Below is what came to me early this morning as I prepared for our church’s annual meeting. The issue of being an affirming church and one of complete inclusion was on the agenda and I was asked to speak. Funny how after all these years, religion again presents itself as a lesson in self awareness and knowledge for in my late teens I was kicked out of church for being gay. I hadn’t visited this painful memory in decades or even remembered how it nurtured seeds of self-doubt, loneliness and isolation. These three are the money makers of addiction and undoubtedly what lead to my early days of drinking and using. It’s difficult to tap into the beginning years, hell I was addicted for so long, but the right spark always sets painful memories on fire. Here’s what I wrote:
This day takes me back in time. Back through years of living, and learning, sorrow and regret to 1983. Close to the onset of my drug and alcohol use. Wait, before I discuss that, let me go back even further to when I was around fourteen, when one day, seemingly out of the blue, my mom had a talk with me about who I was and how I was perhaps different. Nothing long and drawn out, nothing belabored. Just an easy “oh by the way” type of convo, confirming that she understood I was different and that it was okay. She loved me unconditionally.
I later began to understand that she had “outed” me, even before the term existed. It was on her confirmation that I stood. Confident and convinced that I was okay. That I was good. Different but good.
Now 1983 was the year my diary was “found” and presented to the Senior Paster at Altadena Seventh Day Adventist Church. It contained my musings; detailed entries of a day in the life of me. I journaled about my fears and dreams.
And it was enough, and it was too much, for him. He kicked me out the church, stripped my name from the church roll and I was no longer a member. Now mind you, I had been a member since I’d been in my mother’s womb. But all that changed.
The details he gave of his decision and what it would take for me to reinstate myself broke my back. Humiliated and afraid, I ran as far away from the church as I could and all that I had learned living 18+ years as a Seventh Day Adventist: Cradle Roll, Pathfinders, religious education, the teachings of Ellen G. White. I abandoned it all. Content to gate myself in from the hurt and abandonment I felt.
But here’s what’s wrong with that: when we gate ourselves in, we gate others out.
My father, my lion, was an elder in the church. Much respected and adored. He was a pillar at Altadena Seventh Day Adventist Church and almost fanatical in his faith. When all this went down it created a divide between us. And the further I ran from the church the larger the divide became. My gate grew high as the years passed. A fortress of protection with walls too tall for even my father to scale.
It goes without saying that we lost years. No, we lost decades of time that we never reclaimed. He died in 2015 without us having one conversation about my sexuality. Not even one because it got too big to even talk about.
But here’s the thing…
In spite of my years of running, God blessed me. He loved and comforted me. God sheltered me in times of darkness and HE knew my name. I can peruse over specific times in my life and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God didn’t forsake me. He stood fast on his promises.
Even now the Book of Romans, Chapter 8, Verses 35-39 comforts me.
What I know for sure is “nothing can separate me from the love of God…” not religion; not even the church.
Obviously, it hurts that we are here. Hurts that the church I joined after 33 years of running is at a place where a vote for inclusion is even necessary. But then again take a look at our world. What’s happening is not happening somewhere out there. It’s right here in San Diego California; in our church. We are a microcosm of the larger reality.
So, basically it starts right here. With us. We have an opportunity to be the change we want to see by confirming that all are worthy. All are welcome. All deserve a seat at the table.