I have successfully settled in Washington, D.C., and while I have one million “ah-ha” moments already brewing, I am going to pause and explore one which has been weighing more heavy on my heart than others.
Specifically, I am struggling with this idea of a, “Church Catch-All.”
Allow me to explain…
I decided it is time to go back to church. “New city, new life,” and all of that. Though I was never able to make time to have that cup of coffee with my friend’s husband (and will obviously try harder next time I am in Oklahoma City), I have decided I am ready to reconnect to a piece of my life that was, for a very long time, the most salient part of my identity. Now that I am permanently in Washington, D.C., I am actively looking to find a community where I can learn and grow, and within whatever spiritual development that comes with this exploration.
So, what does an inquiring mind do to jump-start this process? I took to Google, and eagerly typed, “gay friendly churches in D.C.”
Before I could get too far, I paused on the concept of, “gay-friendly.” Something didn’t sit right with me. Was I looking for, “friendly,” or for, “accepting?”
Yes, I was looking for accepting.
Around the same time as I was having my, what-does-this-mean-and-is-accepting-real-or-is-friendly-all-I’ll-get, moment, I had lunch with one of my dearest friends from high school. She has lived in D.C. for a few years now, and very much exists as a beacon of optimism and positivity. We are cut from a similar cloth and with very parallel upbringings, thus making this specific topic something she would be perfect to aid in processing. And so, we processed.
What I discovered from my friend is that there are a ton of LGBTQ+-accepting churches in D.C., and it was up to me to find the one that matched most of my values.
Easy enough, right?
It’s actually not at all easy, but it is doable. And I’m leaning into that. So far, I have found many churches with gay and lesbian pastors, and churches with a very strong LGBTQ+ presence in the leadership of the church. This is inclusion to me. And this was one of my biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments in a long time. Inclusion is not just having a diversity position or representative in an organization (or school, institution, company, etc.). Inclusion, real and authentic equity and inclusion, exists when you weave diversity and acceptance through the entire operation. And for the first time in a long time, I am seeing religious organizations hold this same value.
I will add for the good of the order, my only experience related to this was a brief visit to a church when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana. This specific church was recommended to me by many LGBTQ+ individuals and allies, and I ventured over one Sunday morning to check it out. When I looked around the congregation, I noticed loads of queer people, blended families, interracial couples, hippies, and a mix of other, often ostracized, identities. I loved it, at first glance and interaction, and felt more safe in that church than I had in years.
Now, please note, this is all not to say that people haven’t found a welcoming place in other churches in that town. It’s just that this specific church had a reputation for being a “catch-all.” One friend called it, “The Gathering of the Oppressed.” This stressed me out.
You feel different in your place of worship?
You feel oppressed from the scripture or how you’re being discussed as a conundrum?
You need safety?
And this certainly did not take away from the spiritual opportunity provided that Sunday morning. It was mostly just an observation that helped me understand the difference between a gay-inclusive space and a gay-friendly operation. I continue to think about that space, and the space I will soon call my church-home as I reconnect in the coming months. And, overall, this impacts my charge today.
Find religious spaces that honor acceptance and authentic inclusion. Celebrate these spaces, appreciate these spaces. Challenge your church and church community to lean toward inclusion, and be cautious of how easy it is to dismiss marginalized groups. Think of the language you use. Calling a population, “homosexuals,” is not going to bring gay people running through the doors of your church. There are ways to address a queer population without making individuals feel like a piece of science. The rigidity of, “homosexual,” often creates this feeling.
To pause and close, I also want to add that Jonathan D. Lovitz’s piece, “Op-ed: It’s Time for Successful Gays to Raise Up the Next Generation,” via The Advocate, is also super relevant here. When I met one of my role models (and LGBTQ icon), Doug Bauder, I was meeting the first person who identified as an out and proud gay pastor. I was so confused. I asked a lot of questions, and he spent a lot of time answering them in an intentional and thoughtful manner. He mentored me, taught me, and guided me. This was huge. And is still huge for me today, especially in how I view and treat the younger generation of gay men out there.
It is time to connect the pieces. Connect to something, and connect others to something. More. Go all in, and be bold. Be proud, but be bold.
*In my, “Coffee with a Christian” post, I received many beautiful messages of support. However, I also received many prayer-filled exclamations. I ask you this, if praying, please pray for clarity and safely within a great church, specifically one which is inclusive and accepting of all. Praying for my sexual orientation, though “thoughtful” of you, is very much missing the mark. I highly encourage you to redirect.
*photos all taken from various places on the web; thanks, Google image search