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Painful in a Different Kind of Way

I’m having trouble falling asleep tonight, but I only have myself to blame for checking my work email on a Friday night. Another family has circulated an email to say that they are leaving. This wasn’t a surprise to me, given some exchanges I’ve had with them over the past few months, but the thing that is frustrating me right now is that they didn’t even respond to the last email I sent their way. Part of what I wrote as I signed off included the following expression of hope:

I realize, based on your comments, that the space we are inviting our community into might not be a place where the two of you are willing or able to go. But as you're prayerfully weighing this decision, what I would ask (and perhaps we can pick this up when we connect in person next month) is whether this one issue must override everything else good and wonderful that has defined your relationship with Elevation over the years.

(Note: This post is part of an ongoing series called The View From Here. Please follow this link and start reading at the oldest post, Fear and Trembling.)

I reminded them of a number of the significant ways that our church community has been engaged in their lives over the years—including the mentorship of their teenage children and support of their family during a significant crisis—but none of this seems to matter, and that is what I find frustrating. All that matters is that we are not going to exclude people in a same-sex relationship from being involved in the life of our church. The issue that trumps all other issues is gay people.

A couple of weeks ago, I had breakfast with the friend I mentioned in a recent entry and it was a very difficult conversation—the most difficult to date. To be completely honest, I was having a hard time keeping my thoughts to myself and I think I pushed a little harder than I had intended. But it was early in the morning, and I know only too well that I’m not at my best when I'm short on sleep. At one point, I asked him why everything bends the knee to this issue. He said that it didn’t, but I continued to push, saying that if his real concern was what might happen down the road—what other “lifestyles” we may allow in the church, how we might come to dismiss the Bible altogether, how we might water down the faith and give in to the pressures of culture—then why was he leaving now? If those really were his concerns, then why wouldn’t he stick around until those things actually happened in our church? He said he didn’t have an answer, so I suggested the answer was because everything bends the knee to this issue.

Melissa did a count the other day and figures we’ve lost around forty-five people already. She wasn’t saying this to be discouraging, but to remind me of what I had estimated after reading through the feedback we received following our Listen & Learn sessions: that about fifteen percent of our congregation seemed to occupy either pole of the issue, strongly affirming or strongly traditional. From her perspective, we shouldn’t be surprised if we see that group of people leave, which would be in the neighbourhood of eighty-five people. My wife’s point was two-fold: forty-five people was well within that estimate, and we should expect there will be more to follow. Again, this wasn’t said in a discouraging way, but in a reality-check way, to remind ourselves that we knew this was a possibility when this whole mess started to unfold. 

All of these departures are weighing on me, to say the least, but I’m actually starting to feel more angry than sad. It’s a mixture of both emotions, of course, and probably others as well, but anger is the one I find myself fighting against more frequently over the past couple of weeks. Why are people doing this? Why aren’t they willing to live in the tension? Why is this issue so bloody important that it overrides everything else? Everything else!

But to be honest, the thing I got out of bed to write about tonight was actually a group of people who have not left the church, but whose silence over the past few weeks has been painful in a different kind of way. If fifteen percent of people held strong conservative views, then another fifteen percent held equally strong opinions about the need to push forward with a strong embrace of LGBTQ people in the church, complete with full affirmation of their relationships. And it’s this second group that has been silent. There has been no acknowledgment at all of the significant steps that our church leadership has taken during this incredibly challenging season.

Part of what’s got me thinking about this tonight is an email I received today from a gay Christian who I connected with three years ago. We had actually met a number of years earlier when we were both working with students in our city, but he searched me out when he heard from a friend whose local LGBTQ organization was being ousted from their rented space that I had suggested he contact our church to see if his group could use our space while they looked for something more permanent. When my former colleague heard this, he took it as a sign that our church must be affirming, so he reached out to see if we could get together. He was admittedly disappointed when he discovered that we were not affirming and that my offer was merely an attempt to help out a neighbour, but the conversation we had over coffee was open and honest and we left with an appreciation for one another’s thoughtfulness about this issue. Three years have passed since that connect, but he recently sent me an email to let me know that, after getting together with Eric, he was “happy to learn that Elevation is now a place where LGBTQ people can be fully involved in church life.” He went on to acknowledge what this posture would mean for us: “I'm sure that wasn't an easy decision to come to but thank you so much for courageously offering a place where LGBTQ people can grow in their faith and use their gifts.”

While I haven’t replied to his email yet, his words have been rattling around in my head all day. They’ve got me wondering how this gay Christian can both celebrate the shift that has taken place in our church and acknowledge the difficulty that would be involved in coming to such a decision, but those who hold an affirming view in my own congregation (and who aren’t even gay themselves!) can’t seem to do either. Not one of the people who are most vocally in support of the LGBTQ community has reached out to say a single word to me in the nearly four weeks since my recent sermon on this theme. I’m not exaggerating—not a single word from the dozen or so most vocal supporters of LGBTQ inclusion in the life of the church. Why is that? Is it because they’re upset that we didn’t go further? But even if that is the case, why would someone choose not to engage with me when they must know what a challenging time this is? What’s going on? 

I’m tempted to try and offer explanations for this lack of engagement, but I’m sure I’d be jumping to some unfair conclusions. Regardless, my frustration with this silence was enough to keep me awake tonight, and since I’m writing this to help others navigate similar journeys with hopefully a little less pain, I want to ask those who are passionate about this issue to be intentional about encouraging your church’s leaders along the way. Even if things aren’t going exactly as you’d hoped, if it really is important to you that the church engage these difficult questions, please take a moment to let your pastor and other church leaders know that you see what they are doing and that you appreciate their efforts. While you may still be hoping for something more, be willing to acknowledge the toll this must be taking in the pursuit of what is right and true and good.

Comments

  1. Hey, I am sorry for my silence during this time that was so challenging for you. I can't really explain it. I'm not sure exactly when this difficult period was, or what my experiences were in those weeks. I am sorry I wasn't more supportive. I am pleased with how Elevation is journeying with this issue that seems so difficult to many Christians. Personally, I hope the journey isn't over and that we continue to learn and grow in our support of LGBTQ+ folks and all marginalized peoples. I have really appreciated our conversations over the years!

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    Replies
    1. I appreciate this, Chris, and I have also valued our conversations both leading up to 2018 and since, including during this strange pandemic season! Elevation's journey was pretty much all-consuming for me at the time, so in hindsight I can kind of understand how others might not have been aware of the impact it was having on me, but since I'm trying to keep my writing as intact as possible, I wanted to keep what I wrote at the time intact as a way of expressing just how difficult it was for me to not hear from people. The quote I shared yesterday morning from my friend, John Stix, comes to mind: "No one is immune to the effects of being cared for. When we express care and support for those around us, it produces powerful and instant results."

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  2. I'm catching up with some of these posts and was stopped a bit short with this one (in a good way). I don't know if it's helpful to have a conversation at this late point two years later but I've certainly done some reflecting today on what was going on that summer for me and why I didn't reach out more or to you specifically.

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    1. Hey Courtney—thank you for reading along; that really means a lot to me. I think it would be great to sit down and talk about your experience that summer. The process of releasing these posts over the past few months has felt really healthy for me, even though some of them are tied to very challenging experiences. So yes, even two years after the fact, I would appreciate an opportunity to hear about some of what was going on for you during that same stretch of time. I'll reach out to set up a time for us to chat!

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