This past week there’s been a blog post floating around in which a man explains why he stays in the Presbyterian Church. Like this man, I also get asked all of the time why I stay. Unlike him, I only ever get asked for one reason. “Why do you stay in a church that still isn’t sure if it wants you because you’re not straight?”
It’s a fair question, and one I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about—particularly recently—and so I figured I’d share my thoughts.
Ten days ago, I sat at a table in the dining hall of our seminary across from a friend and classmate. “I’ve never seen you this worked up,” he said. He was right. I was beyond panicked, vacillating between nausea and the humiliating urge to burst into very public tears. I was waiting to meet with my committee who would either approve or deny my moving to the next stage of the ordination process. It’s a nerve-wracking experience for anyone, but what had me most worked up was knowing that it may not matter what I did or said or how qualified I seemed. I knew there was a decent chance that some on that committee may vote against me simply because I’m am part of the LGBTQ community. I felt so frustratingly helpless and I kept thinking, “It shouldn’t be like this.”
I was approved. Next month I’ll go before a larger body and face the same anxiety. Next year, I’ll undergo an even more stringent review. The fear of it stays with me like a knot in my gut and it shouldn’t be like this. So I wonder sometimes along with those who ask me, “Why do I stay?”
It wasn’t always like this for me. I grew up in an amazing church that claimed me wholeheartedly. It was the first—and sometimes only—place where I felt certain that I was wanted. It was, in many ways, my surest sense of home.
When I came out during my first year of seminary, I made the difficult decision to transfer my membership and ordination process from the church I’d grown up in to the church I’d found in Austin. I knew that it meant never getting ordained in the sanctuary where I spent so many happy years, but I also knew that my coming out would be a deeply painful and divisive issue in my church of origin, and I didn’t want to make something so personal such a political issue. I left home rather than letting it leave me.
Since then, I have become a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights within the church. Last Friday I was interviewed on stage in front of a few hundred people as part of the It Gets Better anti-bullying tour. I was asked again, why I stay in the church and pursue ministry when it is so hard. I said, “I had to move a thousand miles away to find the freedom to be who I am, but if we’re going to tell all these kids that it gets better, then somebody has to be willing to stay and make sure it does.” Whether it’s staying in the towns that kids can’t get out of, or in the churches that kids call home to make sure that they are welcomed, somebody has to stay.
After the show a teenage girl came up to me and thanked me for sharing my story. She said she knew she was gay, but that she was experimenting with her faith and she’s glad to hear someone say the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I know that they’re not and others should get to know that too.
This summer, I worked at a unique church in downtown Philly that serves meals four times a week to those in the city who are hungry. There is one man who has been coming for meals there for a long time, and has eaten standing up at every meal because he didn’t feel safe. This summer, he sat down at the table to eat for the first time in years. That church worked to be a home for him. My church did the same for me when I was a child.
I can’t help but imagine a world and a church where every child of God for whom the church has become a fearful place (whether because of their sexual or gender identity or some other reason) finally gets to take their place at the Table and know that they are wanted and they are home.
This is the church I believed in as a child. And it’s the church I believe in now—even on my hardest days. And that is why I stay.