Leaving Church-Part I
The Troubles I've Seen (And Caused...)
Lots of folks have asked—with eyebrows raised, fingers at lips, I like to imagine—about the real, actual reason I left beloved colleagues and a beloved job at church. While recognizing that indeed I did want and need more time to write and that I did miss editorial work, people who know me rightly suspected that there was more to the story (always is!).
Did I leave because after a year-and-a-half discernment process, though my gifts and calling were affirmed, the opportunity to be ordained as a Commissioned Pastor was denied?
Nope. Although, a troubling (to put it nicely) comment from an elder during a conversation about all this was the first clear signal from the Spirit that it was time to go.
Did I leave because I kept getting in “trouble” (not really) for everything from mentioning Rob Bell to putting pronouns in my email signature to appreciating Liberation Theology to off-handedly suggesting that a woman might have written an anonymous psalm?
No. Although, again, with each of these conversations, the Spirit’s good and holy boot scootched me closer toward the door.
Did I leave because in June 2022, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of North America doubled-down on a culture-war agenda and made sure our confessions declared same-sex married couples unchaste and transgender people beyond redemption?
Did I leave because—as a staff person—I was able to disagree with Synod’s decision (as so many do!) but not speak up and out about it?
As someone called to speak up and out about issues of love and justice, and someone who has grieved the treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community since I was a teenager, not being able to speak up and out about Synod’s decision was soul-crushing. Probably because it was disobedience.
Allow me to explain.
At fourteen, I was shy—painfully. I barely spoke to people I knew, let alone strangers with scissors to my head. But there was something different about Jon, my new hairdresser. With him, conversation flowed. He was so easy to talk to.
During one appointment, as Jon tried to rescue me from my ill-advised, angular (and then permed…) middle-school hairdo, I mentioned going to church.
The scissors stopped. Jon took a deep breath. Then he smiled and told me how much he missed church. How he used to love going with his grandmother. How he used to love singing the hymns.
I asked why he didn’t go anymore.
Jon smiled again—this time a little sadder.
I’d asked such a stupid question.
“I’m not welcome,” Jon said.
Of course he wasn’t welcome. This was 1986—and Jon was gay.
Thanks to the Moral Majority of the 1980s, even a fourteen year old who barely knew what gay was understood what churches thought of gay people. Perverts. Predators. Molesters. Rightfully reaping God’s punishment—in the form of AIDS.
That message was everywhere. Even if churches didn’t preach this, very few denounced it.
So even though Jon missed church, even though Jon (presumably) loved God and God (assuredly) loved Jon, because Jon was gay, he was told he was not welcome in God’s house.
Not only was that the worst thing I’d ever heard, it was the wrongest.
And lo these many decades later, I still believe that.
But, Caryn! But, Caryn! you may be saying. We do welcome gay people into God’s house. The Christian Reformed Church specifically says they are welcome.
Yes. “Welcome,” as long as they don’t live out their identities and as long as they recognize their “sin” is more problematic than most of ours (more on this in another post).
Here’s the thing: I live with deep regret over that conversation with Jon. I wish I’d have told Jon it didn’t matter what his grandmother’s church or what TV preachers said—because God loved him. Jesus welcomed him!
But alas, aside from being shy, I’ve never been a good evangelist. So I didn’t say anything.
Not to him. Not that day. Not ever. I hope—and actually believe—Jon knew that though.
Jon’s comment shook and changed me. It expanded my view and understanding of God. It piqued my interest in matters of church and theology—and how they inspire, or oppress, others.
And it made me an ally.
Although, a poor one at that.
Next Up: Gays and God at Calvin College.
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