This is a two part reflection on what the church can and should be for the gay Christian. I’ll begin with a story:
I loved the church I attended while at Wheaton – it was an exciting and nourishing blend of liturgical tradition, evangelical social awareness, and charismatic worship. During my final semester I decided to attend the Wednesday evening prayer and healing service, described as a time for people wrestling through darkness to come before the Eucharistic table and find rest. Each night the speaker briefly talked about specific areas of suffering and confusion that might be relevant to the fifty or so people in the audience.
My decision to show up that first evening in January was largely influenced by the topic of an upcoming session in February: Homosexuality. I was curious what they would say, and thought maybe I would find some unexpected answers to my vague questions. But I was not going to make my first appearance at the sanctuary on the day they discussed gay people. Please. So I went to “Attachment disorders,” and “Gender dissociation,” as warm-ups to throw people off. Sure, I struggled with both of those things, but at least they wouldn’t think I was gay.
That fateful evening in mid-February became more important than I would have imagined, and not because of the message that was preached. In fact, the topic was changed last minute to “Idolatry” and I daydreamed through the whole thing anyway (though I’m sure all the idolaters I saw showing up for the first time were listening well enough).
That was the night I realized the Church could be my family.
Earlier that week a nasty storm of emotional cross-currents began crashing down upon my hole-filled dinghy of mental stability. I was facing some relational difficulties with my closest friends, had reached a record imbalance in the ratio of thoughts-about-the-body-of-Christ to thoughts-about-the-body-of-Sam (my crush), felt increasing anxiety over my capstone thesis, was coming down with a cold, and was terrified by a resurgence of old lies I thought were defeated. I think at one point my roommate walked in on me curled up in a ball under my blanket with my head sandwiched in my pillow, shaking uncontrollably. Thank goodness I’d squandered my dignity long before that.
The last thing I felt like doing was dragging myself out of bed and going to the prayer service. But I did. Throughout the whole liturgy I was engaged in a yelling match with my brain, trying to figure out why I was feeling lonely again, why the dark fears about the future were taking root in my imagination after such a blessed span of peace. I needed prayer, and I needed it bad. Happily for me, finding prayer at a prayer service is like looking for a disappointing meal in London – discovery is inevitable (inedible?).
I don’t often have moments where I feel as if the Holy Spirit is actively trying to tell me something. When people advise me to listen for God’s voice, I only end up hearing things like “Simmbaaaaa.” But this time, this time I am convinced God was pushing me to receive prayer from one of the ministers around the room.
But I didn’t want to. I was shy, I was tired, I was beaten down by apathy, and I just didn’t want to try and explain all the relational things that were causing me angst. So God and I had a chat that legitimately went something like this (I am a weasel):
“Jordan, ask someone to pray for you.”
“Ummmm, wellll, the service is almost over, and…”
“That guy. He’s available. Go. Now!”
“Ehhhh, I’ve seen him around. Seems nice. Buuut…I don’t really like his sweater, honestly, and this song is ending. If there’s another song, I’ll go.”
Be Thou My Vision ends, Happy Day starts up manically
“Oh, darn, this song is too upbeat for a solemn prayer like I need.”
“Yea. And it’s probably the last one. Sorry God, I feel really bad about disobeying you,” (I did feel very bad about that) “if there’s another song that is slower and more somber, then I’ll ask for prayer.”
Happy Day ends, It Is Well begins slowly and somberly
“That guy. Go. I love you.”
I nervously walked the five, grueling miles to the man standing by the wall next to me, spilled my guts, was anointed with oil, prayed for, hugged deeply, and blessed. That was it. I still had a cold, my back still hurt, I still needed to talk to my friends, I still felt kind of awkward… but I had the goofiest smile across my face as I walked to my car. It was such a small thing, really, but it meant the world to me. The Church is awesome!
I realized I had never had to rely on the local church for my emotional and social welfare – my friends on campus filled that role for me. But much of my fear came from the awareness that, one day, I wouldn’t have these friends with me. The instability of my relationships at that time exacerbated latent anxiety about a lonely, partner-less future. Up until that moment, I guess I had never truly believed the local church could possibly be my family. But there I was. I had turned to the church in a time of desperate need and she had provided, by the grace of God.
My culturally standard vice of confining my vision of the local church to a two-hour, weekend ritual prevented me from seeing the full beauty of what it could be for me. A caustic medley of sinful terror had filled the empty space that should have contained a commitment to integrating myself into a church community. But I am fighting to reclaim that holy territory, and God has been faithful to redeem my imagination. As I continue to push into the local body, as they continue to welcome me in their lives and families, I anticipate great spiritual growth. And when my passion falters and I lose sight of the beauty of the church, I will hear God gently telling me,
…ok, so maybe there are some things I still have to work on.