Today, I’m not going to speak to you as an amazing and passionate Transgender Church activist. Today, I speak as one of you, an average run-of-the-mill heterosexual female Christian, who has no need to worry about being welcomed at most mainline Protestant Churches. I'm going to write as if I were just an average woman. Growing up in the Church, and being relatively upper middle class, I somehow grew into my tween- early teenage years as a bit of an elitist snob. I felt I was better than everyone else because I was not only a middle-class white kid, who mostly got what I wanted when I wanted it, but also because I was a Christian who followed the rules. I started to feel that I was better than others, both outside and sometimes even inside the Church. Outside the Church, at places like school and the neighborhood, my faith was always put on a pedestal. I was always made to feel a bit holier-than-thou and a bit too pure--a “goody two-shoes.”
Inside the Church, I felt this way because in going to Sunday School, I was able to answer most questions the kids my age should already know, and when I went to youth group, the youth leader would sometimes ask me a question about the Bible because she didn't know the answer. Sometimes on youth events my peers would cuss, or talk about going to a party to drink, or something along those lines. I had always been raised not to do those things, and I never did. I always felt better than everyone, and I felt I was above them and better than them for being a "Good Christian" in comparison.
In my late teen/early adult years I started to get out of the snobby state of being and I learned from my mistakes. When I was 16 I started to associate myself with a different group of people. Some of these people were pagans, others were atheists, some were Jewish, others were punk rockers, and others still were Goth. Last, but not least, were open-minded liberal Christians; some were gay, others were gay friendly; all were Great Christians who have taught me a lot. After being with these people, I started to leave behind my snobbish attitude and through this process I exchanged it for a more open and welcoming attitude. I continued to be a bit snobby though until my 20's, where I am finally starting to get the idea of real welcoming.
Real welcoming means welcoming others because Jesus welcomed us! Up until this year I never really thought about the terms "Open and affirming" speaking to straight people or any other group that wasn't LGBT. I always thought that word was, and it is in fact, code for "We welcome and love the LGBT community as the Christ inside of us calls us to do so without judgment or trying to change them once we get them in Church." This summer, July 9-13 at General Assembly for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I spent a great deal of my time working at the GLAD booth talking to people from all walks of life and learning a little about them and their stories. On top of listening to peoples stories at the GLAD booth, I also went to a resource group about building an inclusive Church. In participating in these two opportunities a lot of talk was shared on being welcoming to all of God's people. Being welcome to women, young people, disabled people, the elderly, people of cultures and ethnicities different than our own, people of different theological and doctrinal beliefs other than our own (I am STILL working on this one myself), and people of different socio-economic statuses.
I have heard this quote by many people before and probably even from a litany of worship: "We welcome others because HE welcomed us."
You are probably thinking “Ok so how did Christ welcome you Miss Debbie?” Let me answer that for you by sharing a snippet of my story with you. This is where I switch from writing as a plain woman and write to you as a Transgender woman. Growing up in a conservative family attending a VERY STRICT denomination (the Church of The Nazarene) I grew up hearing that God’s love is unconditional and welcoming to all, but seeing from God’s “spokespeople” (Pastors and Church representatives) I saw that God’s Kingdom and even God’s Church IS in fact conditional and not welcoming to all. It first started when a single divorced mother came to our Church. Her daughter and I went to the same daycare and became good friends. I later heard from my parents that the Church fussed not over her being divorced or a single mother but the small slits in her skirt. Later still, when I was a teen I began to branch out of the theology I was taught, and I began to make up my own mind about God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, the Bible, and what I believed as a Christian. I realized I liked men at about 13 and I didn’t have to reconcile faith with sexuality I just simply knew God loved me and that Christ would have fellowshipped with me just like he did in the many stories we read about in the Bible. I knew that I was loved by the Lord and even the triune God: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But I didn’t quite feel welcomed by Christ just yet. I spent my life sharing with others that God IS a God of welcome and that God more than loves you God even likes you no matter who you are!
But I wasn’t practicing what I preached. I felt a disconnect between myself and truly being welcomed in the world of Christendom. I felt this strange disconnect for a few years even into my transition, when so many people in the Christian realm welcomed me; I didn’t feel so welcomed, though--I knew I was, I just didn’t feel it. And then this year I went to the General Assembly for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I finally felt connected. I finally felt welcomed from God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as well as the entire Christian realm. Christ first TRULY welcomed me at a denominational assembly. “We welcome others because HE first welcomed us.”
This quote has stuck with me, and I ask you this question in closing: isn't this what Christianity is all about anyway? Welcoming others because Christ first welcomed us? I certainly think so.