Not In My Pew

My husband and I are sitting in the home of our close friends, Jordan and Kelly. Over burgers and iced tea we talk about things we have in common: marriage, parenting, education, and an appreciation of good movies. And then we talk about church.

It’s a touchy subject so we tread carefully. Jordan and Kelly have been deeply hurt by the words and actions of those who say they love Jesus. Somehow they cling to their faith, even though they have yet to find a church community where they feel welcome to express it.

For a while, the four of us attended the same church, and I was thrilled every time they walked into the sanctuary. I sat next to them, alert as a Doberman, hoping to somehow protect them from whatever might cause them to run out the back door. But even at that, they slipped away.

“I just feel like the church wishes we weren’t there,” Kelly says. “Or, if there were a pew in the back of the parking lot, that’s where they think we belong.”

I try to assure her that it’s just not true… that our church wants them—needs them—in the congregation. But they have read our denomination’s doctrine and don’t hesitate to acknowledge that they believe otherwise. In an effort to protect their family, they stay away. I feel their absence every week, believing even more that our church would be better with them here.

Although they are professionals with master’s degrees, they keep hitting the low-hung glass ceiling when they attempt to serve the church. They’re not invited to teach Sunday school. They can’t serve on a church board or become trustees. Certainly, they have never been asked to serve communion.

As two women who have been in a committed, loving relationship for more than thirty years, Jordan and Kelly believe they are relegated to the pew, wearing an invisible, scarlet letter “H.” The message they hear is this: “Sit there and behave yourself. Listen closely and maybe you’ll change.”

It breaks my heart, especially when I consider their giftedness, faith, and love. I know they face the same challenges as the rest of the imperfect people who fill the pews. They could use the support of a loving community, and they would love to support the community. Every day they need to choose selflessness over selfishness, communication over silence, and faith over fear. As they raise their teenagers, they must rely on each other for patience, understanding, and wisdom. They should also be able to rely on their church.

But the same church that believes nothing can “separate us from the love of God” makes Jordan and Kelly feel separate, as if their relationship qualifies as the unforgivable sin.

It’s no wonder that most Sundays they choose to worship at home.


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13 voices on “Not In My Pew

  1. I agree that most likely the church doesn’t readily accept them…..consider adding to the article what “accepting” would look like, i.e., what behaviors could the church do to show acceptance of any one who doesn’t fit the “norm”?

    • Hi, Charlie. Hmmm … is there a “norm?” You know what they say, “Everyone’s normal until you get to know them.” :) I Corinthians 12 (one body/many parts) and Ephesians 4:11 seem both good guides: some are called to preach … others teach … still others to prophesy. If a person is gifted and is willing to use those gifts for God, the church truly needs them.

  2. Sadly, this occurs way too often in too many churches where the message, “Christ died for all,” somehow is translated by our actions to mean, “All – but a few!”

    Another great article Eileen. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  3. It takes immeasurable courage to break throught that glass ceiling. We pray for your presence with us – the grace we obtain exceeds yours. Even if it’s not your hand distributing the Eucharist, please consider placing that hand in mine as we pray together. Much Love, Bill

    • Thank you, Bill. I came across this quote: “Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.”
      ― Vera Nazarian

  4. What I don’t understand is why straight allies continue to go to churches that don’t allow full participation by our GLBTQ brothers and sisters. If we vote with our feet and walk out, things will change. There are plenty of churches affirming our gay friends.

    • Totally agree. Jesus did not discriminate. Thankfully, my church, Spiritus Christi Church, Rochester, NY fully accepts and loves the LGBT population. They’ve contributed in great ways to our parish.

    • This is what we did, as a family.
      We do not have a gay family member (that we know of, yet, anyway) but we could no longer participate in a system that does this to people. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and continues to pain me to this day – my kids are missing out on lots of good things that are offered. But we all agree that if it’s not for everyone, it’s not for us, and I have to believe that THOSE lessons are making more of an impression on our kids’ lives than awesome youth group activities. There are less churches/communities to choose from now, for sure, but our consciences are clear and the Spirit is at work.

  5. This is hard. We’ve “done it right” – we have a gay minister with his gay husband. We have GLBTQ board members. PFLAG meets bi-weekly in our social hall. Our order of service reminds everybody that we’re a Welcoming Congregation.
    Still, 3/4 of the gay couples that visit us will check us out for a couple weeks, then disappear.

    • @David T, do you have any thoughts as to why they don’t return?

      I think there might be a couple of things to consider. Having a sense of welcome would be, I imagine, very important for LGBT folks who have not had a history of stellar experiences with churches. But, past that initial welcome, I think that being treated “normally” would be equally as important. How are they being engaged with the life of the church? Are there ways for them to interact on a personal level? All questions that might be worth asking. I think it’s important to recognize that when an LGBT person comes to church, they’re looking for what everyone else who comes to church is, whether that’s a community, a path to become a better person, or whatever else draws people to church.

      Could there be too much of an emphasis on welcoming? I could see that in certain situations, there would come a point where too strong of an emphasis on welcoming could serve to strengthen an impression that they are “different” from a community.

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