A few days ago I posted some words that my friend Mo wrote years ago. I hope you read them (if you didn’t, go back and read them right now!) They’re important words and her voice is an important one to listen to. Below is a more extended piece that she wrote for me that goes into greater detail about feeling like an outsider in the faith dialog. Read it. Print it. Send it to a friend. It’s worth it. It’s important.
I recently came upon a question posed on an online forum that provoked me. The question, essentially was: If outsiders have visited church services and found it wanting and don’t want to go back…what then? A number of people were uncomfortable with the use of the word “outsiders”. Including the person who originally posted the question for discussion. I‘m not. I think it is entirely appropriate. Especially in this context. I am myself an outsider. I was an insider before too.
I was not brought up in a church attending family. In high school I was drawn to a church youth group and fell in love with the church and it’s congregation. I went all the time. Really. For some reason they gave me a key to the church and I would go at midnight after school football games. I attended every service. I was there for most official church events as well as random off hours. When I felt weird and like I didn’t fit in at school because I was the only Asian kid in a sea of Caucasian faces, I felt safe, accepted and loved at church. I knew the lingo and the secret handshake! I eventually even went to seminary. I had definitely made the conversion from outsider to insider.
Then…I figured out that I am gay. And my church body decided I was an outsider. It was incredibly painful to be disaffected by my spiritual family. It was also frustrating to try to dialogue about my experience and be told I had nothing of value to add to the discussion until I “got right” with god and got rid of “the gay“. In other words, I was still allowed in the building as long as I kept my mouth shut. I was met with rigid legalism and much…MUCH finger shaking. I was NOT met with love. Or compassion. Or a desire to help me talk through this real challenge in my life. Nor was I met with an honest humility that we are all sinners and all sin is repugnant to God’s eyes. I don’t think being gay is a sin, but was never allowed to articulate my convictions. My experience is mirrored nationally. The church community I loved has declared war on my gay brothers and sisters. And me. So I left.
Now here I am, an outsider again. I went to other churches for awhile. It’s funny. If you attend services there is always a break for folks to greet each other and welcome newcomers. There is a new attendee (outsider) form you are encouraged to fill out so the church can follow up with you. I can attest from personal experience, of the 37 different churches I went to and filled out their form. (I did mention I was gay and not conflicted about it.) Exactly zero ever followed up with me. Periodically I get a longing to attend services and be part of a spiritual family that is working to build stronger communities through practical demonstration of God’s love. Mostly I squelch it. So we are back to the original question. If outsiders have visited church services and found it wanting and don’t want to go back…what then? This is me. I don’t want to keep bruising myself against the un-Christ-like inflexibility of an organized church. I don’t want to be the object lesson of how sanctified (read sanctimonious) YOU are because your sins aren’t political hot buttons. Hello….glass house…stones. I
I don’t know if I can ever believe in God again. I do know that if I am ever likely to, it won’t be from attending a church service. Tried that. Found it wanting. Don’t want to go back. End of story, right? Until I met an unusual Christian who doesn’t judge me or preach to me. Simply shares the stories of his life with me and is interested in the stories of my life. I don’t feel he has an agenda with me. Like some spiritual salesperson earning his eternal commission. (You know you’ve met them) I am extremely sensitive to “fake” concern over my spiritual wellbeing and threats of damnation if I don’t correct my behavior. Yet this Christian man never triggers my alarms. When I am around him or his wife I periodically think I may catch glimpses of Christ out of the corners of my eyes. I feel welcomed back into the discussion. I may or may not find my way back to the church again. But for the first time in many years I am engaged in an internal AND external dialogue about it that feels productive. Christians are called to go into the world (great commission stuff). I personally have only met two who are doing that. It renews my hope if not yet my faith to know that there are Christians willing to. It is scary to leave your comfortable church and your comfortable assumptions and meet “outsiders” where they are. It’s scary. It’s also what you are called to do.