This Week in Church: Holding Alllllll the Tension Between the Stunningly Beautiful and Deeply Infuriating

Welcome to the series wherein I share my take-aways from church. The things that, I think, are beneficial to all of us to know or think about, whether or not we believe in any church-related things.

A picture of a small chaple with a steeple in a field, with the text This Week in Church written on the sky.

This week in church, we had one part of a community conversation that is both stunningly beautiful and deeply infuriating.

It's an odd pair of feelings to hold in tension.

My church is going through a process of determining whether it will become LGBTQ+/SSA-affirming. (Explainer: for the church world, being affirming means that anyone in the church can be members, get married, and be in a position of leadership, no matter their sexuality or gender identity. SSA means same-sex attracted and is generally used by those who have a more traditional view of sexuality. People have chosen this label for themselves, so I include it.)

In my church, our culture has been one that felt inclusive, with welcome in the community never being in question (as welcome as anyone could feel, I suppose, once they know they aren't afforded an equal place at the table), so the fact that we have a rule excluding people from marriage and leadership (handed down from our denomination) was, I think, a genuine surprise to many.

This conflict between our culture and rules came to a head, and now here we are, having a series of conversations about whether or not we will leave our denomination and become affirming or stick around and stay traditional.

Hence the stunningly beautiful and infuriating process. I love what is happening and I am full of rage for it, all at the same time.

It's beautiful because:

1. The conversations being held are deep, meaningful, vulnerable, and (as far as I know) unprecedented. Usually, churches make decisions like this by a vote or in a back room and are afraid to hold space for this kind of tension.

2. It is being led by both straight and LGBTQ+/SSA people who all came in with open, compassionate hearts.

3. These kinds of conversations are proven to be exactly the thing to open up people's hearts and minds when it comes to the equality of others.

4. A strong community holds tension and disagreement and has room for many views at the table (within limits, which was also stated by one of the speakers).

It's infuriating because:

1. Why does this even have to happen in the first place?

2. I have a deep feeling that we are having a series of prolonged, beautiful, vulnerable conversations over the equality of human beings and that does not sit well.

3. One of the LGBTQ+/SSA members of the church said at the last meeting that her deepest fear was that her getting to be fully included would exclude someone else, and she would hate that, which is lovely and generous but also it seems like everyone is forgetting that there is a difference between a rule that excludes someone based on their identity and a person who excludes themselves because they can't abide by the inclusion of someone else.

4. The LGBTQ+/SSA members are being put in a position of needing to trot out their personal stories, identity, and pain in order to humanize themselves for the congregation. I am sure that those who are publicly sharing are doing it by choice and that this is exactly the kind of thing that changes people's hearts and minds, but it is also deeply unfair to them.

5. There is a difference between being in community with people you disagree with and that community having an official stance on equality that you disagree with.

6. There is a huge emotional weight and uncertainty being carried by the LGBTQ+/SSA members who are still attending church while this is happening, which suuuuucks because it means they are left with an additional burden the rest of us do not necessarily feel, for however long this takes.

Soooo.... as you can see, the infuriating part is a little longer and a little more ranty, as negatives tend to be. That doesn't take away from the realness of the beautiful parts, it just adds to the tension. Tension that I have decided I can carry for at least as long as the LGBTQ+/SSA members of the church are choosing to be around for it. If they are in, I am in with them.

I am so grateful that my church is willing to dive into the muck and have real conversations about the difficult aspects of its identity and that it is willing to give them the space and time needed, and also so angry that this is even necessary and so impatient about how long it is taking.

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