“But how should we respond?”
Someone asked this in my church’s home group, the week after the Pulse shooting in Orlando.
“My friends in that community are grieving right now, so how do I show support for them, even if I don’t agree with their choices?”
The room was full of young families. They had known me for almost a year as the nerdy, awkward girl who moved back here from Colorado.
They didn’t know that I was hanging on their every word, because I have dated girls.
In fact, I was currently on several dating apps asking out… girls.
I chose this church and this town, moving back to my childhood home, even though I knew they weren’t affirming, because I loved this place and these people and they didn’t seem like the sort to make a big deal about these things.
But now I looked down at my Bible, barely breathing.
This was the test.
“Well, the Bible says to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep,” another person answered.
My pastor who led the home group interrupted the conversation.
“Okay, so I know someone who is gay,” he said.
“But when I see him or talk to him, I don’t treat him any differently than anyone else.”
And that was the moment I knew I could trust him.
This is a story about how the divide between “church people” and LGBT people fell apart, how one community blew apart my expectations.
This is about how a church loved me and showed me acceptance and grace.
My pastor often says that Baptists became heavily politically involved in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s and in trying to stand for righteousness, they became more interested in being on the right side than in loving people.
He thinks it’s like turning a ship, that it’s slow but we’ll steer away from this course once churches start focusing on relationships and community, both holding to convictions and kindness. He believes that these are the key elements of discipleship and really following Jesus.
A few months later, my pastor emailed me and asked if I had time for a chat.
He made coffee for us early one Thursday morning in September and then I found out that someone had told him about me.
Cue absolute terror and my stomach going into knots.
I’d been kicked out of my parents’ fundamentalist church in college for not submitting to my parents and transferring to Bob Jones University.
I told him the whole story.
He listened to all of it.
Then he said, “I don’t hate you, and I’m not mad at you. I don’t really care that you’ve had relationships with other women or if you’ve had lesbian thoughts. Sin is sin, and all people deal with sin.”
He mentioned the adulterous woman that the Pharisees brought to Jesus, because they wanted to stone her and how Jesus told her he didn’t condemn her but to go and sin no more.
He told me that he and the other pastor weren’t kicking me out.
“We want you to come to church, and I want you in my home group, because that’s where you’re going to grow.”
He handed me Kleenex and said it was okay to cry. He hugged me and prayed over me and said he would like to talk more next week.
So nearly every Thursday morning for almost a year, we had coffee and just talked.
(My pastor is also getting a master’s in counseling, so he’s studied actual psychology and knows that sometimes we need more than just spiritual answers.)
This is not a story about shaming someone into being ex-gay or conversion therapy.
My friend Leslie likes to say that those programs focus on stopping a behavior or squashing desires, which doesn’t work and is actually harmful.
I just told my pastor what I honestly thought about sexuality and faith, including my doubts sometimes that there was even a God at all, or a God that wasn’t abusive, and we talked about it.
And everyone was so kind.
The lead pastor made a point to greet me after services and tell me that he sees everyone as human.
“Thank you for not giving up on me,” I told him one night, thinking of my past in legalistic churches and how quickly I was shunned.
“We love you,” he said. “And we don’t want you to give up on us, either. You’re a part of us, part of this community.”
Later at a coffee shop gathering with two other women, I told them: “I have dated girls.” And one of them said, “Oh, me too.”
So I knew I wasn’t alone. These people loved me. I didn’t feel forced into accepting a theological position or shamed into being something I wasn’t.
I didn’t feel forced into accepting a theological position or shamed into being something I wasn’t.
There was no pressure on me to fake it anymore, so I could simply be and feel authentically and accept the place where I was right now.
Gradually, my beliefs and emotions started to shift, but with my consent, not in the way I’d been indoctrinated as a child.
I came to my own conclusions.
And my pastors didn’t gossip.
I knew this, because months later I told other people about my journey, including my home group, and they were completely surprised. They also told me that I was brave for sharing this with them.
And I’m telling this story publicly, because I hope that other churches can love people like this, the same way that I have been loved. There have been so many years of hurt and misunderstanding between the Christian community and the LGBT community.
Most Christians would probably say the Westboro Baptist Church is a hate group, but they don’t know how many churches haven’t treated people all that differently.
They don’t understand that many LGBT people “come out” and are honest about themselves after years of self-loathing, because they didn’t want to admit this to themselves or anyone else.
The trust is broken.
I found a church where I am accepted, where I belong. I have chosen to not date girls anymore along with several other lifestyle changes, not out of shame but because now I believe that this is not healthy for me. I came to trust that Jesus doesn’t just tell people to follow arbitrary rules out of some twisted power trip, but because he cares about our well being. This is a personal decision, and not something that I usually tell other people unless they ask me about it.
I have many LGBT friends who are on the other side of the fence, but we love and respect each other’s choices.
So for all the Christians out there who want to show Christ’s love to everyone but also don’t want to compromise their morals, this is why I am telling my story.
This is how you can love people who are different than you.
Follow Eleanor Skelton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/eleanor_skelton
Note: What I chose is sometimes referred to as the side B or celibacy option. For more information, check out Live Science’s article on Gay Christians And Celibacy: How They Deal With Desire and GCN’s Great Debate.
I also really like this post about how Christians can better understand the LGBT community: The Orlando nightclub shooting: a challenge to non-LGBT Christians.