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A letter of pastoral concern to conservative evangelical Christians

Dear family in Christ,

Just last week I had the privilege of sitting down to dinner with one of your daughters and her fiancée.  We were meeting to plan their wedding, and the conversation was filled with excitement, laughter … and some tears.  Tears because most of this woman’s family – including her mother – along with several close friends from childhood and a campus Christian fellowship group from college have already said that they will not be attending the wedding.

Before you close this, thinking that it’s another blog post trying to convince you to change your beliefs, please know that it’s not.  While we disagree, I’m not going to try to move you from your position on the sinfulness of the LGBTQ+ community or gay marriage for two reasons. First, much ink (digital and otherwise) has already been spent on both sides with such arguments, and I’m not at all convinced that it moves the conversation forward. And second, because the pastoral concern that I have is for you and your well being, not for your theological positions.

As a pastor, I am concerned about your experience of the abundant life that Christ promises us — not your life after death, for I trust that Christ holds you in love, but rather in your life before death, here, now.

While it’s true that this congregant of mine is sad that these family members and friends will not be celebrating her marriage alongside of her, this will still be one of the best and most joyous days of her life.  Her circle of love will only grow wider as she makes her wedding vows to her wife, and she will grow ever more confident in her identity and in her relationship with Christ, though she is already incredibly secure and mature.  On top of that, she is surrounded by a family in faith who loves her dearly, and who take seriously Jesus’ words from the cross, “Woman, here is your son … and here is your mother,” claiming her as their own daughter, sister and granddaughter.

I am not worried about her.  I am worried about you.

Through the act of refusing to attend her wedding (and acts like it) you are cutting yourself off from people whom you love and who love you and support you in return.  I understand the rationale — you believe that homosexuality is a sin, and you cannot condone or celebrate or be a part of such sin, so you stay away.  You believe that this is the right thing to do: to try to persuade your loved one to come back to what you think is righteous.  You are worried about his or her eternal soul, and I appreciate the love that motivates such concern.  I really do.  But I have never known such strategies to change someone’s sexual orientation or their decision to get married. I have never known such strategies to change someone’s theology.  I have known such strategies to tear families apart and create lasting wounds in the person who made the decision to keep their distance.  You are losing the joy of being in relationship with a loving daughter, a loving son, a loving friend – making your circle of love so much smaller – and it breaks my heart for you.

And so I wonder if there’s another way — a way for you to maintain the integrity of your beliefs while also maintaining these vital relationships.  I think of Jesus and how he interacted with the tax collectors and Pharisees and prostitutes of his day — though we don’t understand our sexual orientation to be sinful, you might compare us to these.  They were the ones whose minds and lives Jesus wanted to change — and he did it by sticking close to them, by eating with them and sharing in life with them.  They didn’t have to cease and desist their behaviors before he would spend this time with them.  He met them where they were, he was present with them, and he heard them.

I wonder if it would work for you to follow this model when it comes to situations like these.  Believe me when I say that none of us is going to confuse your presence for support.  We know where you stand and what you believe.  Your theology is not in jeopardy.

But maybe there’s something deeper going on for you as well.  Perhaps it is just too painful to attend an event like a gay wedding because it means that your loved one’s life isn’t going to unfold the way that you’d hoped or dreamed.  That hurts, deeply.  There is real grief on giving up expectations like these – and that grief demands our attention.  I can certainly understand the desire to turn away from that which we identify as the root of our pain, but this often only makes things worse.  Absent that relationship, grief can move into anger, bitterness and even hatred, taking on a life of its own within us.

Staying present – to the point of attending events like this one – can actually help you move through these processes of grief in a healthy way.  They provide meaningful moments of closure, and they keep you in relationship with that person whom you love so deeply that you have hopes and dreams for their future.  Such relationships sustain you even as you mourn what will not be.

But maybe there is yet one more thing that might be playing into this maelstrom.  I’ve heard several people express concern that they would lose their own community of faith if they were to attend a gay wedding or something similar.  They fear that others in their fellowship would judge them or even sever ties.  That would make me fearful and anxious, too.

I could tell you that I think you should find a new community (I do) that loves you unconditionally (they exist –  I can point you in the right direction), but I doubt that would be helpful.  Instead, perhaps it is time for you to challenge your community on this one point — encouraging deep thought about what it means to love one another as Christ did.  Perhaps this is a conversation that your fellowship needs to have, and perhaps the Spirit is calling you to spark it.

No doubt you will call me a wolf in sheep clothes — being a gay pastor.  I confess that I sometimes think of you in this way too.  But even in those moments, I still love you because God loves you, and God has claimed you as a child.  And so I pray that even if you think of me in this way, you will take my genuine concern to heart, and you will prayerfully consider how you respond to these relationships.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Jennifer Barchi

JENNIFER BARCHIis serving as the solo pastor at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives with her dog Cyrus.