Last night was my dad’s memorial service. I delayed my coming out because of his illness. I knew that he was already struggling with his own mortality and that trying to reconcile the daughter he was so proud of and loved deeply with the ideas he had about LGBT people would be too much for him. He was the kind of guy who, when he saw a same-sex couple on a TV show, would exclaim how gross it was, change the channel, and never watch that show again.

I don’t regret never telling my dad, and I don’t think I ever will. It’s the reality of the situation that what he would think if I told him I’m queer is 10,000 miles away from what I would mean. He would think I was denying God. I know I am following God. He would believe I was embracing sin and sexual deviance. I know I am rejecting hate and embracing the true and good heart I have been given.

It was the right call. But that didn’t change the fact that after he breathed his last breath, I looked down at his body and realized that my father would never know me for who I am. I began to sob. I wanted things to be different. I wanted the world to be different. I wanted the man who brought me into the world and was one of the first two people to ever love me to know this beautiful, wonderful part of myself. But he couldn’t.

Last night we went to the church where I am a pastor, and we honored the memory of my dad. The service was beautiful. People I have known since I was a child talked about what a wonderful man my father was, and every word was true. They embraced me, told me they love me, and told me over and over again how proud dad was of me. He was proud of his little girl who became a pastor.

The outpouring of loved I received these last few days, and especially last night at the memorial, has been exceptional. I can’t recall ever being so loved and supported. I’ve lost track of the number of people who told me they are happy to help with anything I need. Everyone answers when I call. Everyone does exactly what I ask of them. Everyone’s hearts are broken for me. Everyone is anxious to show me how much they love me.

This is Christian community at its best. It is a thing to behold. It is true, it is good, and it is the heart of the gospel. And when I come out in a few weeks, and tell them that I affirm my bisexual identity, it will be broken forever.

Today, my choice to be a pastor affirms everything they want to believe about God and the church. But soon affirmation will turn to threat because I’ve taken a different view on a handful of Bible passages, and more importantly because I’ve come to love this part of myself that loves women.

I won’t be able to pastor this or any other Adventist church after that. These same people won’t listen to my sermons online, praise my ministry, and tell me how proud they are of me for being an Adventist pastor.

My father would not have been proud of me had he lived long enough to see me be honest about what I believe and who I am.

This is perhaps the worst part of the church’s anti-queer theology. It breaks something beautiful. Christian community can be a beautiful thing if you are straight. If you are queer like I am, the cost is silence and shame. That cost is too high. Even those who are a dedicated allies and speak too loudly on my behalf often experience the cost becoming too high for them. Silence is demanded of anyone who would speak out. How could I pastor in a church that is harming people like me? How could I ignore the compassion of the Bible and still pastor with integrity?

If you are queer in a traditional Christian church, your choices are impossible. You must be willing to demonize your same-sex attraction, hide it, or both. The church will offer you shame and disgrace, and you must receive it no matter how you struggle against it. You must live with the constant sense of being other. When people say homophobic and ignorant things, you must hold your tongue. Falling in love must become something you fear. This is the cost of remaining comfortably in this community.

If your experience is anything like mine, you will find yourself desperately clinging to any shred of hope that maybe you can just be same-sex attracted and not queer. Maybe these are just thoughts and feelings and not the truth about who you are, how you see the world, and how you experience love and family.

And all of this will impact your mental health in ways you may not even know. I didn’t know, not until I learned to love the way I love did I finally see how much sadness and loneliness I lived with all my life. Not until I experienced the sharp joy of affirmation from God did I discover that my love for women is a gift.

But I can’t embrace this truth about myself and the world and still have my place in this Christian community. I can’t be queer and have my father be proud of me. These are the impossible choices LGBT people in traditionalist churches face.

Our communities are beautiful, but they aren’t working for everyone. That is a problem. Ignoring this problem is ignoring the heart and soul of the gospel.  The gospel was never intended to be only for the right kind of people, but for everyone.

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14 Replies to “Theology Ruined My Father’s Memorial Service”

  1. Does the SDA church ordain women now? My cousin was a pastor, woman pastor. Not ordained. Now a Nazarene pastor.
    The hardest part of transgender for me is the pronouns. I can never remember to change from her to hecwith my grandchild. My gay son( the uncle) says I’m being disrespectful to forget. Is that true? My grandchild knows the difficulty I have remembering anything and is forgiving. Of course it helps or hurts, depending on how you look at it, that he is deaf.

    1. It is not disrespectful to forget in pronouns. It is disrespectful to refuse to use appropriate pronouns and their chosen name.

  2. I was never able to come out to either of my parents before they died. My mom was the type who would say things like how she used to like Ellen Degeneres until she came out, and then my mom thought she was disgusting, while I sitting in the room with her. I always knew my mom was disappointed that she had somehow birthed and raised a feminist, so I took her comments as the way she was letting me know that if I was a lesbian, she sure as heck didn’t want to know! A few years later, my dad made a comment to my brother, after my brother’s younger daughter came out, that he was pretty sure I’m a lesbian. But he never came out and asked me, so I wasn’t sure he was ready to have his suspicions confirmed. [Sigh]

  3. Thank you. You are so brave. My heart breaks with you yet cheers that you have found the true heart of Christ, which the church, ironically, so desperately needs right now.

  4. How tragic this story is.
    The Bible needs to be approached with a new hermeneutic. How one can possibly embrace the beliefs of a savage tribal people and believe it is the word of God is quite beyond me to understand.
    Alicia, I sincerely hope you manage to use your theological training to communicate a better hermeneuticof Biblical understanding and interpretation.

  5. Alicia, you have done a very difficult and very courageous thing. I am very troubled by how our church along with other traditional churches use “Religion” to shame and belittle people instead of showing love and acceptance. They completely miss the point of being Christ like. He showed love and acceptance with open arms everywhere he went. I am proud of you for standing up for love and acceptance of all. You stood up for truth and honor. Being true to yourself and having the courage and faith to know that you are not and can never be unworthy of God’s love. You are loved.

    1. Hey Lori Worley, how did Jesus show love and acceptance? Wasn’t it by saying “Neither do I condemn thee” …………. Halleluiah, He did so but His very next statement was “Go and sin no more!” Understand? He does not condemn the sinner nor condone the sin but offers His grace to restore the sinner to His will for their lives. He finds and accepts us as we are but does not leave us that way. Praise His name!

  6. Thanks for your article and honesty. I wish that “the” church (or any religious body for that matter) could understand what you have been through. The unspoken judgement and condemnation can break even the strongest of spirits. I believe that like your father, old “believers” do not even realize the damage they do by the unspoken word. Unfortunately Christianity finds itself in a position where it will not even question or debate that which it “knows to be unbiblical”.

  7. The serpent manipulated Eve with the inference that God was with-holding good by forbidding them to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When she first ate the fruit she felt euphoric but soon experienced the horrible truth and consequences of sin. I feel very sad for you Alicia. My heart breaks. We are all sinners with various bents toward evil. God points out the right way to live and as we submit to His will we experience real freedom.
    As an older woman I know the pain of disobedience and the consequences of sin. My regrets are deep and painful. A favourite verse is Isaiah 42:16 “I will lead the blind by a way they know not. I will make darkness light before them and crooked things straight. These things will I do and not forsake them.” I love that verse because it assures me that my God can straighten out the messes I have made and bring light out of the dark places. That promise brings much healing to my heart.
    Alicia, I have learned it is just not worth going my own way. “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” Prov. 16:23 Jesus is the Good Shepherd that goes out in search of the lost lamb. When he finds the lamb it is caught in a thicket and can’t get out. He lovingly parts the branches and lifts the lamb to His great heart of love. He never scolds but rejoices to find his sheep.
    We cannot release ourselves from sin, but God can. He is the one that will part the branches to free the sinner caught in sin. God is our maker and we can trust that He always knows what is best for us.
    I recommend Wesley Hill’s book, Washed and Waiting. Wesley is a gay-Christian theologian with a different approach to remaining faithful in a broken body.

    You are in my prayers,
    Suzanne

    1. Have you considered that perhaps the conservative churches that refuse to re-examine their theology with integrity and honesty might be the sinners? Have you considered that just like in the days of Jesus, perhaps it is the religious legalists who tie up burdens to heavy for people to carry might be the true sinners? Perhaps those who are causing mental illness, pain, and suicide in those who do everything they can to follow what the church says the Bible says are the real sinners?

      Sorry, but I don’t accept you shame, and I refuse to live under your fear. I have found freedom from your law. I have found God. I have found God in fullness and grace I never new possible. I trust God. Eve did not. I re-examined my beliefs because of my trust in God. I did not just get emotional and do my own thing, as much as you prefer that narrative.

      I only respond to this because I want others to see how destructive this type of thinking is. Shame and fear are not the path to the abundant life promised by God, and perfect love casts out fear. My fear is gone, thank God! I’ve also had the privilege of knowing so many queer people in committed, long-term relationships who are still waiting for those consequences of their love… I mean sin, because that’s what you call our love. Rather than bringing destruction as you say, it brings wholeness and joy. These are the fruits of my theology. The fruits of your theology are fear and shame.

      I don’t need your prayers. I need your humility and curiosity. I need to you actually open your heart to the possibility that love is bigger than you think, and I need you to re-examine your theology that is bringing death and not life. Read Justin Lee’s book Torn, Matthew Vine’s book God and the Gay Christian, and Brownson’s book Bible, Gender, Sexuality. See that the world is bigger than you think, and learn to stop sinning by perpetuating fear and shame based theology.

      And I haven’t read Wesley’s book, but I’ve spent enough time on his blog, spiritual friendship, to know what he’s talking about. It’s crazy making stuff. How well would straight people do being best friends with people they are in love with and pretending like there is no sexual desire? I’ve been in similar situations, it’s painful.

      1. I honestly feel like affirming theologians cast very broad nets. I mean, I think I can pretty much rewrite your response to affirm all sorts of sexual configurations that you would find objectionable. (and that is not just you the wider revisionist endeavor in my opinion has this flaw).
        I mean producing dread and fear alone is NOT a hallmark of incorrect theology (at least in my book). God is Holy and Righteous and as sinners we must realize that we are judged and be able to say “Woe is me”. God is love but he is also Holy and righteous, and full of hatred for sin. I am deeply bothered by this theology that seems to say that God’s quintessential attribute is love. Love is but one of the many ways God can be described. He is very much ready to destroy sinners however much he “wishes he wouldn’t have to).

        To be honest I rarely ever read affirming theology that doesn’t lend itself to justifying incest, zoophilia, polyamory or more. That bothers me because looking back on History one sees that bad theology for the best of reasons breeds the most abominable of Apostasies.

        1. I’m not sure what “sexual configurations” you are referring to. If it’s the things you listed at the end, I don’t think it would be difficult to see what the differences are if you were open to seeing it.

          Have you considered looking at your statement from a historical perspective? Have you not desired a level of literal reading of scripture that would have lead to the continuation of slavery? The exclusion of Gentiles? The inferiority of women? Christianity has adapted and revised it’s understanding and application of scripture constantly over the last 2,000 years. The idea that there is one static interpretation that has been carried and delivered to us from the early church is fallacious. We are part of a tradition of wrestling with the text and the Spirit, not simply receiving the tradition given to us.

          I also take major exception with the idea that God’s quintessential attribute is anything other than love.

          1. Yes. Yes! And YES!!!

            I really love this article of yours! It is so well written and poignant, and not easy for anyone to easily dismiss or ignore.

            I believe it would be impossible for many if not most North American Adventists to produce such a raw, honest, vulnerable and emotionally charged yet connected essay about anything of such an intimate, personal and questionable nature—especially at such a difficult moment. But you on the other hand have learned to truly grow from the things that once limited you, and you have allowed this entire process to help you to really get in touch with your emotions instead of suppressing them. You have opened your heart and soul up to the work of the Holy Spirit and God, and there is no doubt or question about the fruit!

            I love these responses! Bold, confident and unapologetic—as they should be! There is great power and freedom in simple truth. Your unwavering focus on what really matters and your lack of fear to proclaim it is beautiful, inspiring and evidence of the power working through you. Hate is not the opposite of love, fear IS!
            And YES! I too take major exception to the notion or assertion that God’s quintessential characteristic could even possibly be considered to be anything but LOVE!
            Are you kidding me⁈ Unbelievable!
            I truly hope that individual did not realize the gravity and implications of that statement. Wow! It’s really rather frightening, but sadly it seems that there are still many who are caught between “numb” and “legalism”; and have completely forgotten (if they ever really knew) the real truth of the gospel.

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