“Change happens when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.”
The week before Easter, I received a text on our church’s Google Voice line:
“Hi. I am looking for a church to attend. We are a same sex family.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d received a text like that, and I had the same response both times: absolute paralysis. I wanted to reply, “No worries. You’re welcome at our church” or, “We’d be honored to have you as our guests,” or even, “We’re a safe place.” But I couldn’t, because while those statements are true to a certain extent, they’re true… to a certain extent. I couldn’t figure out how to approach the text honestly without sounding horribly judgmental:
“We’d love to have you as our guests! But you should know a few things before you visit. You’ll never be able to hold a leadership position, you won’t be permitted to become an actual member, and our church’s doctrine would say your relationship is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ But, you’re welcome at our church.”
To soften the blow, I considered adding, “By the way, I don’t personally agree with any of that.” But then I imagined the person asking, “Well, then why do you work there?”
That’s a fair question—one I’ve asked myself 100 times over the last several months. I’ve had many rounds of difficult conversations with Jimmy, my boss/pastor:
- Even if homosexuality is a sin, why does it seem as though some denominations are elevating it to The Worst Sin Ever?
- Why does it seem like the Church at large is okay with interpreting some scripture through a cultural and historic lens (e.g., women in leadership and divorce), but won’t apply that same interpretive logic to the passages about same-sex relationships?
- Why do I see angry, greedy people in leadership positions in all sorts of churches, but they won’t ordain people who are gay?
- Doesn’t the Church at large see that we’re saying, “You’re welcome here” and “You’re not good enough” in the same breath?
The outcome of these conversations with Pastor Jimmy was always the same. I’d feel grateful he was willing to have them–over and over again. I’d go home and write a rant about the Church and homosexuality, and Pastor Jimmy would allow me to publish it on my blog–something I suspect many Lead Pastors would forbid. I’d feel nauseous and helpless. I’d cry. I’d lament to my husband. I’d consider quitting my job. I’d justify not quitting by convincing myself I could be influential somehow. I’d do some reading on both “sides” of the debate. Meanwhile, I could feel my integrity slipping away as I continued to invest significant time, energy, and resources into a denomination that’s systematically marginalizing an entire group of people.
Then the Supreme Court went and legalized same-sex marriage, and Facebook exploded.
I have gay friends for whom the SCOTUS decision was life-changing, and I wanted to celebrate with them. I have straight friends who’ve been tirelessly advocating for the LGBT community, and I wanted to high-five them. But our church has social media guidelines (that I wrote) calling for “appropriate caution” from our leaders when it comes to controversial topics. Typically, “appropriate caution” has translated to “complete silence,” and I’ve honestly been (mostly) okay with that.
But on that Friday morning, I began to wonder what “appropriate caution” really means. Is it “appropriate” to keep my mouth shut about injustice? Is it “appropriate” to let people assume they know my opinion, by virtue of my position on a church staff? Is it “appropriate” to say nothing when other people are running off at the mouth, spewing “us v. them” language instead of extending grace and mercy and love?
No. It’s not.
It’s at that point I decided I was willing to get fired for celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision, and I “liked” a variety of status updates that morning—gay friends who were thrilled to have their relationships recognized by the Court, straight friends who felt justice had been served, and friends who disagreed with the decision but who did so with a posture of humility.
In the end, Pastor Jimmy didn’t fire me or even call for my resignation. But last Monday morning, I submitted my notice.
I’m not mad at him. And I’m not really even mad at the institutional Church. I’m just… sad. Pastor Jimmy has frequently remarked that he wants to build a church whose tent is big enough for all sorts of opinions and perspectives, and I fell in love with that vision. The problem is, there’s no tent big enough for them all. At some point, his perspective—as a Lead Pastor who is rightly honoring the vows he took at ordination—prevails, and that’s going to leave some people standing outside. I get it. My tent will only stretch so far, too; after all, I’m leaving a staff position and a church I love because my tent requires full inclusion of people in the LGBT community.
Let me say it again: I’m sad. Sadder than I thought I’d be. I’ve found meaningful friendships at The Way, and I’m afraid they’ll disintegrate–either because we disagree about homosexuality or simply because we won’t be around one another as often. I’ve been proud of how The Way is trying to push beyond our walls and truly love our neighbors. I’ve seen people in our church community becoming more generous and more compassionate. In other words, they’re looking more and more like Jesus, and that has been incredible to witness.
Please know I’ve not made this decision easily or carelessly. I’ve prayed. I’ve cried. (I do that a lot lately.) I’ve talked. I’ve listened. And the outcome is always the same: I want to be an advocate and ally for marginalized people—not only those in the LGBT community, but anyone who’s looked upon as less-than: people of color, people without homes, people with mental illness… and I can’t do that, authentically, without saying some hard things. Some controversial things. Some decidedly non-cautious things.
So, heartsick and poured out, I’ve resigned from my position at The Way. I’ve only just begun to experience the fall-out of my decision—or rather, the fall-out for the reason for my decision—and I’m sure there will be some ugly stuff down the line. I’m a people-pleaser, so that’ll be painful. But the pain of staying has become greater than the pain of changing.
And it’s time for me to go.