Advice: Finding a Church

If you’re a gay Christian, finding a good church may be pretty difficult.  Even if you’re not gay, finding a good church can be difficult.  Here is what I’ve learned from my experience finding a good church this year.  I’ll try to tell it like it is, because that’s always my goal with these blogs.

When I first came out, I still went to my usual church for a while, maybe a month or two.  It’s what I’m used to as far as style, method, teaching, etc.  To be honest, I had not necessarily been enjoying it for about a year or so because I had been starting to feel it was too commercial and lacking in authenticity.  The pastor talks too much about money, how many campuses there are, and name drops whenever a celebrity attends the LA campus or whatever.  There’s nothing wrong with all of that, and to be honest the reason I noticed it more and more was probably because I could see similar behavior in myself in the past, and the more I began to dislike that kind of stuff in myself the more I began to notice it and dislike it in other people or organizations, etc.  To be honest, it’s one of those churches where everyone in leadership looks the same and dresses the same, which you don’t really notice until you notice.  When you notice, I hope you think it’s weird, because it is.  It’s hard to tell whether you have to look, dress, talk and act a certain way to be in leadership, or you look, dress, talk and act a certain way because you’re in leadership.  It’s probably both, and it’s weird.  I don’t mean to be offensive because I would say individually they’re all genuine, nice, well-meaning people, but a team like that can easily become some what of a leadership mafia over time, and that’s not my thing.

I didn’t leave that church for any particular reason, and I wouldn’t have a problem attending occasionally.  I could sit next to whoever during service and talk to whoever in the lobby without any hesitation or problem, so I wouldn’t say there are any major issues unless I wanted to be overly dramatic and nit-picky, which I don’t.  Despite the lack of push or pull factor leading me away, I eventually just started looking around for other churches.

I know a lot of people probably take some time off or away from church after coming out, but I wasn’t really feeling like that.  On some level, there’s always a desire in the back of my head to not be “that guy” in pretty much any sense of the phrase, and I didn’t want to be “that guy” who never goes back to church after a hurtful experience.  I feel like I’m pretty good from separating God from The Church from Christians, but when it comes down to it, the way people treat us, especially Christians, and especially Christians in Christian leadership, definitely affects the way we see God.  However much we want to believe our faith in God isn’t a reflection of how people have treated us, we’re shitting ourselves to think our idea of God’s character isn’t in some way shaped by the character of Christian leaders.  Despite all that, I didn’t want to stay away, and I did it.  If you need to take some time off, by all means, go for it.  It just seems like, how would you know when enough time is enough time?  Weeks away can stretch into years away before you know it, and that happens to a lot of people, whether they’re gay or not or whether they’ve been hurt or not.

After leaving my original church, I visited a couple local Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches.  Each denomination is fully affirming of LGBT people or at least more affirming than my Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic tradition.  Those churches were ok, but just not my style.  The hard wooden pews, choirs and robes don’t really do it for me.  I noticed they all had pretty solid Biblical teaching, and it actually seemed like a much more academic, educated, less personally opinionated speaking style than is most commonly seen in my tradition.  It may be more monotone and have less emotion, but it’s some good, solid Bible in most cases.  Still, it’s a little boring, and I just couldn’t see myself in any of their pews week after week.

I did hot yoga almost every day this year, which was awesome, so I made a few friends from the studio.  One of them invited me to The Center for Spiritual Living in Seattle for a service.  I knew it probably wouldn’t end up being a long term thing, but I wanted to at least see what it was about. Again, I don’t want to be rude, but it was weird.  I’m sure people can have a good time and find meaningful tools to help them through life there, but in a spiritual sense it just seemed all over the place.  Their “thing” is kind of embracing every world religion, making sure everyone knows that God might really be a woman, and making sure everyone lives their own personal truth.  I’m not trying to hate, but it’s just not for me.  At least I can say I tried.  Of course, then it made things awkward when my friend kept inviting me back, and I eventually I had to find a polite way to make it clear I wasn’t interested in going back.  If anything, it made me more sensitive to how I try to invite people or get people involved in churches or religious activities.

After a few services at old school churches and a service at a place I wouldn’t consider a church, I saw a Facebook ad for an affirming church in Ballard.  Facebook has some pretty powerful algorithms for processing recent interests and displaying ads that are most likely to interest its users; it’s really pretty impressive.  The day I visited this church just happened to be the day that the pastor was explaining in depth the core beliefs of the church, with an emphasis on affirming LGBT members, which was pretty new for them.  It would be considered an Evangelical church, so it was much more similar to the general style I’m used to in most aspects.

As I sat through the explanation of the beliefs, policies, etc, the pastor explained how the church would welcome LGBT people into all aspects of the church.  LGBT people can be members, and volunteer, and could even take communion! There were only two limits to this unconditional Christ like grace- LGBT people could not become staff members, and staff members could not perform gay weddings.  It was interesting to look around and see all the other LGBT people smiling and nodding in approval, relief and some sort of fucked up gratefulness.  When the pastor made a big deal about how they would allow LGBT people to take communion just like everyone else, I wanted to throw up, because it had never even occurred to me that Christians can have theology that’s so messed up that they would ever believe anyone would not have the right to take communion for any reason, and because it seemed like they were patting themselves on the back for some sort of display of radical, unconditional love and grace by allowing LGBT people to partake in a sacrament of The Church, like they had the authority to determine that.  The other LGBT people in the service looked happy about this graceful concession, and I could just hear their poor hearts saying, “Thank you, massa,” like a slave would thank his boss for scraps from the table.  Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I can’t imagine how low your sense of self-value and self-esteem must have to be to act like the right to partake in communion, despite your sexual orientation, is some radical gift from people rather than from God Himself.

When it came to the other part- the fact that the real end of the affirmation was that LGBT people could not be staff, and that staff would not perform gay weddings, that was equal contributor to the breaking of the straw.  On a practical level, I have no interest in doing ministry as a vocation, so I don’t need to be on staff at any church. If I ever get married, I probably already know who I would want to have officiate the wedding, so I wouldn’t need any staff from that church to do it. It’s all about principal to me.  Any theology that make distinctions between people for any reason is bad theology.  I know that The Bible suggests standards for leaders in ministry, but those standards are not determined by natural, unchangeable factors.  Of course, people say it’s about the ACT of homosexual sex being a sin in every circumstance, and we’ve been over that several times before, but the ACTS of homosexual sin denounced in The Bible are not referring to ACTS in monogamous, loving, Christ-centered, legally recognized, life-long marriage covenants, because those did not exist thousands of years ago in the Middle East.  The Bible makes no distinction between the abomination of homosexual ACTS and the abomination of eating shellfish, but of course our massas have the authority to determine, in their infinite wisdom, which Biblical abominations were only abominations in The Bible days and which ones are not.  Anyway, back to the principal.  This affirming position was not really affirming.  As I’ve said before, I am pretty good at finding bottom lines, and the bottom line here was that LGBT people are not really equals.  They can thank their straight, righteous massas all they want for the scraps from the communion table and the ability to set up chairs as a volunteer, but in the back of their mind they have to remember there’s always a distinction.  There’s always an “us” and a “them,” and the “us” is somehow different, in a negative way than the “them,” not only because the “us” can’t really do everything and be everything that they “them” can do and be, but also because it’s the “them” that gets to tell “us” our limitations and the reasons for our limitations.  No thanks, massa.

After that disappointing experience, I looked around a little more and eventually heard that one of my former pastors was working at an affirming church.  I met with him first to catch up, and then I tried out the church.  It’s a big church, and was a pretty fast-growing church when it first started.  The lead pastor was invited as a guest speaker in a few of my college classes while I was in college.  They were considered pretty progressive back then, because they would do things like serve wine at a fundraising events.  One of my roommates, who is now a pastor at the original church I first described, filed formal complaints with the administration of the university after this pastor invited students to an event where wine would be served.  It’s so interesting to look back now and realize that that’s the culture I was in at the time, and that was literally all I knew.  I’ve never been super opinionated, and I would never complain about something like that, but I didn’t think it was strange that he complained, either.

Anyway, I went to a few services at this church and really liked them.  It’s the style I’m used to, and the teaching is solid.  I appreciate how they value modern understanding and academic and intellectual reasoning, and how they try their best to understand the original meaning of The Bible in that context.  They understand that God created us with brains for a reason, and if those God-designed brains have enabled us to understand concepts that Middle Eastern men thousands of years ago could not have possibly understood, then that only enhances our relationship with God rather than watering it down.  This church recognizes that over time many Christians have come to worship tradition just as much as the people who had Jesus killed, and that if we think we’re any different, we’re kidding ourselves.  To many people in religious cultures like the one I’m from, it probably sounds like a church like this has gone off the deep end, and that’s ok.  I would say that the Pharisees thought Jesus’ followers had gone off the deep end, too, but I don’t want every blog I write about to be taking jabs at people I think are Pharisees, because I’m no better myself.  It can be hard to understand how a church like this does hold what’s called a “high view” of The Bible, meaning it contains ultimate truth and authority and is infallible, inerrant, etc, but just because a church values modern understanding does not mean it values The Bible any less.  When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He left us The Holy Spirit, who is still leading us into all truth (John 16:13).  It’s ok, you’re in a safe place.

This church is fully affirming of LGBT people in all aspects of the life of the church, and they make no distinction at all between volunteers, staff, communion or weddings.  They have very well-educated historians, linguists, theologians and Biblical scholars speak and share regularly regarding relevant topics.  My New Testament professor is member and regularly shares, which is very rare for someone with his particular background and position.

I’ve been going to this church for a while now.  I brought a family on Easter, and they enjoyed it.  I brought a student last week, and he texted me later that day about he applied the morning message to a real life situation he encountered later that day.  It’s good stuff.

I haven’t been volunteering at all, which is new for me.  Ever since I was 15, I never went to church without serving in some way, so it’s much different to just come and go.

At the beginning of summer, the church started summer groups.  I looked online and joined two LGBT groups. It felt weird because on one hand I feel like if I don’t want to make any distinction between myself and others, why would I want to join LGBT specific groups?  On the other hand, I don’t really have any gay friends, and I think I should, and I thought these groups would be good opportunities to build those kinds of friendships with gay Christians.

When I met with the leader of one group, it didn’t go well.  He was an older guy who had been married with a family and pastor at a church in Seattle when he came out.  He kept talking about how wild he went when he first came out and how he had only recently come back to church.  He showed me pictures he had taken of a local gay sports league, and it just wasn’t my thing.  I got the feeling he was kind of hitting on me, and when we ended the meeting, I went in for a hand shake, and he went in for a hug- kind of a close, long hug for someone you’ve just met.  I felt weird about it, so I never went to the group.  Again, I’m not sharing any of this to be judgmental or put anyone on blast, but just because I said I would be brutally honest.  As I’ve gone through this journey and had these experiences, I had absolutely no idea what to expect, so I hope sharing can at least help others in my position to have a little bit more of a heads up than I ever had.

The second group was an LGBT movie night. It’s alright, but it’s kind of hit or miss.  There are about ten members in the group, but not everyone attends every time, so it’s kind of weird when it’s like three of us.  To be honest, I was kind of hoping to meet like awesome gay Christian people, but they seem like kind of in the “I’m just checking things out” stage.  To be honest, I’ve only met three gay Christian men that I would say are beyond all the hurt, bitterness, confusion and figuring things out stage, and actually living as pretty awesome gay Christians.  Again, I’m in no position to judge, but these are just my honest observations.

Affirming churches are few and far between, even in the Seattle area.  I can imagine it may be even more difficult to find a great church in other areas.  If you’re looking, I would recommend searching online and visiting local churches.  If you can’t find anything, you can join an online forum through Gay Christian Network so that you can at least interact with other gay Christians in your age range.  If you want to maintain your faith and grow in Christ throughout your lifelong journey, it is important to go to church and have relationships with other like-minded Christians.  I hope you can find a place that works for you.

 

 

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