The Day I Didn't Speak Up
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Over the past month I've used my past to discuss how I was part of the current problem with the church. I'm doing this because all of us within the church are guilty, and someone has to be the example for others. Part of embracing God's grace, is admitting our fallibleness.
After the youth walked out of the church, we planted a new church. The reason being, we wanted to stay together without changing the dynamic of another group. Eventually, my family left. My stepmother wanted something for her elementary school daughter, and the only programming at this plant was for middle and high school kids. So, if you were part of that plant, and wondered why- well now you know why.
We ended up joining (what I would call) a medium sized church. It had around 200 active members each week. It was nice to get to know some new youth. It was a different dynamic. They were ready to step up and do something amazing. This church was the fertile soil for ministry. They nurtured my call, and allowed me to play around with my potential. I say all this to express how fully I fell in love with this church. No one could possibly understand the impact this church has had on the Body of Christ as a whole. Like I said last week, the problem is among the reviled and the loved. There are no easy answers here.
At this church, there was this amazing Elder. He was super involved in the life of the church. He sung in the choir, participated in board meetings, and enthusiastically added to the general atmosphere of church life. Everyone knew he was gay. His significant other sang in the choir. The church had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He could continue what he was doing, as long as he was secretive about it.
This couple felt very loved in this congregation. They felt so loved, that he decided it was appropriate to come out. When he did, members of the church quietly told him to step down. Extremely hurt, both him and his partner left. (This was the middle to late ninety's)
I asked someone why they took action after these men had been in the church for so long. This member said, “He said he was gay, so we had to tell him to step down.” I responded, “Did you know he was gay before he told you he was gay?” She grimly responded, “Yes, but when he openly said it, we had to act on it.”
I stayed silent. I sat back.
Churches like to play these word games to stay within the rules. As a female, I get it all the time. I can talk about God and be called to be a public speaker. Once I’m called a minister, or speak publicly at 11am on a Sunday it’s a sin. I can visit homebound and be a great member of the Body of Christ. The second I call it Pastoral Care it’s a sin. He can be an Elder because even though we know he’s gay, he hasn’t publicly stated it. The moment he thought our love was enough, and he opened up, was the moment we shot him down.
This particular church has, had and continues to have the problem of speaking up against oppression and injustice when it's directly related to them.. I fell in line. I should have been the voice to speak up against the hypocrisy. Either it was wrong to make him an Elder, and it shouldn’t have happened to begin with, or it was wrong to take away the pastoral role when he verbally stated what everyone already knew. I believe it was the later, but that voice needed to be spoken. I stayed silent.
The Problem: Being a Christian isn’t like maneuvering around some legal document. Wrong actions don’t magically become right because we cross some “t’s” or step left instead of right. When we treat the bible like it’s a legal document, we take the Spirit out of the text. We take the purpose out of the actions. Rules exist for a purpose. Once the purpose has no meaning, or the meaning was inherently wrong, we should do away with the rule. Christianity is about the community. When we lose sight of the people we are trying to help, we forget the mission and the call.
What I learned: I loved this church. This was the first time I had seen people who I looked at in a loving way, do something that wasn’t loving at all. This was the 90’s, where the problem within the church existed, but wasn’t epidemic. It was also a lesson in standing up for the oppressed. That’s not an easy choice. I should have spoken up. I should not have been one of the voices that were silent. I echoed the emptiness of the moment. I learned that doing the right thing, sometimes means you stand against people you care about. It sometimes means you stand alone.