You might wonder why I, a straight woman, am involved with Sanctuary and the LGBT community. It’s a good question, particularly since I don’t have any close family members who identify as LGBT.
To answer that question fully, I need to tell you a little about my experience with church. Although I grew up going to church occasionally, it wasn’t until college that I began following Jesus. Worshiping with brothers and sisters in Christ was amazing, and honestly, I know that God drew me toward closer with music. Playing, singing, writing music, and joining with others to lead people into worship became huge parts of my life and things that gave me great joy. The desire to worship with others naturally led me to the church, where I led musical worship and felt as though I’d finally found my place. The church was my home.
And then, quite suddenly, it wasn’t. More than once, my church community, my home, has been lost to me. And while “shunned” isn’t the right word, let’s just say that what’s happened to me in churches makes me understand that word more fully.
It’s not all the church’s fault. I understand that. But I also felt my heart break, and I spent years learning to be fully myself again.
But here’s the thing: something always, always draws me back. I think it’s love.
I think it’s love and the realization that the only way we can grow in love is to gather as brothers and sisters in Christ. A wise friend of mine says this: “We have to know each other well enough to sin against each other. And we have to love each other through forgiveness.”
The church should be a place where we know each other so well that the cycle of sin and forgiveness is familiar yet always new, always pointing toward resurrection, always filled with grace. We can only really know each other if we stay together through the years, through the pain and the joy, for better and for worse.
And it is with this in mind that I’ll share a parallel story, one that is equally formative for me.
After finishing school and getting married, James and I met up with a childhood friend of his: Justin Lee. We knew Justin had started a ministry called the Gay Christian Network and wanted to hear more about it. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that dinner was a turning point in our lives. Justin’s story was that impactful, his love for Jesus that clear, and I remember just wanting to hug him as we said goodbye because I didn’t want him to feel alone.
Over the next few years, we gradually became more familiar with the GCN community and became close to a friend of James’s from college who had recently come out. Some of our other good friends began studying scripture and became affirming as a result, and I watched them move through that process, all the while wondering what to make of it all. It seemed clear to me then that scripture didn’t affirm same-sex relationships, but I also knew by then that being gay wasn’t a choice. I saw my gay friends in relationships with amazing people who put following Jesus above everything else in their lives. I saw the good fruit born of those relationships.
And so I became unsure. I didn’t know what to believe, but it was ok, because nobody was telling me to think one thing or another. I had the space and time to process, think, pray, get to know people, and ask questions.
I don’t remember specifically when I became affirming, because the process took several years. But I do remember reaching a tipping point… a point at which I became comfortable thinking differently about the scriptures that I’d read so many times. My faith felt able to hold the tension of differing views, of disagreement, of uncertainty. I reached a point where Jesus’s command to love God and love our neighbors above all else really began to be above all else when I considered questions about faith and sexuality.
Does that mean I’m right? I really don’t know. But I’m ok with that, too.
When did the LGBT community begin to matter so much to me? When I realized how many friends I had there, even ones I hadn’t met yet. When James and I attended the 2012 GCN Conference in Orlando, bearing much pain from church wounds, and we were welcomed with open arms. When we realized that this community was our church and these brothers and sisters were our home. Singing with them, worshiping with them, taking communion with them… these have been great blessings in my life.
So now we begin a journey to help connect our LGBT brothers and sisters with the larger church. We know that we are just one small paragraph in a much larger story, that much has been written before and that many chapters are yet to be penned.
The church should be a sanctuary. A place where we we are all safe to worship exactly as we are. A place where we know each other so well that the cycle of sin and forgiveness is familiar yet always new, always pointing toward resurrection, always filled with grace. We can only really know each other if we stay together through the years, through the pain and the joy, for better and for worse. And we can only really be known if we are free to come exactly as we are.
We believe that churches across a wide spectrum of theological perspectives can love and welcome their LGBT neighbors. We believe that the LGBT community deserves safe space to worship. And we believe that church bodies can and should stay together because we all need each other.
This is my story, this is my song. Maybe yours has a different plot, a different melody, and maybe you disagree with me somehow. Whatever the case, this is your sanctuary, and you are welcome here.
Post by Rebecca Farlow