Tears began to roll down my face as I was sitting in my campus pastor’s office. I was shocked. It was my birthday and I expected the meeting to be lighthearted and full of joy. Instead, I found myself face to face with the reality that I am about to enter into a ministry internship at a local church. Yet, this is not the first time that I have worked in a church and I certainly don’t believe that it will be the last. So why the tears?
Let’s start with the word “church.” When I say this word, I have all the feels. I go from thinking about all of the possibilities that one can do within a community of people who gather together around common goals: love, compassion, seeking God, community, etc. But I also think of all the church’s complicated relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. And I wonder, “Where do I fit in as a gay man? What denomination will take me? What church will take me? What church will want me to serve as a pastor?”
Rewind to my twenty-fifth year when I realized that my sexuality was not as I had fought so hard to make myself and others believe. My religious experience taught me that being gay was a choice. This became complicated for me as I became more aware of other gay people in the world and it especially became confusing when I began to read stories of other people who were both Christian and part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. My world began opening up in surprising, unexpected, powerful, and beautiful ways.
Questions about my faith and my sexuality began swirling through my head. What did it mean for me to be gay and want to go to church? Would I still be welcomed in the church? Could I find a safe space in the world that I loved? Was this space no longer for me? Was God’s love for me real or not?
I was afraid. I had people all around me who “knew” me and yet, I felt so “unknown.” They told me of their love for me and how great I was. But I wondered, “Would they say these things if they really knew? Would they say these things if they knew what I am?”
Over and over again, I was surprised by the responses that I received from many of these people who said that they loved me when I told them my truth—and these were good surprises! I found that many of these people who journeyed with me and knew me on various levels were willing to embrace me! And what was so great about all of this was that many of these people were part of this global, diverse Christian community that we call “ the church.”
Although I found profound support from many people who were part of local churches, I also found that the bureaucratic structures and systems of many of churches and church related organizations that I was a part of were not ready to embrace me. Sure, they make great claims like, “All are welcome here!” and “God loves everyone!” yet I felt ashamed and afraid in these spaces. The message was clear to me: my attraction to my own gender was not quite ready to be received by all in the church.
So where did this leave me?
Even though church has become somewhat scary to me and I recognize that there are many spaces within the global church that are no longer safe for me, I still deeply believe that the church has the potential to create so much beauty in the world. If God really is love, then I believe that we have the potential to create sacred spaces of refuge, hope, and beauty in the world where love, joy, freedom, authenticity, and community are celebrated.
I desperately want to be part of a church where my life is not split into pieces, but rather, like a mosaic, I can offer all of these broken pieces of myself to God and a community of God-seekers so that I might become something beautiful and create space for ALL people in the world to be able to experience that same love.
And so there it is—this realization that I want to be a part of this global, diverse community that is broken and messed up. I want to not just be a member here, but be also a leader that can fight to bridge the gaps that exist between sexuality and religion. I want church to be a safe space where individuals find communities of emancipatory transformation and a God who is loving and redeems the hurt, pain, and sorrow we face in the world.
So, my friends, wherever we find ourselves—whether it’s a mosque, a synagogue, a temple, a church, a coffee shop, a gym, a bar, or a club, may we recognize that we are all in this world together and we are the ones responsible for making it a beautiful place. May we find the courage to do so by loving deeply and creating safe spaces for others.