Why Do I Stay in Church?
A Troubling Start
The first Sunday that I willingly stepped foot in a church, the preacher said that homosexuality was the result of demonic oppression, and that the “gay lifestyle” is a one-way ticket to eternal damnation.
My stomach churned. I was fifteen-years-old and exploring a life of faith. I believed in the message of Jesus so much that I felt compelled to dedicate my life to him, and yet, somehow, that wasn’t going to be enough for others who had felt that same conviction to follow Christ.
That preacher went on about how the Church cannot be “soft” in its message, and that gay people were destined for Hell if they didn’t get right with God. As they spoke, I felt this resistance, as if God were right next to me saying, “This is not my heart.” To this day, I believe that this was the Holy Spirit urging me to seek God and not his misguided followers who were convinced that the loving thing to do was to tell queer people that their “choices” would separate them God forever.
So, I stayed.
I remained faithful to God, learning more about Scripture, doing intense theological work at fifteen-years-old. I did this in part for myself, but even more so, for others who believed Jesus and yet were turned away by religious leaders.
My Queerness is Divisive
As time went on, I came out of closet and began sharing my story. I wanted other queer people to know that God did not condemn them, so I did my best to share about my journey and the love that I felt from God. During this time I received both support and criticism, but the reception was mostly positive to start.
Even within the circles of support I had acquired, however, those circles still did not largely accept queer people. Many well-meaning people had only accepted me because they saw me as the “good” gay person. I was newly out, so I was not largely engaged in queer culture. My theology aligned with most conservative churches and I didn’t threaten their ideas about Jesus.
I was allowed in, but other queer people who did not as easily conform to conservative Christian America were outcasted and their dignity was not honored.
In response, I steadily began to challenge conservative Christian America through my writings and in my small spheres of influence. I dived deeper into queer culture as it was revealed to me, and as a result, my words and actions became subversive to many in the Church. Over time, I, too, would receive the critiques and backlash that many of my peers had received for years before I had made my story public.
I have been called divisive, I have been accused of heresy, and I have been shunned by faith communities because they were uncomfortable with how gay I presented.
While I don’t seek to stir trouble, I now wear these accusations as badges of honor.
Despite these accusations, I’ve stayed in church because I saw Jesus in the midst of harmful rhetoric. I saw Jesus in the midst of faith communities who kicked me while I was down. I saw beyond misguided people who have made it very difficult for me to live into the calling that God has placed on my life, and I saw Jesus calling the oppressed to raise their voices to foster shalom, or peace and restoration.
Largely without tangible guidance, I’ve had to unpack Scripture and create safe spaces for queer people because the Church was unable to do so for me and many of my peers.
If any of this makes me divisive, then so be it.
Why I Choose to Stay
People who are oppressed by the Church and still manage to be a part of its growth are often labeled “divisive’ as a way to redirect feelings of guilt and to avoid introspective work. This not only further pushes away marginalized communities, but it also severely damages the livelihood of the Church by not allowing its members to function properly.
I remain in the Church because I see potential for change. I see the potential that the Church has to be as a force of justice and hope in the world. I see the exclusive Jesus that was sold to me, and I believe the inclusive Jesus that was born into poverty, fought for the oppressed, and was raised from the dead in order to bring restoration into the world, showing mercy to all people.
I remain in the Church because too many queer kids are thrown out of their homes, falsely in the name of Jesus. I remain in the Church because far too many pastors have created the idea that God serves the interests of the privileged and silences voices of constructive inconvenience.
For those of us who still believe in the real Jesus and whose experiences are inconvenient for the privileged Church, there is no reason that we should be kicked down by people who also claim the name of Jesus. We worship a Jesus who flipped tables on religious leaders and yet we settled for a Jesus that cannot be bothered.
So why do I stay? Because I believe Jesus. Plain and simple. And for me, believing in Jesus looks less like wearing nice clothes on Sunday and saying “Merry Christmas,” and much more like creating inclusive spaces for all to feel welcomed and find restoration. It looks less like displays of power and more like humble confessions of our limitations.
I see past the cushy Jesus with nothing relevant to say to marginalized people, and I hold the hands of the Jesus who challenges the religious leaders who draw conditions around God’s love to keep away anyone whose value they cannot see.
All in all, I just have faith in this radically loving Jesus- way more faith than I have in homophobic suburban Jesus. And right now, that is good enough for me.