Updated: Feb 26, 2022
It’s been almost a year since my church let me go. I served as a part time associate/assistant/connections pastor for nearly fourteen years.
Wow. Writing those words, “My. Church. Let. Me. Go.” is sobering. When I hear of a pastor being fired, my mind goes to sexual misconduct, embezzlement, spiritual abuse.
My story is different.
I posted a t-shirt on Facebook. On the field of a pride flag was written “God Loves Everyone” clearly communicating that God loves gay people or the LGBTQ community. I also wrote how I almost received it in time for pride month, but not quite. I couldn’t imagine a more benign or agreed upon sentiment, even by non-believers. Remember that verse, “For God so loved the world…”?
There was no doubt of my message, however. I was acknowledging — proclaiming — homosexuality is not sin.
This posting of the t-shirt was perhaps my unconscious desire to communicate my shift in thinking about my Biblical interpretation regarding this subject. It was a long road to get there — years in fact, one that is spelled out in another article. The process was slow, coupled in prayer and careful study.
I’m hesitant to write about this, because I don’t want to focus on the drama of my story. This same story has been and continues to be played out in a myriad of churches with a growing number of pastors who decide to use their interpretation skills they’ve been taught and come to the same reasonable conclusion: the Bible doesn’t teach against homosexuality as sin, neither in same sex attraction or action in the context of a loving, monogamous, committed relationship. The Bible DOES teach against selfishly satiating one’s own sexual desires. The Bible DOES teach that sex is sacred and flourishes in the context of fidelity and commitment (marriage).
When I made this position clear, they let me go that week. Although being fired by my church was life altering, the real issue is the countless number of children of God that have been hurt and kept out by these policies, both at my church and churches like them. It’s not just the LGBTQ community that is hurt. It’s all of us.
Here are some of the lessons I continue to learn after I was let go:
God calls us to unity.
As hurt and angry as I was about being removed, God continually calls us to love one another and find a way to live together. The Christian ideal is that believers find common ground in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Within twenty four hours of my posting the picture of the shirt, I was indefinitely suspended from all church responsibilities and ministries. I had two or three subsequent conversations with church leadership about my convictions. During these conversations I stressed the importance of the gospel — the person and work of Christ. I stressed that we should focus on our unity in him rather than on this secondary but important issue.
“How powerful would it be,“ I asked my pastor, “if we could be an example to the body of Christ and to the world; what if two pastors who have a different opinion on this ‘disputable matter’ could minister together in one church? We would loudly proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Admittedly, this shift was a lot to ask of my little church. Sadly, this type of unity is an idealistic notion, but I believe it reflects God’s heart. This verse comes to mind: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:3-6).
Exclusions Distract Us from Jesus
When a church makes an exclusion statement or policy against all things LGBTQ, — and that’s what my church did when they let me go — they’re making a statement about the core of Christianity. They’re saying Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection is not enough to hold us together. It’s not enough for us to agree upon. It’s not central enough. By granting or withholding moral approval, the church gives competition to the good news of the gospel. As a result, the church begins to worship a set of standardized rules along with the person of Jesus Christ.
Although the Bible gives us boundaries and warns us against destructive or unloving behavior — i.e., sin, granting or withholding moral approval is not the stuff of the gospel. Jesus is in a different “project” as Ken Wilson puts it: “There is something more powerful that the gospel calls us to give each other: not affirmation or condemnation, not moral approval or disapproval, but acceptance, the full embrace we have received from God.”
Fear is the opposite of love
I was naively surprised by the amount of fear expressed by those around me. I saw it from friends and from church leadership. Instead of reasonable conversations with Bibles open about sexuality, there was an alarm and out of hand dismissal of the issue and even my presence. Even to HAVE the conversation was an anathema to many.
The modern evangelical church wants to keep its policies on LGBTQ as covert as possible. They walk the fine line of needing to reject same sex sexuality, but at the same time appearing inclusive and welcoming. Sadly, if they were to fully engage in this topic they would lose members and donors from both “sides.” In their efforts to sidestep controversy by virtually ignoring the subject, they have caused attention to it. They invite LGBTQ people to come, but tell them to hide away their sexuality: “Hey gay people, we want you to come as long as you become asexual. Just be celibate for the rest of your life with no hope of life-long intimacy of a partner. Also, if you can keep your gayness on the down low, that'd be great.”
My questions and positions threatened the stability and safety of certainty. It brought a dreaded fear. An evangelical fight or flight response kicked in.
I understand the fear — the fear of change, the fear of the slippery slope, the fear of not knowing what happens next. When I began to investigate these issues, the change scared me too. But when our fear drives our theology and our interpretation of scripture, it needs to be checked. When our fear causes us to exclude a group of people coming to Jesus (the LGBTQ community), we need to press on in spite of the fear. When our fear goes against God’s word, we need to acknowledge the fear, but not give it power over our lives.
Love is dangerous
When you say God loves everyone, many in the church want to add a caveat to that statement. “God loves everyone, but…” Jesus also clearly states that obedience means loving God and loving people. Here’s the question: If Jesus says it’s about love, why do we feel we need to add qualifiers? The power of God’s love is enough; it’s more than enough. It changes us. For a Christian, to “Go and sin no more” = “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
Many Christians are uncomfortable with God’s gift of forgiveness to us, because they believe it’s too easy, or perhaps Christians will become lax in their walk with God. This “loving neighbor as self” is profoundly more difficult than obeying a set of finite rules. Paul knew this when he said we fulfill the law by loving one another, not by following the 613 commands in Scripture (Romans 13). He wasn’t letting Christians off the hook. Although it is less simple, mechanical obedience is easier than actually sacrificially seeking another’s best. Make no mistake, the road of love is more demanding.
When I talked about God's love to those that challenged my position, they asked, “What about his holiness?” as if there’s a tension between God’s love and God’s holiness.
The most holy thing about God is his love.
But Jesus’s love is threatening. It’s dangerous. Entering into love scares people, because one must let go of what feels secure, the rules. I think there is a desire, even an idol worship of “order” or “control.” It’s called religion. Instead of embracing love, the search for control becomes the goal. And this comes from fear.
Here’s the antidote: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Jesus found out love is dangerous when he started telling people their sins were forgiven (Mark 2:1-7).
He found out love was dangerous when he started healing people on the Sabbath, against the rules (Mark 3:1-6).
He found out love is dangerous when he traveled into Samaria and spoke to a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-38).
He found out love is dangerous when he befriended Zacchaeus, a traitor to his own people, the Jews (Luke 19:1-10).
He found out love is dangerous when he told the Pharisees to drop their stones and let the woman caught in adultery go (John 8:1-11).
He found out love was dangerous when he made a person from a despised race the hero of a story (Luke 10:25-37).
Of course, he found out love is dangerous when they nailed him to the cross for it.
Love IS dangerous. It causes us to give to those who don’t deserve it. It causes us to forgive our enemies, and it causes us to reach out to the most vulnerable.
After trauma, hope springs in unexpected places
I was instantly without a ministry. We were instantly without a church. It was during the pandemic, so that strangely softened, or at least numbed the blow. At the time of this writing, dear friends still meet with us in small group, but we felt banished, because… well, we were banished. Although the church leadership was kind and financially generous when they let me go, they let me go. It’s exhausting and a little scary to be adrift without a home church.
But something amazing transpired. Conversations happened. I received texts, messages, and emails from people that love Jesus and happen to be LGBTQ or love someone that is. I received support.
I grew tired of making excuses for my church: “They meant well,” “I understand their choice,” “It’s still a good church.” After a while, I realized I didn’t need to defend them. My job is simply to love them. And I still do. I would even call them friends — even those in leadership. Though they disagree with me on this issue, I still believe unity can happen. Love remains. And where there is love, there is hope.
And maybe that’s the biggest lesson: to not become what has hurt me. To not allow differences — huge differences — divide us. To not deny the hurt or pretend the offense hasn’t happened, but to not let it own me. I belong to Jesus, and it is to him I hold onto, whatever happens.
Title image by Free-Photos from Pixabay