The following is a guest post from my wife, the Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian. It was originally published as part of the GLAD (Gay, Lesbian, & Affirming Disciples) Easter Writing Project. GLAD is an advocacy group within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
As a straight woman, I get mistaken for gay a lot. When I was in the museum field, I was a member of the Alliance for Gays and Lesbians in the American Association of Museums. One year I went to their breakfast meeting and “my pals” at my table made me stand to give our collective feedback on an issue. That evening I had two women try to ask me out and although very flattered, I thought “why does everyone assume?”
Years later, a woman in seminary told me she thought I was a lesbian because I had short hair. Really? Years after that (I’m getting old) a gay woman in the congregation I served invited a friend to church describing me, her pastor, as “you’d think she’s one of ‘the family’ but she’s not.” I have a personal investment in the church being Open and Affirming.
While in seminary, I served a church in upstate New York that had previously been served for over 24 consecutive years by gay men. Before seminary, when I was “just a member,” my anger boiled when I saw the humiliation my pastor endured by “pretending” to be straight. Most of the people in the congregation knew he was gay, but it was a charade that they played to make the congregants feel more comfortable. “Let’s pretend Woody is just a bachelor.” After his retirement, I pastored the congregation while in school. Almost four years later and two weeks after they ordained me, I was told to hit the road. While I think the major reason was my stand on the war, I knew in part it was because I pushed on “the gay issue.”
The church I served in West Virginia welcomed gays and lesbians – up to a point. They were more comfortable if no one mentioned the word ‘gay’ or acknowledged that we had same-sex couples in the congregation. However, something about the ethos of the congregation allowed the GBLTQ community to feel relatively safe. Cool. The GBLTQ folks who came into the church were the best evangelists in the congregation, once joking with me, “Hey Mag, we’re on our second pew!”
But the push back on “the gay issue” eventually came. It forced the elders to do the Listening to the Spirit study which I thought went well. Unfortunately, I never could get a group of the most vocal anti-gay congregants to engage in the same study. Blow ups about a lesbian couple teaching Sunday school and a lesbian preaching in my absence eventually helped push me into counseling and anti-depressants.
In the end, among my other “sins” on a list of complaints handed to me, the “gay issue” was the one that no one would let go of. “You know they call us the Gay church in town!” Personally, I was thrilled but, ultimately, I resigned. I wanted to leave while I still loved them. Knowing that the following summer we planned to move to the Northwest made it easier as well. I left without a job in hand, trusting that God’s love would get us through and extravagant Divine love did.
Wisdom. Speaking out for inclusion and justice is hard, hard work that must be done. We who have taken sacred vows to preach the Gospel and conduct ourselves in ethical ways must speak with prophetic voices and be braced to be hurt, angry, and sometimes unemployed, because every time we push a little harder, the conversation moves a little further.
The church I served in West Virginia is not the same congregation as when I was called to it almost eight years ago. An openly gay man served as deacon without incident during my last year. Even as frightened as some were when I resigned (“what if the new pastor hates us”), most of the GBLTQ community in the congregation are still active members. Thank you, Lord.
Challenge. When we moved to the Northwest, the place where we found the most welcome and the presence of the Holy Spirit was not a Disciple congregation. It was the Portland Metropolitan Community Church where each Sunday we were met with extravagant love. Where each Sunday, as we came forward for communion, someone prayed for us individually after we partook. We were the only straight couple in the room most Sundays and no one cared two shakes about our sexual orientation.
Now, we have not jumped ship. I am a member of a lovely Disciple congregation in the Columbia Gorge where we moved to ultimately. As lovely as they are, I long for Sundays when we can drive the 60 miles to feel unconditionally welcomed and loved by my other church family at MCC. Where I am greeted with hugs by people that a large part of “the church” would condemn out of hand. My MCC family doesn’t care if I’m straight. They just love me.
Shouldn’t every Disciple church strive for the same – to love everyone no matter if they are gay, straight, transgendered, queer, lesbian, or questioning? Isn’t that the gospel message?
Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian is a Clinical Chaplain at Providence Hood RIver Memorial Hospital. She and her husband, Tim Graves, live in Mosier, OR where they watch eagles dance and rainbows appear over the Columbia River. Lots and lots of rainbows. She can be reached at email@example.com and has a blog: www.revmother.org