Anna hadn’t been doing well that day. Her joints were swollen and hard, and the pain medicine brought some relief but didn’t restore mobility. So I went alone with Eden to the 3:00 worship service. I never go to that one, and I only recognized a dozen or so people scattered around the room. Of those whom I knew, several were elders who surely knew why I was there. I tried to hide my self-consciousness. We sang about God’s goodness and faithfulness, and I tried to focus on the actual words instead of what was to come, and every now and again, I succeeded a little. Later, while Eden was learning about Joshua in children’s church, I sat in the pew, my stomach in knots, waiting to hear what the pastor would say.
I’d received an email several days earlier. The senior pastor was set to give a sermon on hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and he wanted to include a story about a family friend back in the States – a Christian who, after years of secrecy, therapy, and prayer, is coming to terms with the fact that he is gay. This friend, the pastor explained, has had a difficult time with the isolation and misunderstanding that he’s experienced in church, as he tries to live faithfully according to God’s word. The pastor then wanted to challenge our church with the question of whether or not we can be a safe place for people like his friend, for people like me, who want to honor God with our lives. He invited input from me as well as the elders and ministry leaders.
In certain circles, something like this is revolutionary. And though my current church is the most “progressive” one I’ve ever been a part of, it is still essentially conservative, especially when it comes to anything lgbt. I was thrilled to read this email and let the pastor know that I think this is just what we need: gay Christians being acknowledged and included in contexts beyond special events in which we’re discussing the “issue” of homosexuality. Bringing us into the mainstream conversation of what it means to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” would be a huge step forward.
Of course, everyone did not agree. Many elders and leaders expressed concerns. Fears of unintended consequences and misunderstanding loomed heavy in many of their minds, but they ultimately deferred to the one who would be speaking that weekend, offering prayers to God for wisdom and guidance. At the end of the email correspondence, there was no conclusion. I wasn’t sure if this groundbreaking moment would happen or not.
I braced myself for the disappointment that silence would bring. “This came out of nowhere”, I told myself. “Before that email a few days ago, I hadn’t had any expectation at all for something like this to be addressed in the pulpit on a typical Sunday afternoon. If it doesn’t happen, it’s ok. At least the conversation has been initiated, and there will be other opportunities.” As I’ve written about before, I’ve been invited to speak on this from time to time at special events.
When the pastor, several minutes into his sermon, began telling the story of his friend in the US, I was surprised to find myself holding back tears. The whole time I was preparing for people like me to be pushed to the margins yet again, shelved for a safer story of a college student not losing heart in a hostile intellectual environment, or a businessman fighting the temptation to cave to unethical practices. Instead, in the context of hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pastor shed a little light on some of the obstacles that gay Christians face alone all too often. He called the church not to add to the burden, but to come alongside in solidarity. It was a profound moment, a small victory and a healing experience for me that I’m not sure the pastor will ever quite understand.
The rest of the night was all sort of anticlimactic. As I mentioned, Anna wasn’t there, and I don’t normally attend the 3:00 service, so there wasn’t anyone there with whom I would’ve gone out for dinner and drinks to talk over what we just heard. I tried my best to focus on Eden’s dinner conversation about “the guy who came after Moses” and the cat that she saw on the way to the Mexican restaurant, and how she wished our whole family wasn’t allergic to them so she could have one.
Later that evening, I told Anna how it went, that the pastor followed through on his original plan. She said she’d been confident that he would. Eventually, talking gave way to the accumulating household chores, a six year old’s drama, bedtime routine, and the waning effects of pain reliever. Unable to catch him in a free moment after the sermon, I emailed the pastor thanking him for what he did. He responded, assuring me that he valued my voice in this whole discussion. As far as I know, there’s been no more talk about it.
I don’t know if there will be. Judging by past experiences, the pattern seems to be that sudden interest in this topic flares up, and it either fizzles away or blows up in a nasty battle in the culture war. Maybe the pastor’s words that afternoon will be conveniently forgotten. Maybe some of the elders’ fears about confusion and disunity will be realized. Hopefully, this sermon was the start of a conversation that will lead to more awareness and perhaps positive change. What I do know is that for me, and anyone else who may have been present who has a similar story to mine, it was a beautiful and rare moment out of the margins of Christian life.