I was asked yesterday to participate in a live Huffington Post chat about Christianity and LGBTQ youth. The starting point was an article posted by one of its authors: "What if kids had a church that loved them?"
I can relate. I always knew that I was different. By the time I was 13 I knew I "liked boys." But the one place that gave me hope, the one place I loved to go - the Church - was the place where I very quickly discovered I was NOT welcome. As time went on, I learned how to navigate certain Sundays when particular Scripture passages lent themselves to an "anti gay" sermon. I would either peruse my hymnal or drift away into prayer. I loved God and the church too much to put either of them aside. I also knew who I was and I knew I could not change, and more importantly, there was no reason for me to change. God loved me and created me gay - just like he created others straight. God loves all God's children. That is who God is.
I stayed in the church and many years later in 2011, after graduating from Yale Divinity School, I became an ordained minister. While I stayed - others left. Most of my friends (straight & queer) have left the church while it was still homophobic and intolerant. They often said that the church pushed them away and on some level they are right.
By remaining in the church it has allowed me to see how much “she” has changed. My denomination, the United Church of Christ, has over 1100 congregations that are "Open & Affirming". That term signifies that the church and its congregation are fully and enthusiastically welcoming LGBTQ folks and their families. Many more, like the congregation I serve in Marlborough have welcomed me, an openly gay minister to serve its people, and to celebrate same-sex marriages.
My seminary friend and fellow UCC pastor Rev. Oby Ballinger is one of the leaders to push for marriage equality in Minnesota. In the past years the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have all changed their positions on homosexuality, gay marriage and openly gay clergy. Many people in the pews have changed too, but not all of them. It is hard to change when you don't know anyone who is LGBTQ. I still have some members who will disagree with me passionately but over time we have built mutual respect for each other. Not all members of a church believe the same or have the same thought but they are all hoping for the same thing: the love and mercy of God for all.
So the reason why I am writing this blog entry is to urge all LGBTQ and their allies to come (back) to church. Last week I talked with an openly gay man in the "borough" who told me that "he can't come to church because no church will accept me for who I am." He was wrong - just in the Marlborough-Hudson area alone you will find at least four congregations that are welcoming. The church has changed and she continues to change. We welcome all God's children no matter where they are on life's journey.
It is hard to be LGBTQ at times just as it is hard to be straight at times too. Generally, life is hard for all at one point or another. And with all her imperfections the Church is here for all: for those who struggle, and those whose yoke is easy; for those who rejoice, and for those who mourn; for gays and for straights, for conservatives and for liberals - for all. The church is the only entity in the world which exists for the benefit of those outside her.
So, I ask you - come (back) to church. Check her out. I can promise you that we are far from perfect but we will love you just the way you are.