A long time coming… (thoughts on church and faith in 2019)

It has been almost 4 years since I last posted something on here.

4 years. A lot has happened. And a quick text conversation with my mother today got me thinking, and the thoughts in my head would not stop swirling and maybe by writing them down, my mind will settle.

She was texting me about Easter, and how she really wanted me to go to Church with them. And I told her that I really didn’t want to go to church. Which I’m sure upset her, but she accepted that answer. But I feel like I’m ready to explain how I got to this point in my faith, and what has been going on the past 4 years of my life. But to start, we have to go back a bit further, and I should make a few declarative statements about me.

I just turned 31 years old. I do believe in God (though at this point in time, I don’t know that I want to be called a Christian). I am bisexual.

I was raised in the Methodist church. My first church memories were of Landenberg United Methodist Church. And while I know there are many individuals and congregations in the UMC who are open and accepting of LGBTQ+, the UMC officially as a denomination is not, and never has been.

Like most people, when I hit puberty, I had a lot to figure out. Unlike most people, I had a lot more to figure out. I almost think that sometimes if I were gay, it would have been easier, because I could have skipped this entire first hurdle.

Even in the LGBTQ+ community, there is a real problem with what is often called “Bi-erasure”. It’s this belief that bisexual people don’t really exist. People who claim they are bi are either doing it for attention, or are just scared to admit that they are gay. And for a long time, I believed that. But therein lies the problem. Because I was bi. I am bi.

I knew I was attracted to guys, so I must be gay. But I was also attracted to girls, so I can’t be gay. I spent YEARS trying to figure all of this out. Add to that, the fact that while I have very accepting parents, the UMC church as a whole still told me I was sinful, it wasn’t until the spring/summer of 2013 at the age of 25 that I finally would admit to myself that I was bisexual.

At that time, I was working for a non-profit (not a religious non-profit, but still very ministry focused) and very heavily involved at my non-denominational (but has it roots in the evangelical) church. I spent the next several months trying to figure out how I was going to tell people, figure out what impact that was going to make on my friends, my family, my church, and my job.

I had slowly started stepping out of roles and responsibilities at the church, because I knew that there were going to be problems there when I did come out. I started putting out feelers for other jobs (though no one else knew this at that time) in case I lost mine (“fun” fact, in Pennsylvania at the time of this writing, someone can be fired simply for being LGBTQ+).

And then, in December of 2013, one of my best friends (a guy) was arrested for sexual assault of a minor (a boy). And I don’t bring that up lightly. I’m not intending to open old wounds. But it’s an incredibly important part of my story. Because that scared me back in the closet. I was feeling all of the feelings of pain and anger that one normally would when a story like that comes out, as well as the pain of losing a friend, the death of the person I thought I knew. But I was also dealing with the pain of feeling like I was losing who I was.

I was getting ready to finally be free. Finally be myself. And then I got scared, and I felt like my freedom to be myself was stolen from me. And I felt like I had no one I could talk to about it. If you’ve never been in that situation, count yourself lucky. Because that is a special kind of hell.

It would be almost 3 years before I felt like I was brave enough to try again, and I felt like enough time had passed that people wouldn’t try to link my sexuality to that awful event.

Thanksgiving 2016, I went home to my parents house the night before Thanksgiving because I was finally ready to tell them the truth. I remember being so nervous, scared, and on the verge of tears. I was not scared because I thought that they would reject me. I knew my parents would love and accept me for who I was. I was scared because anytime you take off the mask to show your true self, it’s scary. It’s amazing, but scary.

Of course, just as I suspected, my parents were nothing but loving and accepting. Their exact words were something to the effect of “we were not expecting this, be we’re not surprised.”

In January of 2017, I wrote letters to 2 of my best friend, told 2 more in person, sent Facebook messages (classy, I know) to my extended family, and wrote a letter to my pastor, mentor, and friend. Everyone was nothing but accepting of me. They were still my friends. They were still my family.

Understandably, my pastor wanted to talk about my role at the church. He and I sat down and had a very good conversation about where I was with this, where he stood as a person. He didn’t ask for my resignation or anything. But I then asked the question “with my leadership role, will my sexuality help or hinder people in the congregation and the church?” And being very conservative Lancaster County, we both knew and agreed it would probably hinder.

So, in March 2017, I officially stepped down from my roles at Gap Community Church. Since I wasn’t ready to come out publicly yet, we never fully got into the reasoning. We just said that life had a different path for me, work was picking up more of my time, and I had just gotten an 11 week old puppy that all interfered with my role. All of which was true, if slightly exaggerated. Though there was more than that. Even if I wasn’t coming out, I probably wouldn’t have stuck around GCC much longer.

I have basically spent my whole life in either United Methodist Churches or evangelical-based churches.

And while I knew there was a lot I disagreed with about the Evangelical church, I absolutely fell in LOVE with their style of church service. And I specifically fell in love with Gap Community Church’s simple mission. GCC didn’t have a lot of official stances on things as a church. Individuals might, but GCC itself did not. Because at the end of the day, what is most important is to love God, and love others.

But the evangelical church lost me in 2016. While I may have differed from them on how we understood certain things in the bible, when most of them (including most people who attended GCC) voted for Trump, saying how great it was to “have a real christian in the White House again”, I knew that our interpretations of the scripture were too different, and the differences there were irreconcilable. I wasn’t going to be comfortable being around most of those people.

Because I could no longer trust that these people who claimed to love and accept me no matter what (even though they didn’t know about sexuality yet) would actually do so. They claimed they would love people no matter where they are, but then they voted for someone who was about as far from Christ-like as you can get and basically praised it as the second coming of Christ himself!

And that hurt. A lot.

So I took some time off from Church as a whole. But I knew when I was ready, I would still have a home in the United Methodist Church. My sister attends a church that is a Reconciling church – which means they not only accept those who are LGBTQ+, but they AFFIRM them. My parents attend a reconciling church.

Over the past 15 or so years, while the official stance the UMC church was that while being LGBTQ+ was against the scripture, it was basically ignored (at least by the American churches). And in February of 2019, the General Council of the UMC was presented with 2 plans: The One Church Plan, which basically removed all anti-LGBTQ+ language from the official stance, and would leave that decision up to specific districts to decide; or The Traditional Plan: which basically re-affirmed the anti-LGBTQ+ language and would strengthen/re-enforce the rules and punishments regarding LGBTQ+ clergy, lay people, etc.

And the UMC voted for the Traditional Plan.

And so the church that I had grown up in, the place that I had felt like could maybe my home again as I was starting to heal from the hurt I received at the hands of the evangelical church, rejected me. And again, I know that not all individuals, or all congregations, in the UMC agree with the general council, but that’s like your siblings telling you “We love you, but mom and dad hate you.” You will be grateful for your sibling’s love, but you know that you’ll never be fully accepted by your family.

And that hurts. A lot.

And if that can hurt someone like me so much that I don’t really want anything to do with any church whatsoever,  someone who has a loving, affirming family, who attend loving, affirming churches I could attend, imagine how someone who never had that, never knew that there are affirming churches out there must be feeling.

So for now, I’m not interested in going to church. And the church has a lot of work to do before I’m going to be ready to go back…

2 comments on “A long time coming… (thoughts on church and faith in 2019)

  1. Thanks for your honesty and bravery.

    You know that I am heart-broken by the current stance of the UMC and other denominations. I have prayed about leaving the UMC church, but God has told me to stay, (at least for now) to fight for CHANGE in the church.

    I could quit attending church. I could “take my marbles and go home”, wasting the God-given gifts and talents that I am called to share with this broken world. It would give me more free time, in some ways maybe make life easier, and even give me more money to spend. Or I could return to the Episcopal church, a denomination that has already been through this and finally took a stance for truth and love over bigotry, hatred, and discrimination.

    But God did not call me to take the easy way out, to spend more time and money on myself. God called me to stand and be counted among those who are willing to disagree with the UMC and other denominations who have chosen to misinterpret scripture to defend their own fears and prejudices.

    I am grateful to those that came before me, learned people, who used their time and talents to go back to original biblical texts and see that much has been lost in the translation of the scriptures. I am thankful for those who have took up this fight before I was even thinking about it, who risked much to open my eyes and the eyes if others to the truth.

    You have been blessed with a family and many friends who love, accept, and support you. You have many God-given gifts and talents. I pray that you will eventually come to a place that you are moved to use these abilities to help and support others who have not been so abundantly blessed. That with your time, talent, and treasure, you will choose to use your voice, to be counted as be part of a church family that is standing up and saying “Jesus loved ALL. Sexual orientation is not a choice, or a sin. People have a right to be who God created them to be,” and to use your talents to create worship experiences for others that will move them closer to God.

    And perhaps in doing so, you will again find a church community, that will love, encourage, support, and nurture you above and beyond what your family and friends can do.

  2. Hi Joel, you don’t know me, but a friend of mine knows your family and passed this on to me. I’m also bisexual and in church leadership (though as a volunteer). I also came out later in life and I’m in a hetero-passing marriage. Thank you for being open and sharing your story. There are many more of us. Reach out if you ever need to.

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