“So, Katie,” my group of peers began ominously, “what do you think of Greg being gay?”
All eyes were on me.
I was in high school and was widely known for being an outgoing, kind, hyper-involved straight-A-student. I was the poster-child for excellence. However, I was also a poster-child for an outspoken, opinionated and legalistic brand of “Christianity” that had no room for people who were gay, Mormon or having sex outside of marriage. I’m actually still not sure where I latched on to some of those ideas. Let’s just blame TBN and move on with the story.
“Well,” I paused, “I like Greg, but I don’t think it is right.”
The classic ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ routine. How progressive I was! I wasn’t from the backwoods; I knew that Jesus loved everyone. I just (somewhat unconsciously) thought he loved me more for being a straight virgin who didn’t break rules and volunteered copious amounts of time to a plethora of organizations.
I was 13 when I first experienced the possibility and truth of a contextual interpretation of the scriptures. My mother was about to become a pastor in the ECC and, though they did not seem consistent with the God I loved, I knew full well the scriptures that spoke against women in ministry and leadership. How could my pre-teen brain reconcile this dichotomy?
Years later, as a chemistry major at a moderate Christian University, my philosophy professor posed the question: “is it possible to be a Christian and believe we evolved from apes?” “Certainly not!” I originally thought, but that quarter I embarked on a journey that finally solidified my ability to consider and embrace the gray areas within life and the necessity to never place limits on God. That professor changed my life. Yet I realize now that my upbringing in the ECC had instilled in me a desire to study and grapple with theology and reach my own conclusions in the presence and council of people who loved and accepted me, regardless of my decisions and convictions. We will never all agree on every issue (though I wish we would move past the insignificant ones and do more hard work on actually changing the world!), but growing up in the ECC showed me that those who desire to follow Christ can exist in community even if beliefs vary.
Having been a part of the Covenant family (us pastor’s kids often call it the ‘Covenant Cult’) my entire life, it was natural and important to me to think for myself, but I had not yet been challenged to tackle the issues of human sexuality because I did not know anyone who was homosexual and it was never discussed in my church. To me, that is the crux of the issue; if you don’t have anyone in your life that causes you to confront the box you’ve conveniently placed around your faith (and God), you likely need to be challenged to justify your beliefs. I often look back and wonder how someone who thought they were acting in love and truth could have said many things so full of hate, intolerance and privilege.
My beliefs and convictions have evolved immensely over the last 10 years as I have reevaluated my theology under the lens of what Jesus preached daily: human rights, peace and equality. It hasn’t been easy or immediate. It took long conversations with many intelligent and articulate people who thought differently than I did about the issue but shared belief in the same God. It took analyzing scripture and reading commentary. It took being honest with myself about my role in faith: not a stone-caster and finger-wagger, but a kingdom-bringer. Most importantly, it took knowing and loving people from every walk of life, being reminded of their value, hearing their stories, and, entering into the journey to liberation with my LGBT brothers and sisters because it is what I must do.
A few years ago, my brother fell in love and entered into marriage with a remarkable woman who was concluding her Masters in Divinity and would soon be ordained in the denomination. We celebrated my mother’s commissioning and my sister-in-law Leah’s ordination in the ECC on the same joyous day almost two years ago.
Since then, things have been bit more harrowing. I chose to embark on the church-planting journey with Leah and my brother last year because of their fierce dedication to scripture, an outward-facing focus on community building and service, and the inclusion of all in the vision of the Church. As I imagine all church-planting efforts to be, it was deeply challenging. People backed out inexplicably, others supported from afar, but our small group of determined people gave it a valiant effort, though we were all wounded. Leah has already eloquently narrated her life story and the events of the last year concerning Sinners and Saints and her desire to work with the ECC on the issue of human sexuality instead of being excluded from the conversation. For me (both as a core member of Sinners and Saints and a sister), it was painful to see what Leah and my brother had to bear though their passion and faithfulness was unmatched. I was also disillusioned by having to experience firsthand the sharp 180-degree turn in the denomination that had exemplified inclusion and freedom my whole life. Where had the liberty of individual churches and parishioners gone? Was the silencing born out of conviction or fear?
Leah has been a role model to countless people throughout her years of ministry, but her influence and example in this matter has impressed me beyond words. So many of us want to change the world, but we stop at powerful and angry words shared (usually) with those who agree. Leah desires to be an agent of change in the ECC and beyond and showed her true heart by standing firm beside all of her brothers and sisters in the face of major pressure. Though many encouraged her to give up, recant and accept silence, she would not. Leah won’t be stopping any time soon, and I am humbled daily by her example of faith in action. We are called to stand together in the face of injustice, and we must do so now. I am deeply grateful for each life shared on this blog and hope that we, now knowing we are not alone, may move forward collectively with the unflinching passion and determination to build change instead of cowering in the face of difficult work.