In my ministry, I hear many stories. It is the joy of my life to hear the stories of people who are searching for God. Sometimes, they are full of positive experiences of dedicated pastors or youth leaders or a chance encounter that pointed them to God. Other times, they are full of suffering caused by the words or actions of others in the name of God. In both of these cases, these storytellers are experiencing God through other people. That is what I want you to remember: if you are a Christian, others are experiencing God through you. What you do and say matters very much.
This was brought into sharp focus a few weeks ago when I went to our state capitol to advocate for equal rights for our LGBTQ citizens. As I shared my story and listened to others, I felt others’ pain of rejection and hurt at the hands of Christians. I experienced none of that pain in my faith story. I was blessed to grow up in organized religion and was not wounded by it. The Episcopal Church has been a safe and affirming place for me. This is not true for many Christians.
One of the women I was chatting with mentioned she lived in a suburb south of Houston called Pearland. I suggested that she might attend St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, that she and her family would be welcome there. I gave her my card and told her to tell the priest I sent her. She was so relieved to know there was someplace where they could worship just like everybody else.
As I travel this road for LGBTQ advocacy, to work to dismantle the structures of injustice that cause suffering, I find myself in groups on Facebook and in other arenas where I hear these painful stories. As a bartender listens to patrons’ stories of woe, so do I. I am sort of like a “spiritual bartender.” These stories are heartbreaking and I cannot help but be taken aback by the hate dished out in Christ’s name. It is always shocking and I don’t think I will ever be jaded to it.
I have heard stories of parents of special needs children who for some, only felt unwelcome in worship but others who have been told their children were too disruptive to attend worship. I have heard stories of churchgoers who were specifically pointed out and shamed from the pulpit. The list goes on and on.
Have I been disappointed or angered by folks in my Christian community? Sure! We’re a family and every family has its struggles. I have also witnessed true forgiveness and reconciliation. Because of my positive experience with organized religion and seeing God’s loving hand at work, I can invite others to meet Jesus with confidence. And it is the BEST to witness someone who never thought they’d find a loving Christian community find one and realize that God does love them and always has.
I have offered to help anyone find an Episcopal Church (nationwide) that is accepting and affirming to all people – not only LGBTQ individuals, but all people who may have felt excluded from Christian community. I’m inviting not from a place of naiveté but from a place of hope. I guess that makes me a “spiritual matchmaker.”
I truly believe that if you’ve been hurt by the Church, you need to be healed by the Church. A gaping wound doesn’t get better by ignoring it. The Church owes it to you to right the wrong. So keep searching for God. He is with you every day, hoping you’ll return so he can show you how much he loves you.
And for those who carry the cross of Jesus, your words and actions matter. Be sure you represent the generous and expansive love of Jesus - a love that others thought was so broad, so bold, so radical that he had to be stopped. Can you throw caution to the wind and love with abandon so that others can know God loves them?