By: Autumn Elizabeth
This is a story that is quite personal. It involves my home church, and our struggle together to witness the equality God has shown us. This is not a story with a happy ending, or a story that is meant to chastised. This is the story about how I asked my church to marry me, and how this request was denied. This is a story about what it means to ask for radical welcome.
When I joined the Disciples of Christ Christian church, I left behind a church where, as a woman, I was seen as unequal, and where I couldn’t embrace me whole self. Living now, far away from the home church that denied me the nothing except the one thing I asked for aloud I have come to face the heart breaking reality that although I still firmly believe in a Jesus who would have fought the police at Stonewall and a God that suffered along side Matthew Shepard, my faith in humanity finds itself on softer ground.
I several years ago, I asked this welcoming church to bless the marriage of my same-sex partner and I. There was hesitation. There was discussion, there was love, there was support, and then there was an answer. That answer was “no”. The church continued to journey towards a place where that answer might someday be “yes” for someone else. But the truth remains, before I came along, no one stood for me. Before I asked these questions no one asked. Before I argued, no one made a peep. I do not mean to imply that I was alone among my fellow chruch-goers in my sexuality, far from it in fact. But the de facto “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of many christian churches, where LGBTQ people are not shamed, but not welcomed, meant that I had to be the one to ask, and I had to be denied.
My favorite Disciples of Christ quote is etched on the side of my home church. “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity.” Indeed this is the quote most often shown to me as a claim that I must not force any church to be open and affirming of LGBTQ people. Yet, when one looks closely at this argument, it becomes clear that despite the importance of “all are welcome”, welcoming all people, regardless of sexual orientation, or gender identity is actually not essential. Thus, I use this quote to disagree, to advocate that welcoming everyone means equality is essential in the eyes of God.
As long as the single most important essential of disciples doctrine remains “all are welcome”, then in fact, there can be no questioning, no doubt. In all things we must offer charity, we must always have our hearts, our hearths and our doors open. What I offer you, I cannot deny to the person who asks me next. Acceptance of all people, blessing of all unions, welcoming of even our enmities is an essential tenant of Christianity, or at least it is an essential tenant of any Christianity I want to believe in. As people who beleive in the radical love of God, the impossible expanse of God’s welcomeness, we must let everyone participate equally. This radical equality means we must love and accept all who enter our churches’ doors, and it means LGBTQ people must be allows to participate in every ritual of the church. It also means that as LGBTQ people, we cannot deny ourselves access to being full members of our faith groups, nor can we deny ourselves the freedom to be open and honest with our fellow church members about who we are. Finally, the radical love of God insists on all of us, that we not wait for someone else to ask for justice, whether we are part of LGBTQ communities or not, we all must demand that our faith communities act with justice, act with love, act with radical welcome.
My faith in human nature now rest, as it often does, on the next generation, and in the fact that, despite the outcome of my personal request I have done my part. I have ensure that when the next generation stands, they will not do so alone. They will be able to look back on this moment, when I asked, you denied me..will you deny them too? They will know that someone, hopefully many someones, have stood up for the radical love that Jesus preached, and asked again and again until their voices were heard, “When will you truly welcome me to the table?”
Thanks for you rloving and honest expression about your experience. My church, Community of Christ, also put a variety of groups of people on the “fringe” until we finally woke up to the fact that the “fringes” of society was where Christ spent most of his time in fellowship, teaching and healing, and restoring persons to wholeness. He always welcomed and honored all people. We struggled, as a body, to find a way to be truly welcoming in all aspects of our faith, yet respect each other’s points of view. We worked hard together to hear and understand each other, to reflect on the deeper meanings of scriptures that are often used to divide, and to come to a fuller expression of what it means to wlecome all at the table of Christ. Because of our willingness, persistance, and diligence in this and other issues, this past April my son and his partner were fully supported in their marraige by, not only their families and their home congregation, but also people around the world. He also is preparing to be ordained this year.
Please keep the conversation going. My prayer is for peace and reconciliation as we come into new understandings and love for one another.
I have two sets of comments on your very personal and very accurate post.
This is what was …
You described the events of then perfectly. We did not live up to our own words, chiseled in stone on our church, as you point out. While I was not on that board, I can imagine the conversation, because I have active at this church for decades and know the baggage with which we deal.
This is now …
In the years since you were denied, things have happened. I would not claim that all is well or that we are anywhere near what we should be, but we are closer than before. Much of the credit for that IS due to your courage and willingness to speak out. We still discuss this event as we continue, but we are moving from simply regretting it to learning from it and changing.
The leadership that was is not the leadership that now exists. The constitution which gave the board the ability to nitpick and discuss a thing to death is gone. A small and committed group of lay leaders, along with our minister, are moving forward to create a new constitution, a new leadership structure, and a new view of what it means to be church, As a member of that group, I can say that we are not in the mood to let the past dictate our future.
In many ways, the congregation now is also not the congregation that was. the ebb and flow of life through deaths, illness, births, and new members has changed what we look like. As is often pointed out now, new members are joining us as we are now and as we aspire to be, not as we were in some semi-mythical past.
As I said earlier, much of the motivation for those of us who desire to truly live God’s word comes from your story and others like it. We know what we want to be and what we will not allow to continue.
Is every single member of our congregation “full in” with this? No … but plenty of us are and most are willing to change with us.
I hope and believe that when you join us again for worship or any other activities that you find a better welcome than in the past … and I hope you join us again something soon. I miss your energy and smile:)
I echo the sentiments that John Smith put forward. I too want to thank you for your courage that indeed helped us move forward on the path. Your struggle and desire for inclusion made me and others re-think everything. It helped us see outside ourselves to another view point. We have grown as a result. Yes, you brought voice to what was lurking in some of our hearts that we didn’t know how to express. I would urge you to keep the faith, so to speak. The next generation of all struggles in justice stand on the shoulders of those that came before. But you have a vibrant and important voice that has spoken and will, I hope continue to speak and be heard, even if the ears the message reaches are slow to action.
We would love to see you again.
Thank you all for your kind words. Aside from the time I describe in this post, I have never found anything but welcome at my home church. I hope many faith communities are stirred by my story and others like it, and I hope we all work to come ever closer to creating communities that reflect the radical love of God.
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