I bumped into my favorite pastor just a few months after I was asked to leave my Christian academy due to my bisexuality. I was at the super market with my mother running errands. By that time, gossip had gone around town and my coming out was on all the churchgoers lips. I was 14, a virgin not having committed the “sin” many assumed I had. It was the first time seeing him since my departure from the academy.
Eagerly, I went up to him: “Hey pastor!” I extended my hand to shake his.
The pastor looked at my hand, and without a word, walked away.
I turned around and sobbed in my mother’s arms. That was the day I left the church.
I cried reading the prologue of Rachel Held Evan’s new book, “Searching for Sunday; Loving, Leaving, and Finding the church.” I cried in the middle of the book and I cried at the end. I wasn’t expecting to be so intimately impacted by it but I felt I could have written every word myself.
Rachel has written an extraordinary book that crosses religious denominations and generational lines. Rachel discusses her fears, doubts, worries, insecurities, and downfalls. She isn’t afraid to discuss the dark parts of the church, admitting what so many are afraid to admit; the church isn’t perfect.
“We long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable,” she writes in the opening pages.
“We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.”
Ultimately, “Searching for Sunday” gets to the root of things, all by journeying through those biblical sacraments -- baptism, confession, holy order, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage -- that brought her back to the church. Though, not necessarily back to the evangelical churches of her youth.
Her journey is one I can relate to. Her doubts and questions, amplified by her fame in evangelical circles as a blogger, makes her a “polarizing” Christian for those who hold administrative power in evangelical churches.
But if I’m being honest, I’m envious of Rachel. Where her questions and beliefs draw scrutiny by Christian leaders, just who I am makes me unwelcome. I, too, have doubts, yet they are eclipsed by my bisexuality. I could fall in line with the most conservative of Christian’s theology, but my sexual orientation alone would make me spiritually homeless.
For many, my sexuality doesn’t just make me a questionable Christian, it doesn’t allow me to be a Christian at all.
“Searching for Sunday” couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m about to graduate from my university, move to a new city, and begin full time work. All these things should be exciting, and perhaps even a bit scary, for young adults like me.
But the scariest thing for me will be finding a new Seventh-day Adventist Church family.
I’ve always loved God and the church, but by 15 I was given more reasons to leave the church than to stay. And for all intents and purposes I did leave the church, and I haven’t found it again. Not since the day that pastor refused to shake my hand.
I’ve seen glimpses of it. I’ve seen it at the Gay Christian Network and I’ve seen it in the gathering of the suffering. But I haven’t had a church to call home in a very long time. For many reasons, I haven’t attended a single church regularly enough to call myself a member in years. If my coming out during my teenage years wasn’t enough, writing on sexuality and faith on international platforms certainly hasn't made it any easier.
Don’t get me wrong: I reconciled my faith and sexuality. I have a relationship with God, study the Word, and anticipate entering the pearly gates. But as for God’s people, the body of Christ, the church, I haven’t felt truly, fully welcomed through sanctuary doors – at least not without the caveats that would leave parts of me behind since before I came out.
Even still, while spiritually homeless, I frequently write about the church’s conversation on sexuality, gender, and faith. I used to think that I advocate for my LGBT family so that no one would have to face even a tenth of what I’ve gone through at the hands of those who call themselves Christians. That’s still true, but it’s more than that.
In recounting a church plant Rachel and her friends started, she writes, “They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.”
In reading her book I realized I need it too.
I want community. I want the church to welcome me to the pews again. I want to sing and dance with my brothers and sisters. I want to drink the wine and be invited to the table. I want to come home. I want family.
Rachel imagines a church that welcomes everyone to the table.
“The table can transform even our enemies into companions. The table reminds us that, as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family and invited to God’s banquet, we’re stuck with each other; we’re family. We might as well make peace. The table teaches us that faith isn’t about being right or good or in agreement. Faith is about feeding and being fed.”
It’s a beautiful notion and one that reflects the inclusive love of the Jesus story. But I have to wonder if it is too good to be true.
Will we ever feast together on this earth as God’s family?
Rachel built that community in a church she helped plant. It eventually died out, unable to sustain itself financially. She now has made a denominational shift from Evangelicalism to Episcopalian. It suits her current theology best and she’s happy.
I’m in a slightly different place. While it would be nice to attend a church that is affirming of LGBT identities, and sometimes I do to visit, I would have to forgo other beliefs that are much more fundamental to my faith. Like Rachel’s list of sacraments, my list is one of Seventh-day Adventist’s beliefs that keep me in this denomination. Our beliefs in the Sabbath (which we believe is on Saturday, the 7th day), the sanctuary doctrine, and our emphasis on the second coming of Jesus Christ are all integral to my faith.
Even with the condemnation of same-sex relationships, my beliefs most closely align with those of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
However, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to change their beliefs about LGBT people anytime soon.
So, is the church that Rachel, my friends, and I dream about even obtainable? One that is all inclusive and has room for struggling Christians, new believers, seasoned veterans, the lepers and the prostitutes, the straight and the gay?
I don’t know.
Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t, at least not here.
Maybe this dream is meant to remind us that there are greater things in store for us. That longing ache for church that Rachel and I feel - maybe it’ll never be fully quenched until Christ comes again.
Still, until the resurrection, I’ll keep searching for Sunday.