Greg's Weekly Word: "hurt/healing"
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
No Latin roots or etymologies this week. This week, these aren't really even my words.
In preparing to speak with some therapists and counselors about faith, the church, and LGBTQ+ folx, I asked one of our LGBTQ+ church members if I could share examples from her life. Specifically, how the church and Christians harmed her, but also how the church and Christians (and specifically, Augusta Heights) are helping her heal. In reading what she wrote, I knew others needed to hear it.
I offer her responses to my questions/prompts, in her own words (with only minor edits for length, grammar, spelling, etc.) and with her permission. I know this is longer than my usual posts, but well worth it.
As a person who is LGBTQ+, what was most hurtful from the Church/Christians?
I think it was the loss of close relationships and the loss of pretty much everything I “knew” to be true, which led to a loss of identity.
To the people I trusted, who were like family, as well as my own biological family, I was no longer a person or an equal – I was a label and a problem to be fixed. No history or personal experiences mattered. I was “less than” and no longer able to volunteer with the children or youth, even though I’d spent years building relationships with them. It was not okay to ask or entertain questions that challenged their interpretation. They had the answers, with the Bible as proof, and I was clearly just stupid/incompetent or deceived by the devil to disagree or question them. Challenging your belief system is a very difficult thing to do, so their fear and hesitancy is understandable. But I wasn’t worth enough to any of them to try. I had friends (who held the same fundamentalist beliefs) whom I considered very close at the time say, “You know how I feel, but you are still you, and I still love you.” These turned out to be empty words, as they left me out of get-togethers and distanced themselves. As I tried to make sense of all this, I came to the conclusion that I was the common denominator, and something was wrong with me or what I said. The message I internalized was that all love is conditional, and sooner or later I would reach that limit. It’s a scary and lonely place to be.
I was no longer a person or an equal – I was a label and a problem to be fixed.
I had spent my life devoted to living out my faith. I was taught that pleasing God, knowing the Bible, and fighting my naturally ingrained sin were the most important things to li a life that was worth anything. I devoted myself to these ideas, and studied the Bible in depth and often, and based all of my decisions on what it said. I was involved in Christian organizations, “discipled” others, and spent time with people just to convince them to believe the “gospel” and become believers. I spoke the language and excelled at playing the part. Heaven forbid I be a disappointment to God, although I didn’t realize that fear at the time. It’s who I was, and I genuinely believed I was doing the right thing and being a faithful servant.
When I began to study the Bible differently, and started leaning toward different conclusions, my trusted church leaders read many verses to me about how I was an abomination and I was deliberately going against God. They claimed it wasn’t their words, it clearly came from God. They confidently spoke for God, declaring what God had told them as they prayed for my repentance and redemption. Since I still held the belief that the Bible was equivalent with God, it felt like a personal message from God himself, one that I had to accept to be a Christian. For someone who spent her life trying to please God/not be a disappointment, this was devastating. I lost my foundation. I couldn’t get behind this institution that treated people this way, so who was I now? And what did I believe? My life until this point felt like one big deception, and I didn’t know what to do with that.
How have you found healing in the Church/Christians?
After my experience with religion, I was reluctant to look for a new church. I was skeptical that one existed, and I didn’t want to expose myself to more shame and criticism. Unfortunately, healing churches are incredibly rare. (Augusta Heights a needle in field of haystacks.) Looking back, I believe it was a miracle from God that I found one and had a specifically opposite experience.
What brings the most healing is the people. I was skeptical for a long time, but their consistency over time has proved healing to much of the pain. After my first visit, I left without speaking to anyone, and the next day received an email from the pastor saying he was glad I was there. I felt noticed and wanted. He seemed to be unbothered by the fact that I had a girlfriend and he seemed genuine. As I went back and began to meet others in the congregation, they seemed to also be welcoming and genuine. I have never felt more respected as a person. My feelings weren’t questioned, and my pain was validated, yet not defining. I was just accepted as I was, as an equal person instead of a label or a problem that needed fixing. Loving me as a person was more important than their religious beliefs. Even as one giant mess, they spent time with me, invited me to coffee, their homes, their lives. It was personal. I was free to ask questions and share my doubt, and these were met with patience and compassion (and still are). Deconstructing and reconstructing my faith was not intimidating to them, but seemed familiar. Pain and questions seemed familiar. Where before there was no open listening, here that’s pretty much all there was – listening and asking me open questions. They shared their experience, but there was no pressure to adopt their beliefs. This response cultivated freedom and respect for my own conclusions, with the feeling of no judgment. It built my confidence to use my own brain and own what I believed.
Another healing factor is the freedom to not have answers to big or small questions, and no timeline to figure it all out. In one of many conversations to help me process what I still and no longer believe, I was asked if there was anything I believed about God. (It’s important to note that the tone was helpful rather than judgmental.) After some thought, I was only able to say “I believe God is patient,” and that was affirmed. I needed that. This simple question was a guiding question for me, and I still ask myself similar questions today.
By losing who I believed God to be, I actually found God.
I still have issues with trusting people, and when people describe themselves as “Christian” major red flags of skepticism flare up. The same happens when someone says confidently that God personally told them something specific that is unmistakable. I still worry sometimes that I am going to become “too much”, which comes from my own scars and insecurity, but my church family has proven consistently that I have people in my corner, people who love me. My church family has been a factor in reframing my faith story, that has always been important to me, into a story of faith that still exists with greater authenticity has helped bring healing to some deep spiritual wounds.
Is there anything else that you'd like to share about your experience as an LGBTQ+ person in the Church?
By losing who I believed God to be, I actually found God. Ironically, I know God better by knowing less about God. I am much more comfortable with the mystery, and it feels more real.
I still can’t open a Bible and read it by myself. I just have flashbacks that I don’t care to entertain.
I still don’t know what I believe about prayer, particularly when it comes to asking God for things. Contradicting prayers and expecting things from God are confusing ideas to me. When I talk to God, I tell God my thoughts and feelings, and I ask a lot of questions. For whatever reason, this makes me feel safe and connected.
I have accepted that these hurtful experiences will never not hurt. I spent a lot of time fighting grief and trying to overcome it so that it will just be over and gone. But the more I fight it, the more control it has. I recently listened to a podcast about making friends with grief. Sometimes it stays for tea, sometimes it stays for a weekend visit, sometimes you don’t see it for a while. Friends can be annoying at times, but friends are not threatening. Grief from the loss can visit at the same time as the joy from all that is gained.
I am grateful to serve a church that can offer this kind of healing, even if we are a needle in a field of haystacks. And I hope and pray that one day every community of faith will be willing and able to do the same.