This post was originally published by State of Formation on April 2, 2012.
I came out as a lesbian this past year. I spent the first 25 years of my life living with straight privilege but struggling internally with what was “wrong” with me. Coming out has been indescribably freeing but also incredibly tiring.
Sadly, most of the weariness comes from being a lesbian at a Christian seminary. On any given day it is likely that I will walk into a classroom or through the dining room and overhear students chatting about issues of sexuality. They may be discussing various takes on scripture and homosexuality, or the schism in the Presbyterian church over lesbian and gay ordination, or even general administrative or legislative policies towards queer people. The church’s relationship to LGBT issues, I imagine, is a hot topic in more than just my own seminary.
The actual discussion of these various issues is a good thing. I’m glad the conversations are happening and often start them myself. I am grateful to be at a seminary where the majority of the student body is open and accepting of queer people. I would never want these conversations to stop.
Nonetheless, being a part of them as conversation partner or object of conversation often wears me out. Arguing over the nuances of “practical” justice and how to be inclusive while maintaining “unity in the church” can be very hurtful. When it takes you 25 years to finally accept yourself for who you are, “dialoguing” with others about how to “handle” LGBT issues requires serious patience. It takes a lot of energy to constantly vouch for your own place in the church or in the world.
My experiences of church since I have been out have been few. I haven’t been going to church regularly since my first year of seminary. My growing frustrations with the built-in sexism, racism, and heterosexism of my own tradition and most mainline traditions give me little reason to attend.
I have struggled with this immensely. I am not anti-church. I think it is a unique and important place which is often doing good work. I owe much of who I am today to people I knew through church who supported me in incredible ways. I wish in no way to mark the church as “good” or “bad” as if things were so simple. I’m just not sure it’s a safe space for me at the moment.
For a while, I believed in the “be the change you want to see” mentality in regards to being a woman and a queer in a Christian community. But such a mindset doesn’t take seriously the odds of power over the powerless. It ignores the seriousness of the push-back and overlooks the isolation of being a voice of contention. A once powerful idea has become a naive cliche used without regard for the power of systemic issues in the church.
Marginalized persons cannot be the ones to create change on our own. We absolutely have to have people in power who are willing to stir the waters of their congregation regardless of the effect it will have on budgets. We need to hear voices that are not tip-toing around LGBT issues in hopes of keeping everyone happy, voices which are boldly declaring the radical inclusivity of the gospel. We need people who recognize that just because something overtly discriminatory wasn’t said doesn’t mean it’s an inclusive church. Until the leaders of the church are living this way, I probably won’t be there.
I think Christianity has much to offer to the world – I’m just not sure many of its congregations are actually living into it. I have heard so many stories from my fellow seminarians about the meaningfulness of their faith when they were engaging with people who live on the street, or with people living in poverty, or with people in a hospital bed. They were inspired by what they thought Christianity had to offer to people who felt isolated or estranged. I have heard these stories enough lately that I have been wondering why this faith seems to only manifest outside of the church.
Where the rubber hits the road, where people are suffering for various reasons, the church has something helpful to say. You are not alone. You are loved. It is not a fragile message. But why, once we step back into the sanctuary, is this same meaning and radicalness so hard to find? Suddenly, practicality, budgets, false unity, being “nice”, and maintaining the status quo take priority over the very meaning of Christianity. Where there should be hope, and rest, and community for marginalized people, there is too often, only another fight.