by Candice Czubernat
I hold the church personally responsible for any LGBTQ person who walks away from God and Christianity. Every week, I get emails from individuals all across the country who are full of desire to be a part of a church. They want to go on the church-wide mission trip, join the choir, serve in the youth group and attend a small group. These are people who long to serve God, connect with other Christians and be a part of a wider community.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Here’s the heartbreaking part: they write me because the church won’t let them do those things and they don’t know what to do.
Their church has found out they are LGBTQ and because of this are no longer welcome to join in these church activities they long to be a part of. The worst are the emails I get are from young people who are no longer allowed in their youth group or who are bullied at church camps because of their sexual orientation. You might not think this is a big deal, or would just tell that person to go to a different church. You might be so used to the idea that those in the LGBTQ community are not welcome at church that this does not alarm you.
But WAKE UP. THIS NEEDS TO GREATLY ALARM YOU.
People are being turned away from the body of Christ.
Shouldn’t that bother you?
“But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me–it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” – Mark 9:42
I don’t know about you, but I never. ever. ever. remember Jesus preaching in any way that would allude to a church making this kind of decision, of turning people away. To the contrary, even when the disciples asked Jesus about turning people away he always told them to – at the very least – leave people alone. To stop bullying them.
“Whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30
This week wasn’t the first time I personally experienced this kind of rejection, but it was the first time I did so as a new mom and it’s left me feeling sad, hopeless, angry and in tears. In the past, my wife and I weren’t super careful about what church we attended. What I mean is, we spent time attending churches that weren’t super clear about their stance on homosexuality. Even though we would have liked a clear support, it wasn’t a deal breaker for us. But now that we have children, it totally is. We don’t want to feel anxious about a “well meaning” person indoctrinating our children in a way that makes them question their moms salvation, or even their own. We also want a place where we can serve the Church; we both attended Christian colleges and seminary, so we have much to contribute to a church community. And lastly, we want a place to grow in community with others where we can make friends with other parents.
I think if you ask any parent, this is exactly what they’d say they want in a church. When I look at my own parents and their closest friends, those friends are people they made at church when my brother and I were toddlers. These families are the people I grew up around and who my parents still spend time with to this day. It was (and is) such a beautiful, loving way to grow up and I want what my parents had. I want a safe place to serve, find belonging and community and to grow in my relationship with God.
I was once young, now I am old. And in all that time, I have never seen a godly person abandoned, or their children forced to search for food. Such a thing is unthinkable. (Psalm 37:25)
I live in southern California, so as we set out on this journey to find a church I didn’t think it would be very hard. I ache for those people living in rural areas, or middle of the country places where they don’t have access to variety of church options, making it difficult to find a church that is open and affirming.
The first church we attended was great! It was filled with gay and straight people alike, all worshiping God. We could feel the genuine kindheartedness of the people and very much liked it. But there were only a couple other families with children, and it was roughly 40 miles from our home. That’s a long way to travel for church with two infants in the car. We left there feeling encouraged, sure that it won’t be hard to find an option just like this closer to our home. So, the next Sunday we attended a Methodist church. It was beyond beautiful inside and how could we not feel welcomed in a place where this was stamped on the front of every bulletin:
“We are a warm and loving Christian community of faith where we continually strive to create meaningful opportunities for growth and service. First church is also a Reconciling Congregation which intentionally welcomes all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, age, physical or mental capacity, education, and socioeconomic or marital status.”
This statement is so beautiful and I’m not sure I’ve read anything so Christlike in a long time. Still, while this church had the heart and the location we desired, I’d say roughly 90% of the people were over the age of 60.
At this point you might be saying to me, “Listen lady, stop being so picky, beggars can’t be choosers.” To that I say, am I a beggar? I suppose on many levels that’s exactly what I feel like, a beggar. Why do my family and I have to choose between driving an hour every Sunday, or go to a church with people who are so much older than us? Is it because we are gay beggars? In the following week since last Sunday I’ve spent much time researching churches via the web and calling 3 particular churches.
Jesus said, “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.” But the woman was quick: “You’re right, Master, but even beggar dogs get scraps from the table.” (Matthew 15:26-27)
When you’re gay and you’re looking for a church, they fall into two main categories; those who state clearly that they are welcoming and affirming to the LGBTQ community and those who say something like, “This is a church for all people” but don’t mention the LGBTQ community by name. The “welcoming and affirming” speaks to a church that believes it’s not enough to simply be willing to have you come to their church without blocking the door, but is willing to take a stand with and for the LGBTQ community. For example, I know of a church that chose to stop performing marriages until everyone was allowed to be legally married. The entire congregation was willing to suffer with the LGBTQ community in what it was like to lose the right to marry. These churches allow everyone, gay and straight, to be members and serve according to calling and ability. That’s what I am asking for, begging for — to be treated fairly, equally, and have a community that supports that pursuit. In this time, we wouldn’t think of treating anyone else unfairly in the Church — except for gay people.
In the research I’ve done, there’s one major theme I found with those churches that are up front about welcoming the gay community. They are filled with older people. And when I say older people I don’t mean 40’s and 50’s, I mean white haired, elderly people. Which is so amazing and sweet, but my young family and I desire to build community with people who are closer to our stage in life in addition to those whom are much older than us.
Knowing this trend had me reaching out to three particular churches that I could easily see our family fitting into. Their websites were cool, hip and filled with images of young families. Their worship bands have banjos (our family loves music like Mumford & Sons or Bob Dylan) and their children’s ministry is just as vibrant as their church service for adults. I felt so excited in finding these churches, but also equally as nervous knowing I needed to call them in order to make sure my family and I were welcome before showing up on a Sunday morning. We could have just gone and I’m sure no one would have said anything mean to us like, “Get out of here gays!” but we didn’t want to get attached to any particular church that we’d eventually have to leave. It would be far too painful to attend a church that we loved only to find out we weren’t allowed to become members or serve in any way. My calling of these churches was a self-protective measure.
You can’t imagine how vulnerable it is to leave a voicemail that sounds something like this, “Um, yes, hello Pastor So-and-so… um my name is Candice and my wife and I and our children are looking for a church… I’m calling… well… wondering if we are welcome to attend your church? What I mean is, well — I’m having a hard time finding the words, but… will we be discriminated against? Or told we are sinning as homosexuals if we come to your church?” Clearly, I have not found the best language in order to leave this message! I suppose I have a hard time finding the right language because it’s kind of a vague and yet huge thing I’m asking and trying to describe on a voicemail.
Leaving this kind of message left me feeling shaky and exposed. Now all I had to do was wait for the pastor to call me back.
I’m not over exaggerating when I say this but all three pastors said the same exact thing and almost in the same exact tone. It was so eerie and similar that I wonder if they all went to the same training on how to reject a homosexual while sounding super nice about it.
“You and your family are of course welcome to come to our church, but I don’t want to mislead you. If you wanted to join our church or serve in any way, you wouldn’t be allowed. Our congregation is mixed on the subject and to my knowledge there aren’t any other gay people.”
They follow this statement up with a, “But I’d love to help you and your family find the right fit for you in the way of a church community” and with one swoop, I felt my humanity go out the door. The pastors all mentioned the few churches that I had already found that are filled with grey haired people. So I said to them, “We want to come to a church like yours where the worship is contemporary and were we’ll find other families our age. These churches you mention are filled with old people, what should we do?” The pastor follows up with a, “Hunh. Yeah, I guess your right, hmmm…” And then silence.
At this point, my mind begins to roll over verses about God not quenching small flames of desire (Isaiah 42:3); that verse in Hebrews where God says he’ll never, ever, EVER leave someone (Hebrews 13:5; Deut. 31:6); the time when the disciples asked Jesus to reject those who didn’t do it exactly the way they were doing it and Jesus says “leave them alone. If they’re not against you, they’re for you” (Matt. 9:40). I mean, how can you reject someone who WANTS to be a part of your church? Even if we went out on a limb and said, Okay, okay, being gay is a sin, well doesn’t Paul discuss with the Corinthians the idea that you never fully reject someone from the local church? Even if someone sins, the Church should make an effort to restore a sense of community to the people it has rejected.
Put another way, the Church should at least try. Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and James never said, “Be ye lazy and inconsiderate, for God in Heaven says some difficult things and don’t try to work it out and be kind to people. It’s cool. Just be jerks.”
I of course could go on, but at this point I’m wondering why so many churches seem to miss these stories (among others) in their Bible. I wonder if the pastor’s silence is them thinking about the same scriptures I’m thinking about? There is the possibility that these individual pastors aren’t the ones who make up the “rules”. It could be that they wish as much as I do that their church was open and affirming and their board or conference or whoever really has the power is telling them, “If you want to pastor this church you won’t let the gays in”. In those cases, I can only imagine how grievous it must be to pastor a church and have a conversation with someone like me, hard in many ways. But I don’t get to know the truth of their heart so instead the silence feels painful. Even if these pastors are as grieved as I am, why won’t they take a stand? At this point in the conversation – the silence – I feel my stomach quickly turns into knots. I get hot, my blood starts racing through my veins and my eyes fill with tears. I break the silence by saying something like, “What are my family and I going to do?! I know we would add so much to your church. My wife and I are creative, smart and seminary educated women. We have much to give and yet your church is going to miss out because we’re gay.” It’s even worse when the pastor responds, “Please do let me know if there’s anything I can do for you in the future.” It feels like an empty statement and with that I know it’s time to end the call.
Perhaps my skin should be thicker, but it only took having this same conversation several times before I broke down. I’m filled with a deep ache that my children don’t get access to the same church experience that I had while growing up and that my wife and I will have to find a community of friends somewhere else. Feeling the personal pain of this experience quickly took me back to all the emails I get filled with similar sentiments from those around the country.
How are Christians reasoning that the LGBTQ community is the cause of the fall of the family, and evil at the core when it’s us, the gays who are wanting to be a part of church but get turned away?! I’m face-to-face with messages from people whose desire to grow closer to God and the people of God is consistently met with rejection and hopelessness. These people have only one conclusion that they can draw from this — that God must not want them. And the Church is responsible.
Let me say that again.
These people have only one conclusion that they can draw from this — that God must not want them. And the Church is responsible.
Usually the emails I get end with something like, “I don’t know if I can be a Christian anymore, or why doesn’t God love me anymore,” or “I feel so alone in the world.” I wonder if the church isn’t responsible for these people turning away from God, who is?
Of course, there is a personal responsibility for every individual to find and choose God. But when people in positions of power who represent God reject someone in the name of God, it’s hard to separate God from the human rejection that comes from a pastor. That kind of weeding out process can take years and requires a certain level of mature brain development in order to understand a complicated experience like this.
I get these emails because I’m supposed to be the professional filled with answers.
But here’s the thing: I don’t have any answers and my heart is completely broken by this fact. I should have a list of 5,000 churches where these people would be welcomed to serve, join and grow in, but I don’t. What I have is a list of churches that are either filled with an older congregation, are far from where these people live, or are more liberal. And that’s for those people who 1) reach out to me, and 2) who are adults able to choose where they worship.
The answers and options for young people still living at home are even more scarce. So instead of sending them to a church to find healing, community and answers I only have one option, I send them to their local LGBTQ community center. They will surely end up finding what they need there in the way of friends and support, but there’s a great chance they will forever be turned off by Christianity, perpetuating the feeling that God does not want them. This is why I can say with confidence that God is deeply grieved by all of this.
Rejecting people from worshipping God is everything – everything – that Christianity is opposed to but we have somehow reached the point where rejecting people is the normal, even “Christian” thing to do.