Shortly after coming to Shanghai in 2014 I was missing the community I left behind in the US. The church of believers I regularly fellowshipped and worshiped with had been wonderful, but after I left, I only heard from maybe 2 or 3 people; and hardly on any kind of regular basis.
I was lonely.
I began feeling the need for a community. I began longing after a group of people with whom I could open up to, trust and who would encourage me to continue to seek after God.
About 2 years ago, I wrote this in my journal:
I’ve spent the better part of the evening looking up Churches in Shanghai. The longer I search, the more I keep asking myself if I’m crazy. My experience with [churches] hasn’t always been the best. I don’t function well in “community”.
But that’s not a quality. It’s a weakness.
Living in community requires humility and other-centered living; two of the many things that I lack. I know that churches nor the people who frequent them are perfect. Which is why I so often go in with my guard up.
No one gets in.
I don’t get hurt.
But staying isolated doesn’t protect me. It (only) keeps my pride and independence intact. With my defenses in place, I don’t have to care for anyone else. I don’t have to be vulnerable; don’t have to place others at the center of my life… instead of myself.
Can I change my thinking when encountering a new church?
Can I walk in, walls down and arms open?
Can I go to encounter God, seek nourishment and find a way to help others?
I. Need. To. Try!
(October 19th, 2014)
It would be several more months before I could get the courage to pick a church and go.
In early 2015 I began attending Shanghai Community Fellowship.
It was amazing!
I got connected with a fellowship group that met every week. I felt like I had friends and a kind of “family” in a place where I had been feeling so alone. And the best thing for me was the opportunity to be challenged and grow spiritually.
Over the summer of 2015, I did some traveling and took a CELTA course in Prague. While I was there, the city was also hosting its annual gay pride parade. And, having only been to 2 and both of them only in the US, I decided to go and see what it was like. While I was at the parade, I posted a picture (top of this post) and a status about it on WeChat (a popular social media app in China). One of the girls in the church community group who I had become really good friends with “liked” my picture and, while I thought it was interesting, I didn’t give it that much thought. I had never “come out”or said anything about my sexuality to the Church. I wasn’t “hiding”, but I didn’t see any reason to say anything as the topic had never come up.
When I got back to Shanghai, I met up and had lunch with one of the guys from the Church fellowship group, the husband of the girl who liked my photo who had also become a really close friend over the past year. During our lunch he asked if he could share his “story” with me.
He told me that he identifies as gay. But believes that same sex relationships are not in God’s plan for humanity. His wife identifies as a lesbian. They decided to get married and do ministry in China. Which is absolutely fine. I completely respect other people’s beliefs and their desire to pursue the life they want to live in good conscience before God.
He asked me about my story, so I told him. If you’d like to read the condensed version of my story, you can find it here. He seemed quite troubled when I told him that I believe that God who designed humans, our sexual natures and our desire for love cares most deeply about our love and care for others over the anatomical way in which we express that love and with whom we share it. I explained that I believe it is possible for two people of the same sex who are followers of Christ, to worship together in Spirit and Truth and be vessels of love and compassion ministering to those in need and the community while lovingly committing themselves to each other as mutual helpmates and partners with a desire to edify, encourage and support one another for the rest of their lives. Now, the actual discussion lasted for several hours over two separate days and was more complex than what I could put in this blog post. I’m aware that not everyone agrees with me, in fact, in most Christian circles I am probably on the fringes. I am humble enough to admit that I may be wrong. I am small and finite and God is great and beyond my comprehension, so I can only live as His Spirit guides me. For now, at this time in my life, this is how I reconcile my faith and my life.
He did not agree.
Through eyes filled with crocodile tears he told me that he could not allow me to continue coming to the fellowship group. He explained that he saw me as a false prophet, a divisive, unrepentant backslider who would be a moral and spiritual danger to the group. He emphasized over and over how much he loved me like a brother and that he was so broken hearted about having to do this. And I think on some level he believed that. But in that moment it was hard to feel the “kiss on the cheek” when there was a “knife in my side”. We parted. I respected his wishes (command) and never went back to the Church. No one from the group has spoken to me since.
That was over a year ago.
And while the hurt, anger, betrayal and heartbreak I felt has subsided, I feel scared because now I feel the Spirit leading me back to find a community to worship with. There are only so many times I can sit and read alone, or watch/listen to a sermon podcast alone. I feel like a limb that’s been severed and is slowly draining of life.
A part of me wants to walk away and never open myself up to a painful experience like that again. But I know I can’t. If my faith is real, if what I believe has any affect on my life at all, it needs to flourish within a community who also seeks after the same things.
In the journal entry I quoted earlier, I had also written a response to a quote by Frank Schaeffer I had read at the time:
“(Jesus) criticized everything religious around him yet still participated in the traditional, liturgical, formal worship of his day even though it was led by hypocrites he denounced” -Frank Schaeffer
In scripture I’ve read a million times about Jesus being in the synagogue on the Sabbath. But never did I picture him being led in liturgy and worship by the very religious leaders whom HE KNEW would crucify him!
(October 19th 2014)
As I said before, of course, no religious institution is perfect. I would never expect it to be. And I know that many of you reading this post have felt the exact same sting of hurt and rejection from people who profess Christ and yet seem more keen to do the crucifying. InterVarsity has been in the news recently as they are causing a similar kind of rejection, pain and heartache to people on a massive, nationwide scale. And sadly, they aren’t the only ones. But the purpose of my post is not an angry rant against the Church, Christians or the use of personal beliefs to reject, exclude and condemn others.
As I look around, read, and talk to other LGBTQ people, I hear their pain, their heartache to belong, to be in community, to worship God with their partners in the fellowship of other believers. I hear the anger and the sadness of people who have been beaten down and rejected by those who are supposed to be their brothers and sisters in the faith and who many times are their own family! People are DYING! Both spiritually and literally because of the actions of people who claim to follow Christ.
But my faith is not in the religious people. My faith is in the One the religious people crucified.
I have to believe that the same Spirit that is calling me to worship and fellowship in Church & community is calling the community & Church to reach out and embrace the stranger at their gates. And while it’s difficult, and while the road may be painful on both sides, it’s what I’m called to do. My only choice is to open my heart and continue to love as much as He loves me. To move towards acceptance and reconciliation. To show Grace from under the shadows of the Church doors.
It’s all I can do.
Thank you for reading!
If you are part of the LGBTQ Community and have had a similar experience as what I have shared, I would appreciate you leaving a comment and sharing YOUR story. Or perhaps you have questions and would like to know how to be a help to those in the LGBT community who have been hurt by the Church, please leave a comment and share. I would appreciate you keeping your words respectful and I will try to reply to any comments or questions I receive.