On the first Wednesday of the month, we publish blog posts written by members of our Generous Space Community. This piece was written by SJ Speer, who lives in Ottawa and is a regular Ontario GS Retreat participant. Here, SJ shares the fiery letter she wishes she could send her pastor to clear the air between them. I encourage pastors and other ministry leaders to listen to the pain underneath these words - SJ is brutally honest in her anger, articulating the things many of us LGBTQ2S+ Christians have experienced - and I encourage them to heed her good advice at the end.
Dear [insert any pastor or person who serves in ministry and values saving face over the well-being of their LGBTQ2S+ siblings],
There is a lot going on in the world, even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, which has supposedly slowed everything down. I’m sad, angry, and exhausted on a regular basis.
That trifecta of powerful emotions has propelled me into writing this letter tonight. It’s probably not fair to use you as a scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in the world right now, because honestly the hurt I experienced during the time our paths were crossed has been numbed by how far I’ve walked since that time.
And yet, for a brief moment I feel that placing you in the role of scapegoat is a fair price for the amount of time that I acted as yours.
Coming out in your church, I felt like I was being a burden, like I was asking too much of you and your community to accept me. Before making the choice to publicly embrace my sexuality, I asked friends, “do you think it’s ok? Maybe it’s too soon? I don’t want to stir the pot or upset anyone.” I took a lot of care and consideration for the people who would be receiving this gift (probably more than was warranted)... and yet that care and consideration was not returned to me. I was met with unconditional support from some, BUT I was met with hesitation and negativity from others.
The placement of that “but” is not a coincidence. The word “but” has this funny little superpower to cancel out the sentiment of what was said directly before. I’ve had people, people in your church community, who expressed to me “I love you, BUT we disagree/it is a sin/I’m not sure what I believe etc.” I’ve spent most of my life diminishing my own experiences and feelings, excusing the hurt others have caused me and twisting it around to somehow have been my fault. BUT it’s time to cut that out, because it gives you and others permission to continue to hurt the LGBTQ2S+ community, to sugar coat your non-affirming faith by wrapping it up in this nice blanket of being “welcoming” BUT not allowing us to serve or to be members or to fully participate in the body of the church.
I’m wondering if your feet are sore? Don’t you think it’s time to stop dragging them when it comes to discussing LGBTQ2S+ folks in the church? I’m sure I’m not the only queer person who has heard, “we want to have the discussion, BUT there are other things we have to figure out first.” Lack of clarity around whether or not a church is affirming can leave people feeling unsafe. When I tried to express my own fear and uncertainty, I felt bowled over with the idea that a clear statement from the church should not matter, especially if the majority of people were loving or affirming. I also heard from someone that safety is something I can cultivate within myself, and if I’m happy and confident with who I am I should be able to walk into any room and feel safe. Well, that’s a steaming pile of garbage.
Should you make that incredibly difficult decision (read sarcasm here) to affirm the place of LGBTQ2S+ folks in your church, please don’t make it our responsibility to pat you on the back, or to thank you. It’s not that we aren’t grateful or that we can’t empathize with the things you’ve had to give up in order to gain a multitude of colour and beauty, sometimes the magnitude of our loss is just too much to set aside in order to validate yours. You made sure to tell me about the many friends who rejected you when you started shifting your views, and I felt the need to thank you profusely for your sacrifice. Looking back on that time makes me want to barf, because it’s as though I felt my friendship was a detriment to others.
When our church community fell apart, there were many factors leading to its end, but you pinned the demise of your church on the issue of LGBTQ2S+ inclusion. I can’t help but draw the conclusion that you climbed up the mountain of LGBTQ2S+ suffering and stuck your white “straight saviour” flag on the top to cover up the dirt on the bottom (that included your mistakes). And can I just say, we don’t need a straight cis hero; get off our backs please. I’m tired of the way we are being used as your “cause” to appear as though you’re fighting the good fight on our behalf. Your performative allyship is actually quite annoying. Our plight is not meant to be used for your benefit.
So moving forward, I offer this advice to you and others in your position, whether or not you receive it:
Pay attention to the way you phrase things – watch your “buts.”
Don’t drag your feet on LGBTQ2S+ inclusion – offer clear timelines.
Don’t make it our responsibility to carry your pain or to thank you for your sacrifices.
Avoid performative allyship.
I appreciate pastors who use their platform to highlight injustice within the church, to elevate the voices of the marginalized, BUT I’ll save my applause for now because my hands are busy waving my own flag.