By: Angie Cox
From: RMNBlog, September 12, 2014
The first piece of information you should know is that I am really new to Methodism, but what I’m not completely new to is being an LGBT Christian. I was raised in the Church of Christ, only returned to God a little over two years ago, and up until the past six weeks, my home church was a nondenominational Evangelical congregation. Yes, I know—I had the same reaction in my own mind. But fear not, I think I can make some sense out of that.
Like I said, I was raised in the Church of Christ, where, depending on the congregation, piano accompaniment was frowned upon, every Sunday was Holy Communion, and baptisms were done at the drop of a hat. And it was a reminder that Jesus loved me—if I followed all of the rules. I never felt connected to this brand of Christianity, primarily because I had family members in ministry, and several of my cousins were preachers’ kids. They were the gold standard in the family: baptized by the age of ten, always going to the “right” camps and schools. I focused on my grades and playing sports, and I hated that I was made to wear a skirt and dress shoes every Sunday.
Every week there was the admonishing call to come up and be baptized, because you just weren’t right if you didn’t. I remember always feeling ashamed about not standing up—I was sure that everyone in the church was staring a hole through me, and that my parents were feeling just as ashamed that they’d gone wrong somewhere—to have the only child in church who hadn’t made that commitment to God.
What they didn’t know in my teenage years is that I already knew I was different.
I’d grown up with consistent messages that gay was not okay; from being one of a small handful of my sixth grade class sheltered from a diversity acceptance class, to jokes about gays, to outright condemnation based on perception of one of my high school coaches. So, although I knew I was different, I wasn’t capable of giving myself the label of “lesbian.” I wasn’t ready to be cast out of my family, my friends, possibly even my home. Even as I went away to college, I continued to mimic what I knew, which was voicing that being gay was a choice. I didn’t make that choice, so I couldn’t possibly be the same as “them.” By the time I was well into my first year of college, I’d finally had some exposure to an environment where gay people were just like everyone else—you know, as if they weren’t before.
But by the time I finally came out at the age of twenty and had already been with my partner for several months, I’d long walked away from the Church and God, convinced by the only representatives of the Church I’d ever known, that God did not love me, nor would God ever.
Fast forward to 2012: I’ve been with my wonderful partner for thirteen years. We’ve both finished our undergraduate degrees, moved to the East Coast so I could attend graduate school, and moved back to the Midwest to be near family. We have a house, steady jobs, two dogs, and a running habit.
Unfortunately, during this time, half of my family cast me (us, really) aside—not once, but twice—still doing so in the name of their version of God. Although I wouldn’t exactly consider myself an atheist at this point, let’s just say the words of Buddha are much nicer sentiments to hear. I’d yet to question my decision to walk away from God or the Church, nor had the media nor a person, given me reason to believe I could belong to God.
Early in the year, I decided to visit my friend who was living in Tunisia at the time. During our first weekend excursion, we headed to Rome and Florence. While in Rome, we decided to tour the Vatican. As we waited in the entrance queue, I jokingly quip about being smited by God. I mean really, a lesbian and a gay man waiting to walk into what millions across the globe consider the holiest of holy places and is certainly anti-gay? Little do I know, God truly is listening closely and decides to prove God’s presence.
As we continue to stand outside, my nose begins to bleed; thanks to the kindness of some elderly German tourists, my friend and I are able to carry on with our plans. We wind our way through all of the wonderful art of the Vatican, ever so slowly making our way to the Sistine Chapel. Mind you, I may not be making a pilgrimage like so many of the faithful, but I certainly have a very great reverence for the history and sanctity of this wondrous structure.
I’m standing there, staring up at the work of Michelangelo’s imagination (specifically beneath the panel of “The Creation of Adam” in case you’re curious), when I feel this overwhelming sense of peace and love wash over me.
I’ve never felt that at any point in my life, and in my heart, I know it is God telling me it is time to come home.
As the day progresses, it dawns on me that it was something so unexplainable and wonderful that I simply couldn’t comprehend just how amazing it was and had no idea how to share it, let alone a religiously-minded audience to share it with.
Over the course of the next few months, I became good friends with a coworker. One day, we ended up in an email conversation about prayer, and I was sufficiently freaked out when she mentioned caring enough to want to see me in heaven some day. Up until that point, I’d had no idea just how deeply religious my friend was. Given my history, I was understandably timid, but I knew I trusted her. I knew she was someone I could talk to about this homecoming I was called into. Over the next few months, I finally caved in and agreed to go to church with her after a number of invites.
It was the exact opposite of the church I grew up in, but from the moment I first set foot there, I still felt that I stuck out like a sore thumb—almost as if I had a flashing neon light that read “Lesbian” mounted above my head. But the music was engaging and people were friendly, so I did my best to let my guard down. I knew this was an Evangelical church, and I was not likely to encounter anyone who believed that being gay, let alone acting on such feelings, wasn’t the biggest sin ever—my friend included. I didn’t want to be drawn to this church, and tried like crazy to be at home in an open and affirming church, mostly Reconciling Ministries Network churches, but they all so closely resembled the traditional atmospheres of my youth that I shied away.
For the next 18 months, I stuck with the Evangelical church, even befriending the pastoral team, joining a small group, serving at the food pantry, and going on a missions trip to Honduras. My sexuality continued to be a source of friction at the church, and my attendance there was still completely baffling to so many, including my partner, who still comes to services with me to be supportive. Earlier this year, I began to realize just how different I was from the rest of the people at the church in terms of theology, and I could feel my own unrest growing. It occurred to me that I had a short term purpose at this church, and maybe that was coming to an end.
It finally did come to an end in August, when my request to be baptized with others in the congregation was denied.
That was the last straw as far as devoting myself and my talents to that church, but before you think I am angry and bitter, I think it only fair to say that I still fully love the people I grew close to at that church, and although I completely disagree with some aspects of their theology, I respect that they stay true to it. I will always be grateful for their place in my life, just as I know they are grateful for my place in theirs. The greatest gift we imparted to one another is the understanding that love does not depend on agreeing with someone—it’s a place many of them hadn’t been to with a member of the LGBT community, and one that I had forgotten about thanks to the actions of part of my family.
Suffice it to say, I am now setting roots in one of the churches that I previously visited but was too afraid to walk into before. I am now confident in myself as a child of God and am finding a home in a faith community where I have so much to learn. It is a congregation that fully welcomes my partner and me and allows us to be involved in community outreach, social justice, and the mission of sharing God’s love with everyone. I am home.
Angie lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner, Annette, and their two dogs, Sydney and Reese. She has an insatiable desire to learn and completed her most recent masters degree in educational technology from Columbia University in May 2014. Those who know her best often take bets on when she will start looking into another degree program. She currently works in educational publishing. Being a newbie to the UMC family, Angie is strongly drawn to and encouraged by the drive to work for social justice for all; she would love to devote the majority of her time to working with homeless and underserved families and individuals. Angie spends her leisure time running, cycling, kayaking, playing disc golf, and/or reading something—most likely nonfiction.