I stood there in the dark parking lot, light rain falling, tears streaming down my cheeks–and I wondered; where do I go now?
I had just finally mustered up enough courage to attend my first city-wide Christian young adult’s event. These had been the highlight of my month on more than one occasion. Young people, ages 18-30ish all gathered in one place to celebrate Jesus, be encouraged and then enjoy some fun and food afterward.
The reason it had been so long since I had attended was simple. I used to be part of the volunteer leaders that put it together. I would help bake cookies, set up, clean up and host. I would wait by the front door for people to arrive and help them to feel welcome and cared for. This time, I snuck in late with a friend. I hoped that no one would notice me and try to make small talk. I had gone from the joyful welcoming committee to hiding in anxious worry.
As the music played, I found some friends and sang my heart out. I thought, this isn’t so bad Cheryl. Why did you wait so long? You’ve just been letting your fear hold you back. These people love you, they get you, they don’t judge you.
Then it was time for the message.
Let me say that it’s never okay to preach something as “orthodox” at a non-denominational gathering. That night, that’s exactly what happened. The speaker discussed identity. Where I agree that our identity comes from God alone, I don’t agree that people who are LGBTQ chose to be so. I don’t agree that we ascribed that label to ourself. I don’t agree that it’s not part of us.
After hearing a message that labels me as deceived and unwelcome, whether that was the intent or not, I left after the last song. I was hurt. Many people had encouraged me to come. To hear the speaker say that one cannot have their identity in Christ if they claim to be “Christian and Bisexual” while looking right at me –it was just too much.
I love Jesus. I love him a lot. He saved my life more than once. I know the Bible well. I know that God made me fearfully and wonderfully and that no amount of praying takes away any part of me–not my like for music, not my writing ability, not my green eyes, not my brown hair. It doesn’t take away my gender, my blood type, my allergies or my sexuality. I am made in God’s image as I am. I am broken and messy and feeling out-of-place.
I long to worship and serve alongside my friends. I cannot, because I am preached against. How on Earth are my brothers and sisters in Christ supposed to treat my like a friend when messages like that one teach them I am a project? a problem to be solved?
No one noticed me run out. To be fair, I don’t think that many people noticed me come in. Before getting out the door, I called a friend to come get me. He could hear the tears in my voice and picked me up. This is support. Support is sitting with you in the struggle. Support is not telling you that you’re doing it wrong. It’s compassion and empathy and being present. I hung up and walked nervously while the tears started to roll.
Crying in that parking lot, I couldn’t handle the nervous energy. I was reeling and scarred to my core. The past eight months of holding my head high and pushing through the loneliness of being the token queer Christian had gotten to me. Unable to be alone, I called a good friend of mine to hear a voice that cared. I called him crying, I don’t even remember all that I said. The one thing that remains in my mind is “Where am I supposed to go now? Where can I go to worship with friends?”
He assured me that I am right, and that he agrees with me. That it’s not a sin to be different. For the first time in over a year, I felt validated. I felt heard and I felt a little less alone.
After four days of solid tears, I am taking steps to make a safe place so that no one has to feel the way that I felt. Sitting in the pew that night, I hugged a girl with a similar situation as myself. It made me wonder how many young people in that room weren’t heterosexual and now feel like God doesn’t want them?
He’s here, he wants you. Sorry for those of us who are setting up camp on the wrong mountains.