“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”
“Well, let that lonely feeling wash away. Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay ’cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, you can reach, reach out your hand. And oh, someone will come running. And I know they’ll take you home.” – You Will Be Found, from the musical Dear Evan Hansen
The following is my attempt to process the Why Christian Conference my partner and I attended this past weekend at Duke Divinity School:
The music has faded now, all the break-out sessions are finished, the speakers have left us with their stories still echoing in our hearts. I imagine that many of us who attended the conference returned home to our jobs, our families, our pets, etc. And now we’re trying to figure out what to do with all these testimonies we heard–all these stories centered around the question “Why Christian?” I also got to meet many theologians and writers and friends I only knew on twitter in real life.
(Pictured left to right: Laura Jean Truman an amazing human being whose blog you should check out [https://laurajeantruman.com/], myself, and Austen Hartke, author of Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians. Also, me talking to Rachel Held Evans who wrote Searching for Sunday, a book that helped me come back to the Christian faith and not give up on Christianity completely)
I’m still trying to process with a full heart what it means to still be Christian while also acknowledging that Christians, the Church, and how they’ve used the Bible against me have caused so much harm. Harm that I’m still healing and recovering from. Harm that is still being caused by Christians, the Church, and how they’re using the Bible.
I heard for the fist time in my life from pastors who are like me–queer Christians who affirmed my calling into ministry but also acknowledged the pain that comes along with that calling in predominantly straight, white, cisgender and usually male spaces. This weekend showed me and reminded me there is a place for me in this beautiful family of God where I can be my full self–that my queerness is not something to hide but to be embraced. All of the pain, fear, rejection, and hiding is not the whole of my story and my story is not over yet. There is a place for us. There is a place for all of us–women (not just white straight women), people of color, queer people, disabled people–in this family.
Many of us hearing the words fo the speakers this weekend have had to fight to prove ourselves in religious spaces. We didn’t have to fight for that in this space. I did something this weekend I’ve never been able to do in a church service. I brought my full self in to worship. I sang hymns with tears in my eyes at a few points because I could sing freely as a queer Christian that “the Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” And I could do that while wearing a rainbow fedora and while standing next to my fiancee. And no one stared. Or told us to leave. We held hands and walked around during the conference without fear. Our pain was voiced and seen by speakers who not only supported LGBTQ+ people but many of whom were queer themselves.
I had to wonder–is this what heaven is like? Where we can all be our full selves and accept one another as we are? Maybe heaven truly is a place on earth. But just as heaven can be a place on earth so is hell.
I came back home and my partner and I have both voiced our frustrations to each other about the church we attend which is currently in conversation about whether to be affirming of queer people. Mind you, there are many queer people in our church but several in the church who want to debate about whether we can serve in the church, need to repent of “sin,” or whether being non-affirming can also mean being loving. There is a place for us but we’re still having to fight for it. I know we’re not the only ones.
Jeff Chu was asked during his break-out session on Saturday “Why Christian?” and for him his answer was “Because I’m still alive.” Honestly, that’s my answer too. I’m still alive and I know Jesus is for me whether other Christians or society is or not. Lord, how long until we do not have to do this fighting for survival anymore?
The Church has often said I do not belong. And this is where that practice of self-empathy Jeff spoke of in his break-out session and telling our own stories comes in. Emmy Kegler, one of our main speakers reminded us that we are beloved children of God. The Church may not always tell us that. But my practice of self-empathy is this: When I need to be affirmed that I am loved, safe, and not alone. That I am good, that I belong, and that I am enough…I have others around me and myself to remind me that I am all of those things. I have Jesus to remind me that I am all of those things. And you are all of those things.
“We will take our shit and we will make beautiful things.” ~ Jeff Chu, Why Christian Conference 2018
“I want a vigilante Savior–but I need a Savior with swift and terrible mercy. I need a Savior who is merciful because it is I who need mercy.” ~ Nadia Bolz-Weber, Why Christian Conference 2018