campus ministries

Coming Out as a Christian Liberal

By Rev. Mindi

I attended and graduated from a small, liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest, a college affiliated with my denomination.  In my first year, I became involved in all of the different Christian organizations on campus, ranging theologically from middle of the road to conservative. The few theologically liberal Christians on campus that I knew (that admitted to being Christian) didn’t attend most of the Christian organizations’ events or kept quiet about being theologically liberal most of the time, as I did for my first year.

But by my sophomore year I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. I didn’t like hiding part of myself just so I could feel like I belonged and fit in to Campus Crusade or any of the other groups. I grew up in a congregation that was Welcoming and Affirming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning folks, and there was a group on campus that was the equivalent of a gay/straight alliance. In addition, my pastor had recently written a book about his journey as an evangelical pastor coming from a place of “love the sinner,” to full acceptance and affirmation of gay and lesbian people. I wanted to share this book with the group and hopefully find a place where I was welcome with my liberal Christian theology.

I attended my first meeting and after about a half hour, I finally introduced myself. When I mentioned I had brought copies of my pastor’s book for free, I heard a collective gasp as people’s eyes grew wide. I suddenly realized they thought I was there to condemn them and I quickly had to assure them that was not the case.  Once they knew I was not only an ally but convinced by my beliefs that God’s love meant a full inclusion of all people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, the tension left the room.  Following the meeting, several people stayed and we chatted about our religious backgrounds.

What followed was story after story of rejection. A Missouri Synod Lutheran who had faithfully attended church with her grandparents until she came out at seventeen and when the church rejected her, she rejected the church and Christianity. A Catholic who now identified as spiritual but not religious. An evangelical Christian who was now an atheist because she had not experienced love from Christians in the way she imagined love was supposed to be.  Story after story after story. 

And finally, a story of acceptance.  After almost everyone had left, a woman who identified as a Quaker and attended the local Friend’s meeting spoke to me. She spearheaded change in the food purchases by the campus cafeteria in regards to migrant worker’s rights and was involved in raising awareness of social issues on campus.  She shared that it was her trust in Jesus’ teachings in why she was involved so much in the local community.  But as far as I know, she never shared about her faith in that way outside of this small gathering, with the few who had not left.

It’s time for liberal Christians to come out and stand up. This week, Jason Collins came out (and I had to look up who he was because I’m not an NBA basketball fan). Sixteen years ago yesterday, Ellen DeGeneres came out on live TV. I was in college, junior year, at a “coming out” party put on by the student group and the one fraternity on campus that did not discriminate based on sexual orientation.  Every day, people come out to their families, to their pastors, to their bosses, to their friends.

How many liberal Christians still hide their beliefs, because they don’t want to rock the boat? How many liberal Christian pastors stay quiet when a member says a derogatory slur, making the excuse that “they are a long-term member, I can’t offend them,” or some other excuse? How many liberal Christian leaders say nothing because “the issue hasn’t come up in my congregation”? 

How many more stories will we continue to hear of people who have been rejected by their church, so they have rejected their church, their religion, or God, altogether?

It’s been seventeen years since I sat in that campus room and came out as a liberal, welcoming and affirming Christian. After that moment, I didn’t hold back from my friends my views. Eventually I dropped out of most of the campus Christian organizations, except for one, the Student Chaplain’s group. My junior year also marked the year I was not alone. While I had known a few other liberal Christians on campus involved in the different organizations, they had kept quiet in public about their views. But my junior year, two others from the Student Chaplain’s joined the gay/straight campus alliance group. And one eventually came out about her sexuality as well.  And that all happened because one night I was hanging out with members of the alliance group and these two Student Chaplains came up to me and I introduced them and invited them to join the alliance group.  

It’s been seventeen years, and yet I know so many pastors still afraid to come out as welcoming and affirming or open and affirming today. It’s long overdue, friends. Come on out. Stand up for equality and justice for all LGBT folks. Even if you don’t think your church is ready to join O&A or W&A yet, they aren’t going to get there at all unless they know their pastor will help lead the way. And you never know what youth is hanging on by a thread, needing to know not only that God loves them, but that God’s representatives in their community—their church and especially their pastor—love them too. Otherwise, I fear that more college campus alliance groups will be filled with the same stories mine was—stories of rejection and loss, instead of stories of Christ’s love, faith, and hope.

TCU experiences offer insight on future of church

Aside from General Assembly itself (which I am regrettably missing and desperately following via Twitter), Texas Christian University is one of main faces of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in modern society. That is, other than Colonel Sanders. (Sadly not kidding—there’s some trivia for you!) After all, we’re the biggest Disciples school! That, and we won the Rose Bowl. Throughout highschool, TCU was the beacon of  all things DOC for me. I knew at least 20 people who had gone there, and I imagined it to be one happy, close-knit community. It was largely due to this that I chose the school.

Once I got to school, I realized both how much and how little being “Disciples of Christ” really means.

On one hand, every time I met another DOC student, we were both particularly excited due to the rarity of meeting other Disciples. “Disciples” serves almost as a nationality or ethnicity, it is so deeply engrained in our faith identity. Whenever I meet those students, it is similar to the phenomenon of running into Americans outside the states. “No way! Small world!”

However, on the other hand, finding another “Disciple” doesn’t mean much in regards to beliefs.

Growing up at St. Andrew Christian Church, the home of the Rev. Holly McKissick (whom I hope everyone heard at General Assembly), I was under the grandiose impression that all Disciples congregations were like mine—explicitly open to all people regardless of age, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, financial status, etc. I thought all youth groups went to anti-war rallies together and spent Wednesday nights in the summer watching documentaries about immigration.

But as I grew older and started attending a regional church camp, and then especially when I got to TCU, this idea was quickly corrected. Not everyone has a faith tradition like mine. Not many do, really.

Whenever I talk about my congregation and all of its openly gay couples who adopt children, some of my fellow Disciples get visibly uncomfortable. It’s clear—that’s not at all what their churches would accept. Moreover, when a pastor in the TCU area recently came out, people were considerably upset.

It’s reasons like these why many in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) claim we should not make an official statement proclaiming the equality and acceptance of GLBTQ members of our denomination. We’re already divided enough, they say. It’s changing too fast, especially for Texas, they add.

But TCU itself has offered far too strong of a counterargument for me to agree with those opponents. The reason? Gay students with no faith home.

Almost all of my gay friends were spiritual or went to church when they were growing up, but quit shortly after coming out. Why? Why not. They don’t want to be part of an institution that doesn’t accept them. They don’t want to be part of an institution that makes meandering statements, beating around the bush about an “open table.” What does that really mean?

They want the church to reach out to them and say: “YOU are accepted. YOU are loved. God made you this way.”

And while Disciples of Christ, of course, does claim to seek “wholeness in a fragmented world,” what good is that when I am trying to explain what our denomination believes to my skeptical, hurt LBGTQ friends? “Uh, it’s this denomination, and we’re pretty progressive and it’s gay-friendly…Well, not officially, exactly…”

It’s when you mention this little loophole—“not officially”—that your LGBTQ friend stops listening. She’s heard it all before. He wants specific validation, someone who is willing to accept him for who he is. Although someone would claim it’s petty or unnecessary, they need it printed in black on the bulletin. Otherwise, it’s just an empty statement—to good to be true.

LGBTQ or not, most young people who have become disenchanted with the Church say it’s due to the Church’s stance on homosexuality. Why doesn’t the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) realize this and capitalize upon it? Why don’t we see this as a time to finally find something to believe in?

If the church can find the strength to officiate our stance on an “open table” for all—including during our hiring of clergy—perhaps we can reach out to those who want so badly to be accepted and actually mean it when we say—“Welcome.”

By Emily Atteberry