The last post received a number of responses, both on my blog and via e-mail. i appreciate the comments and a large number of that was support for people who are gay and lesbian to be included in the life of the church.
One important comment reminded us that at the heart of this is a woman who loves God trying to find her way in a world or institution she wants to belong to while being authentic and true to who she is and her beliefs.
Her story was published on the Facebook group and I thought it fitting to copy it here for others to read who may not be a part of the group. So much of her story echoes mine and thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of others who have attempted to be Christian and honest about their sexuality. Here it is… hopefully this will help to heal.
I desire to serve Jesus. I desire to be true to myself. I desire to minister within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) with integrity and be faithful to God’s call on my life. This has not been easy. My journey has been complex and I would like to share some of my story with you.
During my late teens I came to the conclusion that I am a lesbian. I realized that this discovery would not be acceptable to my family or church and so I concealed it. I tried to fit in by being in heterosexual relationships, appearing to be normal and acceptable to the community. However, my ability to pretend to be heterosexual did not last and it wasn’t long before others found out about my sexual orientation. I was told in no uncertain terms that I can not be Christian and lesbian. My family relationships and support system were shattered. The Church’s stance on homosexuality sent a clear message of rejection to me which forced me to leave the Church. The pain and loss was immense.
Several years later I had an encounter with God that made me return to the Church. I knew that God loved and accepted me and I renewed my commitment. I then set out to find a Church. It did not take me long to discover the official stance of the Church was unchanged on same-sex-relationships. At the time the only way for me to be included in the community was either to deny my sexual orientation and live a life of secrecy or live a life of celibacy.
Seeing that my faith was very important to me and to stop the fear and pain of being rejected, I tried to conform by attending several support groups and going for counselling. I was also part of an ex-gay ministry (for recovering gay people) for several years. However none of these efforts changed my sexual orientation. In order to obey the church’s teaching, I lived in denial of who I was and I settled for a life of celibacy and secrecy. The suppression of the truth enhanced my pain and steered me into a deep hole of discontent and depression. Even during this period of denial, I at times, fearfully worried and wondered about what would happen should I meet someone and fall in love. Would I still be able to deny my sexuality, my need for love as well as my desire to give love and to live with a life companion?
My relationship and love for Jesus deepened over the years that followed, I heard and then responded to God’s call to ministry by candidating for the ministry within the MCSA. My whole being was occupied, stimulated and challenged by the Theological and Ministerial training. I will be for ever grateful to the MCSA for the wide expansive education given to me. It was here, during my theological studies that I encountered another perspective on the issue of homosexuality that challenged the traditional stance within the Church. With much research and self-evaluation I discovered new ways of interpreting scripture and found a new way of coming to terms with who I am as a child of God.
I learned that when one reads Scripture in context, the traditional verses that have been used to condemn homosexuality are in all probability not referring to a faithful, loving, committed, respectful relationship between two people of the same sex. I learned that by using the Wesleyan quadrilateral (Scripture, experience, reason and tradition) that my sexuality is a gift from God. I learned that the Church has had a sad history of being sure who to exclude and then to repent later (exclusion of women to the ordained ministry, apartheid). I also learned that at the heart of God is an all inclusive love which is far wider than I can ever comprehend.
Through this learning curve my relationship with Jesus found a new intensity as I embraced the acceptance of God’s love for me…just as I am. Afresh I realized that “nothing” could separate me from God’s love and acceptance. I have also come to a new understanding that my sexuality is part and parcel of who God created me to be – and that God created someone beautiful. Indeed the Gospel of Christ became very good news for me! This knowledge has brought me profound confidence and peace, yet accompanied by much tension about my reality and the traditional stance of the MCSA. Listening to debates and colleagues comment on the issue has been a fearful and painful experience within the MCSA. Numerous times I have wanted to stand-up and say “this is me you are speaking about; speak to me”. However, the lack of “a safe space” and the fear of rejection have kept me in my seat.
In the mean time, by God’s grace I have met a wonderful person, Amanda. In this relationship I discovered that by denying my sexuality, I denied a significant part of my self, my God given means of connecting and loving another human being. This relationship has brought us both much joy and pleasure. We offer one another companionship where we are committed to being respectful, faithful, caring and trustworthy. Our desire has been to honour God and so we are celebrating our love relationship by getting married in Dec 2009. The context and sensitivity of the same-sex debate within the MCSA made me afraid to come out and break the silence. Hence the soul destroying silence, instead of inviting my Church family to celebrate with me.
By God’s grace my immediate family embraced and supported me in my journey of coming to terms with disclosing my sexual orientation and my marriage with Amanda. I am also grateful for the acceptance and support of several colleagues and friends during this journey who have helped me to come to this place.
I have reached the point where I can no longer be silent. I have come to see that it is better to be rejected for who I am than to be accepted for who I am not.
I know that, by sharing with you my story I take a huge risk. I am also concerned for the Churches that I serve. However, I am of the conviction that my relationship and journey with Christ has brought me to this place, which requires me to speak and live in the truth, trusting that this alone will bring freedom. By denying my sexuality and my marriage I am denying who I am and who Jesus wants me to be.
I am not afraid, as I know that God is with us (with me, Amanda and the Church at large).
It is my desire to serve God in the MCSA and to be accepted for who I am. I understand that we are not all of the same mind on this matter and I pray that God will help us to become an …
“… inclusive body of Christ that celebrates diversity in all its facets of religious, social and organisational being…to pastor and welcome all people irrespective of race, social class, disability, sexual orientation etc. [For] to single out any one of these for a special dispensation of salvation would be religiously spurious as well as an affront to our values of human respect, dignity and equality.” (MCSA 2008 Yearbook & Directory, pg 18) and affirm that “we will seek to be a Christ-honouring community: a. celebrating the rich diversity of those called to follow Jesus, honouring the sacred worth of all people and practising our Wesleyan heritage of warmth, welcome and hospitality; b. recognising the authority of Scripture and nothing that in our quest for understanding, there is no one, monolithic and incontrovertible interpretation of it; c. Acknowledging that there are therefore some issues upon which there may never be total unanimity within the church and upon which we must “agree to differ” without reducing our respect for, and trust of, one another.” (MCSA 2008 Yearbook & Directory, pg 81)
I have survived the hardest part already, which is self-acceptance. I made it through – not broken but more confident and complete than I ever was. And I want to share that with the people I love and live with and those I serve within the MCSA. However people react, by God’s grace I will respond to them with love.
Yours in Christ,
Oh Church by Carlo Carretto
How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.
No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, although not completely. And where should I go? To build myself another Church?
But I could only build one with the same defects, because they are mine; defects which I have inside myself. And if I built one, it would be my church, no longer the Church of Christ. I am old enough to understand that I am no better than other people.
If you are in south Africa and want to support Ecclesia and it’s consequential ripple effects in the gay community then the following mail I received may interest you:
This is to inform you that Ecclesia‘s appeal against her verdict and sentence will be heard on Monday the 8th of February at 10:00 (GMT +2) at the Bedfordview Methodist Church.
We are appealing for a strong show of support for Ecclesia in Bedfordview and at main centres across the country on that day. The aim of the show of support is in solidarity with Ecclesia and to call for her to be found not guilty and to be reinstated in her current position. We are appealing to you to commit yourself for one hour to attend one of the events and to bring a friend or family member along with you. We would like you to wear black or dark clothes with a rainbow flag or a pink triangle on your lapel. At Bedfordview especially we would like a large group to gather outside the venue for an hour in a dignified and peaceful manner to show their support for Ecclesia.
We are calling for volunteers from across the country (and even internationally) who would be willing to coordinate one of the events. The event that you coordinate may take the form of a prayer vigil in a Church or a show of support outside a Church. We will produce the wording for the pamphlet that can be copied and handed out at the various venues. Please inbox me if you are willing and able to be one of the coordinators and I will place the event on the events board.
Please publicise the event in your area as widely as possible. Please ensure that Ecclesia‘s issue is raised and spoken about in your particular sphere of influence. Please invite all your friends and family to join our Facebook Group. Please share Ecclesia‘s issue with those who are not on Facebook by emailing them the details, by posting it on your blog and by talking about it. Continue to hold Ecclesia and Amanda in your thoughts and in your prayers.
With your love and support we are confident that Ecclesia‘s appeal on the 8th will be successful!