for our new associate and youth pastor. I had proven gifts given by the Spirit to be in leadership positions and have responsibility that few of my peers were offered.
But, when I went away for college, I began to understand myself more deeply. That’s not unusual, but the biggest thing I was understanding was my sexuality. I had been raised to believe that there was something inherently wrong with being gay, and so I had repressed the thought that I might be. It seemed impossible. But, there were nights in middle and high school where all I could do was cry because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Why was I feeling these things when I thought I was doing all God wanted me to do? In one of these moments, in my dorm room in college, I was praying and crying to ask God, “What was wrong and why was this burned on me?” I felt a calming presence over me assuring me I was indeed fine.
Immediately after this transformative moment with the Divine, I was empowered to figure out what it then meant to be gay and a Christian. I began to be honest with those closest to me. I was led to books and videos that helped me transition from a legalistic view of my faith to focusing on the loving, serving, and mission-oriented life of Christ.
While I was on this journey, I moved back home. I was still going to the same church, but my parents didn’t want me telling people about my sexual orientation. (At first, my parents were not accepting of my orientation, but ultimately now they are. It complicated their faith journey as well.) They were told by the pastors not to embrace me and to actively help me change. When I met to discuss this with my youth pastor, I was informed that I could not be in a leadership position, though that I could still attend and give. This frustrated me, but, after growing up there, I didn’t expect anything different. Still, it is incredibly devaluing and hurtful to be told that something you didn’t choose is a reason you shouldn’t have a voice.
I didn’t stop attending. It was still my church and I was loved by many. But there was always a black cloud hanging around, or an elephant in the room. (Choose your favorite metaphor here!) And when I moved away, I never even looked for a church. I didn’t think one existed where people like me were welcomed and where I would feel comfortable.
Thankfully, now I know that I was wrong.