The final rapid-fire head turn came at the end of the service as a woman was brought infront of the congregation as a confirmation of her membership into the church body. Those sponsoring her membership joined her at the baptismal basin, along with the pastor. A short mediation was repeated by the new member as well as the congregation. And, then the new member was given a rainbow pin.
Imagine how much my repressed Southern Baptist upbringing was squirming at that moment.
The final head turn occurred, but I didn’t have it in me to even look their direction. Honestly, I was in shock. I was at a loss for words. Differences in theology aside, I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was seeing. Why was this pin given at THIS moment? I’ve seen churches give people Bibles, or a pendant of the cross, as a sign of them being welcomed into the body of Christ. I’ve even seen churches give people t-shirts with their logo front and center for everyone to see… maybe as a sign of welcome into a particular church community? (I have issues with this as well, just so you know.) But I’ve never seen, or heard, of new members being given a rainbow pin under these circumstances.
After church I fielded all the questions from the kids the best I could. One of them included my 8-year-old son asking why this woman was given a pin about “God’s promise to Noah to never kill His people again.” (PROFOUND words coming from the mouth of a child and something we all should push into a little more as those in the LGBTQ community are being murdered around the world… in the name of God.) But, honestly, I had a lot of questions of my own and told the kids to wait until after their event was over that evening. In hindsight, that was a good call, but, honestly, I was just trying to buy time at the moment.
Up to this point, the kids “performance” was routine. They didn’t deviate much in what they shared and the same songs were played at each show. They knew what they were doing and had become familiar enough with the material that they really had every detail down with few, if any mistakes. And, hands down, 100% of the time, the audience has always been attentive and engaged. Without exception… until this performance.
I really don’t know how to explain it. From the very first song to the closing remarks, almost every person in that room was on their phones for the entire hour… including the adults. And to make matters worse, they were only sitting a few feet away from Sydney and Brayden… who were acutely aware of their inattentiveness. Jamie and I sat there for the entire hour watching it play out, praying the kids could persevere and completely confused by the response (or, lack of response). I mean, when a 14-year-old kid tells you about his struggle with depression and shares how his thoughts of suicide consumed him… it’s a pretty compelling moment.
After the event, I went to the lobby to help people wanting to purchase some of our merchandise. (We don’t charge for these events, but ask for permission to sell our merchandise to help offset our costs.) Almost immediately, Sydney found me and very bluntly whispered, “Okay, did we suck tonight?”
All I could say was, “Nope. It was actually your best show so far.”
I know she didn’t believe me, but it was. She was slightly dismissive with her response… or lack there of, but kept focused and interacted with the kids from the youth group. At the end of the day, this was her passion and no matter what happened during the past hour, she would make the most of the interpersonal time given to her.
After the event, our family was invited to join the youth group for a meal. I ended up sitting next to a volunteer who was incredibly personable and I asked if he could share his faith journey with me. He was more than willing and over the next ten minutes I found out he was the father of two sons and married to another man, who also happened to be there that evening. I listened to him talk about the church and the importance of having a place where he felt welcomed, as he was, to worship God and serve others. I just listened. I had so many questions and wanted to ask them, but it wasn’t the time, nor the place. (The Southern Baptist in me was hyperventilating, on the verge of losing consciousness.)
It’s interesting to me. I’ve heard it more times than I can count. A common belief is that many have “sound theology” until someone they know tells them they’re gay. It’s one of those pendulum swings… from one extreme to the other. But, that just seemed to be an oversimplification of a subject matter that has more nuances than I ever imagined… even within conservative circles. Don’t believe me? Try sitting down with a group of Baptists and asking this question: Which is the sin: being gay or acting on homosexual desires? (And before anyone gets mad at me… that wasn’t MY question. It was the topic of a conversation I walked in on last year, and there were about as many different opinions expressed as the number of people in the room. (Now imagine adding some Methodists, Catholics, and Presbyterian to that conversation. That conversation can be as combustible as gasoline on a space heater!)
But here’s the question: Does it even matter?
From an eternal perspective? (I’ll share my opinion on this in the weeks to come.) From a unity perspective? (Whether it SHOULD matter is a different question. But, from everything we’ve seen on the road, it DOES matter to a lot of people.)
And while these questions are acutely important when it comes to the question of unity in the church, I think this experience was about something else. Our family walked into a church where we questioned both the teaching and what seemed to be the elevation of an individual’s sexual identity over their identity within the body of Christ. Even if we pushed aside the topics that some argue could be boiled down to a difference of biblical interpretation (homosexuality), there were CLEARLY inaccurate teachings (definitively Numbers 20, arguably the reference of the Holy Spirit as “She.”)
Our kids then walked into their performance only to be received by ears unable to hear. Maybe unwilling to hear. I really don’t know. I just remember sitting at the RV park after a very long day and being overwhelmed by an epiphany. What if we just witnessed a modern day version of Isaiah 6? What if their ears WERE unable to hear? It’s definitely a possibility. But, PLEASE hear me out: This is NOT limited to the “liberal, progressive” church and I’m not tying it to their stance on homosexuality. Over the next few months we would enter into conversations about incredibly divisive issues in our church today and those on the conservative end of the pendulum are equally at risk of hardened hearts as those on the liberal side. More so in some cases, I think. Honestly, none of us are immune and I think understanding this is the first step towards unity.
Just to make sure I underscore my take-aways from this experience and you understand a foundational premise for our family as we move forward in this journey, I began wrestling through these issues in the church: The importance of biblical literacy (both sound teaching by leaders and independent study for individual congregants); The temptation to place any identity over our one true identity as Christians (specifically sexual identity and political identity, but most definitely not limited to those two areas).
Are you guys as uncomfortable as I am?