I was raised in what remains one of the most conservative and problematic denominations in the United States…the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). If you didn’t already know, the SBC formed when some (mostly southern) baptist churches wanted to uphold the practice of slavery and other (predominantly northern) baptist churches didn’t. Specifically, the southern churches thought slaveholders could serve as missionaries and the northern churches did not. The denomination literally was founded on the basis of racism and the SBC didn’t renounce or apologize for their views on slavery and segregation until 1995. That wasn’t a typo. 1995.
During my own college years, not all that long ago, when I was on staff at a Southern Baptist church hoping to be a force for good, another staff member sat in a meeting and told a room full of people that our church “wasn’t ready for black people”. Everyone mostly nodded in agreement. Not a single person challenged the idea. I am so ashamed. I had already started to unravel at that point, having stood witness to many instances of sexism, racism, and homophobia. The faith I had grown up in, the place where all my closest relationships had been formed, where I met my husband….it felt like a house of cards falling in on itself. It felt so unsafe, especially for the people I loved dearly who were not white heterosexual and cis gender. There’s a saying about sausage that I find myself often sharing in relation to organized religion. If you like sausage, don’t learn how it’s made. If you like church, don’t learn how it’s made. Once you see behind the curtain, once you are forced to confront your beloved denomination’s ugliest parts, it is impossible to unsee it. I could no longer reconcile what I knew of Jesus and what my church proclaimed to be with their actions. It’s an unraveling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, an unraveling that honestly more than a decade later I am still wrestling with.
With the news coming down about the United Methodist Church maintaining its ban on same-sex marriage and refusing to ordain LGBTQIA+ clergy, my heart aches for those who are entering their own season of reckoning. The process of realizing that you can no longer affiliate yourself with an organization that claims love, but acts with hate is a grief that weighs heavy on your soul. Rarely is it an easy decision. I bet your church is full of people you love dearly, even if you disagree about some things. Your church probably holds some of your dearest memories. If you’ve been lucky enough to forge a community, your church is likely central to your identity and your social life. You may suddenly feel like maybe you don’t know your church at all. You’ll likely find yourself questioning everything….if this one thing is not what it seems, what else is astray? It’s possible you’ll start pulling that thread of doubt and the whole thing will unravel. You’ve probably long held out hope about what your church could be and suddenly it seems like maybe it will never be that thing. It’s all so ridiculously hard.
I realize that leaving isn’t the only choice or always the right choice. Staying and fighting for better is valid and good and hard in its own way. For the people who stay and fight, I am so grateful. For the people who need to walk away or take a break in the name of emotional safety, I understand your grief and hold you in the light. And I will always hold out hope for a day when denominations, including the one that I held dear for so many years, recognize their failure to love people well and then do everything in their power to make it right.
We can do better. We must do better.