In my youth, I was a bit of a church hot shot.
I checked all the boxes. I dressed conservatively, I didn’t date, didn’t swear. I volunteered for every mission trip and befriended all of the unpopular kids.
Because of my squeaky clean image, I got asked to do a lot of things around the church; reading during the service, helping with the younger youth, teaching Sunday school… I didn’t realize I was ‘flagged’ as an important up-and-coming member of my evangelical church.
I’m not sure what that would have looked like. Did they have an eye on me to be an elder? Surely not, since the shift had already started towards disallowing women in leadership roles. Perhaps a deacon? No idea.
Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment I began to lose my VIP status. I graduated high school in 2010. In 2012, I was invited back to speak at my former high school’s baccalaureate service; a church service for the soon-to-be graduates.
I was supposed to give a speech on living out your faith in college; holding fast in your morals after leaving our conservative community.
I knew what they wanted to hear. The leaders of the conservative Mennonite and evangelical congregations wanted to put a shining example of purity on the podium.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested what the leaders wanted to hear. I was there for the kids; the high school students, most of whom would be going one of two ways, as so many of my classmates had done.
The ultra conservative kids–my peers–would either enter the secular world and become enamored with it or reject it completely. They see only two options because we were taught only two possible outcomes. Either you are in the world, or you are apart of it. In college, you reach a fork in the road, and you either reject the church’s teachings and fully immerse yourselves in the world of debauchery or you flee from that, decide that the secular world is too much and retreat into missionary work in Costa Rica.
I wanted to impart on the students that there are more than two options. The world isn’t really that black and white. I told the students that in college you do have options; to live out your faith or to not. But living out your faith doesn’t necessarily mean passing out tracts with the Intervarsity group or arguing with the science teacher about evolution.
I told the students that I didn’t fit into the campus Christian group. The people I felt most blessed by the presence of? My atheist friends. My Muslim friends. My Buddhist friends. My gay and lesbian friends.
At the word lesbian, there was an audible gasp and murmur from the back of the crowd where the adults sat. For once, I was speaking what I actually believed, and it was “not appropriate”.
Essentially my conclusion (from my notes):
“Don’t be afraid.
Jesus calls us to be in the world. I show the love of God and the radical love of Jesus by loving those that the church has rejected have not had positive experiences with the church. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.”
f I were giving the speech now, I would have used stronger language].
I said it. I stood up there and actually said what I believed. It was freeing and confidence building, both of which my evangelical church would say is wrong. Lean not on your own understanding and all that jazz.
But it strengthened my understanding of God. Of Jesus. Of what I’m supposed to do on this earth. It was the beginning of a new chapter of my faith.
It was the end of a chapter as well. Afterwards, I was told that my speech caused “discomfort”. Good. That’s what I wanted.
I learned that the church is scared of lesbians in particular. And I was never asked to speak at a church function again.
Hopefully my speech helped someone.