In the past month (since I wrote my last blog post; yeah, it’s been sort of a long time), I’ve gotten the chance to catch up with a lot of friends and talk with them about Spain and about life and just talk in general. Something that's come up frequently has been what my current church situation is like since I originally started my church fast back in June of last year. And to be honest, I’m still not completely sure how to answer that question, but I think that I’m calling Bethel my church for the time being. That might sound a little strange (or maybe it doesn’t *shrugs*), but let me explain. Over the course of several conversations, I’ve explained why I’ve been on a church fast to begin with and what exactly I’d be looking for when I do get around to church searching again. As I mentioned in my last post, I don’t necessarily need a church that validates every single belief that I hold or one that completely agrees with me on every little thing, because that’s probably not a realistic expectation. To me, that’s less of a problem and more a sign of the extensive richness of the faith that we believe in. It’s also the reason why I can never understand why people say that the Bible and Christianity are black and white or how some churches or pastors or writers can so staunchly believe that they have it all figured out and they must be right. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Why else would we have so many different interpretations of the Bible and what Christian lives are supposed to look like? While I do believe in absolute truth, I think that people need to start admitting that living as a Christian is complicated and messy and so much more so than many people make it out to be. So that would be the first thing I’m looking for in a church. They don’t need to agree with me on every little thing, but I would like to find a community that’s a little more open and little more understanding of that complexity that comes with faith.
The main thing that I feel like I’ve been looking for is the reason why I’ve decided that Bethel is going to be my church for the time being: I feel a sense and a level of acceptance and respect here that I don’t think I’ve quite found anywhere else. Even though Bethel’s official position disagrees with me on matters of intersections between faith and sexuality, that’s not the way I’m treated here, and a lot of the time I’m able to forget that their policy even says that. And I think that’s what I’m looking for. Bethel doesn’t agree with me, but they don’t treat me like an outsider. My friends don’t. My professors don’t. And a lot of the staff in student life don’t. I’m treated just like any other member of this community. I can participate fully, and I can even hold leadership positions that I feel like many churches would deny me if I was out to them. They treat me just like any other student goes here, and I don’t feel like I have some sticker on my forehead denoting me as sexually deviant or a broken Christian or anything else that I’ve been called by churches in the past.
Now, that’s great, and I’m glad that I have this safe place, but I think it’s a little sad that I even have to write a blog post like this. I don’t think it’s right for churches to treat LGBT+ people like they’re extra sinful or extra broken because of who they are. As the old quote goes, the church is supposed to be like a hospital for sinners not a country club for saints. If that’s the case, I can’t fathom why influential supposedly Christian figures like Franklin Graham think it’s even remotely okay to say toxic things like “LGBT children are of the enemy.” That’s straight up wrong, inflammatory, poisonous, and not loving in the slightest. Churches are supposed to be safe places where people can let their guard down, rather than being another warzone where people feel like they need to defend who they are as people in order to be accepted and loved.
To get back to the original purpose of this post, all of that is why I consider Bethel to be my church right now. It’s a Christian community of support where I can continue to learn and grow and be supported regardless of who I am and I’m thankful for that. It’s true that this situation probably isn’t ideal, and chapel isn’t quite the same thing as actually going to church, but for now it’s going to have to be enough. I still don’t feel like I’m ready to step back into a church building yet, but I’m hoping my final semester here will help me get there.
So, to everyone who’s in my life right now, thank you. Thank you for not treating me any differently. Thank you for letting me be me. Thank you for not looking at me any differently than anyone else who you might come across on campus or in life. And thank you for being a safe place.
I’m not really sure when I’ll end up going back to the church as an institution, but I do know that when I do, I’ll be ready to be there and not leave again. Until then, I’m thankful for this community and this place and hoping that I’ll be able to go back sooner rather than later.