We both spend a lot of time talking about how best to interact with our church family. The environment can be a bit trying at times, but we stumbled into one particular parish as our home parish and have decided (after much discussion!) to remain there. We’re grateful for the handful of people who go out of their way to make us feel welcome. However, we often wish we could share our experiences a bit more openly and freely in this setting. We hope that, one day, we will be able to do this, but we’re not there yet. To lay out a road map of where we’d like to be able to go, we present “10 Things We Wish Our Church Family Knew.”
1. We are aware of the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality, and we don’t need a constant reminder.
Straight people in the Church are constantly trying to tell LGBT people what the Church teaches or what the Bible says. As such, every LGBT person in the Church has heard the official line multiple times from multiple people. It can be really off-putting when a person finds out we’re LGBT and suddenly acts like we’ve never read Romans 1. We’re grateful to be in a tradition that bears witness to the Truth through Word and Sacrament. We believe that every member of our faith community has something to show us about what is true and holy, but there are effective and ineffective ways of serving as a teacher. Inviting us to share in your family celebrations–whether it is your wedding, your child’s baptism, or your mother’s funeral–is much more effective than proof-texting and quoting official Church documents as a way of showing us what it means to be a family within the Church. It also shows that you respect us enough to include us in your family’s big moments.
2. Insults to sexually active LGBT people are also insults to us.
Our vocation to celibacy does not make us immune to discrimination. When you suggest that you cannot support non-discrimination policies because these policies might condone same-sex sexual activity, what you’re really saying to us is that you don’t think we should be able to secure housing or enjoy a workplace free of harassment. We do not appreciate hearing your disdain for organizations that permit LGBT people to participate, especially if the participation of LGBT people is your only objection to a particular group. How do you expect us to know that we are welcome in the Church when you indicate that we certainly would not be welcome in another social context? During times of fellowship, it is incredibly hard to overhear comments that suggest LGBT people are on the same level as animals or are a threat to civilization as we know it. Those kinds of comments lack any degree of Christian charity and make it hard for us to gather the strength to come to church the following week. We also abhor the idea that there is somehow a “good” LGBT person and a “bad” LGBT person. The practice of celibacy does not make us spiritually, morally, or (insert your favorite adverb here) superior to other LGBT people. At the foot of the Cross, we are all radically equal. And we are all human.
3. Our being LGBT is not the cause of personal struggles we face.
Just like other human beings, we face short-term and long-term personal struggles. Between the two of us, we’ve dealt with depression, chronic health conditions, debt, addiction, an eating disorder, job loss, PTSD, and more. Often, we feel like we have to keep up a strong exterior because we’re afraid that straight people in the Church will attribute any personal struggle we experience to our LGBT status. It’s part of the legacy of reparative therapy: well-meaning Christian counselors sought to uncover the root cause of homosexuality in order to repair the damage. We’re not damaged; we’re human. And when we’re really honest, we know that some of you have likely navigated similar problems and can be ashamed to share your own vulnerabilities within the church community.
4. It’s okay to ask us questions.
As much as we hear negative comments about LGBT issues, we have never been able to have an honest, open conversation about our lives with Church members. We have never tried to hide anything from you, but it seems like some of you are more comfortable with avoiding the questions. Lindsey once had a friend say, “If you want to get to know me, make friends with the question mark.” Consider asking us more questions about our travels (especially when we’ve just gotten back in town), about what we do for fun, or about how we are learning to pray together. Talk with us about the experience of the service that day: How did you encounter Christ in the service? What are you taking away from today’s time of worship? How can we be praying for you throughout the week? Questions are the stuff relationships are made of, and we could probably do better at modeling how to ask questions by asking you these questions ourselves.
5. Your families inspire us in our vocation.
Being in the unique situation of a celibate partnership, we learn about vocation not only from celibate monastics, but also from families. The way you approach living life as a family is profoundly meaningful to us. It is meaningful for us when you encourage your children to serve within the parish, when you bring your children into the services, and when you allow them to stay present within the people of God even when their behavior isn’t the best. It is inspiring for us to see your children grow and to have your children tug at our shirts to tell us a story. Watching you as parents love your kids before, during, and after our times of worship shows us a great deal about how Christ loves His Church. We pray for you and your family constantly because we know we’re all mystically a part of the same family anyway.
6. Sometimes, communing with you is hard.
We love being part of a Church that affirms we all share the same faith when we approach the cup. Our friends from open communion traditions often suggest that because we’re from a closed communion tradition, we’re not spiritually challenged to see ourselves at the same table as people who are different from us. In reality, we constantly face this challenge because we know that we have to share the same cup with many of you who are capable of making very biting remarks about LGBT people. We like to remind ourselves that we’re not perfect, and though we might sometimes regard you as the thorn in our side, the feeling is likely mutual. And we come to communion anyway, and we hope you will come too, because we long for each and every person we have ever met to be united to Christ.
7. We aren’t trying to have our cake and eat it too.
We’d like to devote a whole post to this subject a bit later, but we thought it made sense to address the issue here. It is no mystery to us that most people who know us as an LGBT couple presume that we are sexually active. We are equally aware that those people who know us as celibate have trouble with the idea that we live out our vocation as a couple. So we frequently get the questions, “Are you trying to have it both ways? Are you trying to pull the wool over our eyes? How can you be celibate and legitimately a couple? How can you be a couple and legitimately celibate?” Though we can see how it might be easy to perceive our situation as doublespeak of the worst sort, we truly believe that we are called to this unusual vocation. We try, sometimes more successfully than others, to focus all of our energies on serving Christ and His Church. We remember that Christ said where two or three are gathered, there He is among them. And we constantly pray together that He would reveal to us how His will might be done in us and through us.
8. We have been profoundly hurt by the ex-gay movement.
The ex-gay movement is a “ministry” effort geared toward helping LGBT people become straight and thereby, capable of entering into heterosexual marriages. Within this movement, there is an emphasis on using various pop theories about what caused someone to consider themselves LGBT in order to “fix” that person. At its core, the ex-gay movement promotes the idea that LGBT people are fundamentally broken and all our relationships are suspect. Intimacy gets denounced as “emotional dependency” and any kind of gender variance is regarded as “gender identity confusion.” Any suggestion that we cannot have meaningful relationships with others because we are LGBT is profoundly alienating and separates us from the rest of humanity. It’s important for you, our church family, to understand the incredibly harmful messages that have been thrust in our face. The ex-gay movement also colors LGBT people’s experiences of celibacy. Ex-gay ideologies recommend divorcing oneself from one’s sexuality rather than entering a celibate life as a wholly integrated person. Just because we’re celibate, please don’t think that we advocate approaches that encourage LGBT people to denounce, rather than to integrate, their sexualities. Simple reminders that everyone is created in the image and likeness of God and is worthy of respect can go a long way.
9. The Church provides no resources for cultivating a celibate vocation outside the walls of a monastery, so we need your prayers and support.
If you’ve read any other posts on this blog, you’ve probably seen us referencing monastic communities. We do that because monastic communities are places where a person can find others living celibate lives. But even though these communities provide us with wonderful inspiration for many aspects of living a shared celibate life, the two of us do not live in a monastery. We are doing our best to live out a celibate vocation in the world, and the Church remains remarkably silent on these vocations. You, as our church family, know better than most about what obstacles we encounter as we try to live in the here and now out in the world. We need your help, prayers, love, and support as we navigate our journey. Think about all of the ways the Church has helped you learn what it means to live a married life, and then what would happen if you tried to pay that blessing forward in your own prayers that God would illumine our way?
10. We love you and are committed to sharing life with you.
Doing life in the Church is messy, dysfunctional, and human, as the Church is a hospital for the ailing. All of us together share in the Church’s mess just as we all share in the Church’s beauty. Towards that end, we actively choose to answer Christ’s call to be a part of His Body every day. We choose to share life, both globally and locally, with every person who is a part of that effort to be the Body of Christ. And that includes the people in our local church family with whom we may not always agree or communicate well. Despite all of our weaknesses, we want our lives to be orientated towards Christ’s grace that extends everyone a profoundly radical hospitality. As Rachel Held Evans recently reminded us at the Gay Christian Network Conference, we often become angry at God for being so generous that the scandal of the Gospel is not who it keeps out, but rather who it lets in. In that spirit, as much as we are able, we want to rely on God’s grace so that we can continue to share our lives with you…. even when it’s really, really hard.
In no way do we mean for this list to encompass everything we wish our church family knew, but we think it’s a start. Feel free to add to the discussion in the comments.
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