a closet full of love (and one less evangelical)

A few months ago a new friend came into my life. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by this person, and this post, is a part of our story.

A friend of a friend from a community that sweetie and I belong to emailed me one day. She asked if I would sit and meet her friend—for the sake of this story I will call her Sam—because she was a young not-quite-out lesbian, with little or no support network. She needed a friend, someone she could be “out” to and with, someone who she could ask questions of. Of course I said yes. Both sweetie and I remember who those people were for us when we were young, and now we had the opportunity to sort of “pay it forward.”

Sam is a young college student enrolled at North Central Bible College University—the alma matter of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye I am told (by their son, Jay). It is an AG school, and my friend comes from an AG background. Her father is a pastor at a large AG congregation. Look at some of their position papers, or their website and you’ll get the idea as to why I mention it and why its a big deal. Being queer = not an option. Sam is in the closet in many areas in her life—namely family and school—but not for long. She will graduate in a mere 20 some days. And after that, she is planning her outting. I am helping with those plans.

So a while back Sam asked if I would drive her to a church service that her dad would be preaching at about 2 hours away. Well, there is almost nothing I won’t do for her, so of course I said yes and put the date on the calendar. That date was this past Sunday.

We got in the car, stopped for crappy gas station “cappucinos” and were on our way. “So what exactly is off limits as far as topics go with your dad Sam?” I would ask. “Well, sweetie is your ‘roommate’ and not, well, your sweetie. And you know, the whole thing about being gay—that is sort of off limits. But the rest is good. I know, that’s pretty much the whole thing, huh?” Yes Sam, it sure is. A little further down the road I asked her to try and really remember this moment in time, “because in a few years” I told her “you will look back on asking me to go back into the closet, and shudder in horror that you could ever ask your friend to do this for you.”

“I already do” she said.  I totally believe her. Being in the closet for her is truly a matter of life—as she knows it now—or death, being sent away to exodus ministry or some other ex-gay ministry and/or being expelled from school just 20 some days before graduation. The stakes are high for my young friend. And I would happily go back into that closet to make sure she was going to be safe and ok.

We pulled into the strip mall movie theater turned worship center parking lot, did one last ‘ok, do I look straight enough’ check and marched into church. Dad was in the front row, the first praise song was already in full arm swing, and we joined dad up in the second row. Songs belting, arms praising, I was back in time about 10 years. The songs were different—but not really.

Without any sarcasm I say clearly, what a blessing it was to be back in that place—to see how far G-d has brought me along. For starters, the G-d I know is not a he (or she for that matter). Also, that night we prayed for everyone ‘gathered in this place’ but not for one single person outside of those walls. We listened to shocking horrors of the world, and were asked to take comfort that WE are saved—though we were awful and wretched beings. We needed to repent of our sins, though our sins were not actually about the neglect of those outside of this place. It was a step back in time in my faith journey. It became a solid 2 hours of me truly praising G-d for what G-d has done in my life. The praise really was in fact, praise—and my hands were honestly lifted just a bit not to fit in, but to give thanks.

After worship we spent some QT with dad. We got a tour of the church, his wife—Sam’s mom—decorated and designed the place. As we toured the church, we talked about the blessing that Sam is in my life, how Sweetie (called by her real name obviously) and I were thrilled to be “good Christian mentors” in a very special and important time in Sam’s life. We talked about how G-d has a funny sense of humor and how G-d works. And friends, my evanglical language set—its like riding a bike really. Blessings, praise Jesus, awesome, brokenness, gift, we just thank you blah blah blah—it all came whooshing back to me.

I got a text yesterday from my friend. She said when I asked how her lunch the next day with her dad went she wrote “He likes you and says he can tell you’re a ‘great woman of God, who follows Him no matter what.”

I pray that he is right. While I have no intention of every hiding who I am, this closet experience, was not too bad.

So friends tell me, if someone asked you to go back into the closet (about any issue)—would you? Have you? Do tell.

(In other news, as you may already know, Jennifer Knapp came out as a lesbian. The article in the Christianity Today is maddening in the way they pose the questions to her. But, beautiful and faithful as she is and always has been, she answered gracefully. My favorite quote from the article is:

The struggle I’ve had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I’ve been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I’ve always approached my faith. I still consider my hope to be a whole human being, to be a person of love and grace. So it’s difficult for me to say that I’ve struggled within myself, because I haven’t. I’ve struggled with other people.

Right on Jennifer. My deepest admirations and prayers are with you in this journey.)

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13 thoughts on “a closet full of love (and one less evangelical)

  1. I have gone back in the closet for friends occasionally – for me it’s what you referenced…the evangelical language, behavior, mindset etc. Not disagreeing openly with things, not raising a fuss about politics or theology, smiling and nodding at things that inside make me want to scream… and it really is like riding a bike. It’s really really hard for me but I will do it for a friend…just not too often. You are a good friend deary. I’m proud of you.

  2. Wow. I wonder how that family is going react when their daughter comes out. I’ve seen this happen so many times at similar churches and it gets so ugly. Im praying for your friend, that she has strength and courage to come out, and for her family, that they learn to love unconditionally. Thought-provoking story.

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  4. I was annoyed by the article in CT about Jennifer Knapp. Just like Christians to focus on her sexuality and pretty much ignore everything else about her. I thought the Advocate did a better job with their piece. I never was a fan of Christian music, but I always loved Jennifer. I think I sensed her desire for wholeness and integrity. I am so glad she’s back.

    Regarding your question: I am not sure I could go back to an AG service!! I grew up in the AG church and I don’t know that I could be as thoughtful and gracious about going back. I think I would still be angry. Of course, I hope that I could set that all aside to help a friend.

  5. Great post! Though I dislike the idea of anyone ‘going back into the closet’- I understand that in this case and in other special cases, the closet is the ‘right’ place to be at the time. Before I came out, I left the church- well kinda– just the conservative, evangelical fundamentalist church. But, it is as you described like riding a bike– the special christian language can be pulled out at any time. In fact, it actually hurts me to hear people use words like praise, worship, grace now– almost like those words need to be re-imagined because their meanings have been so tainted and almost destroyed by my faith experience..But— how amazing is it to be free???!!!

    Sure, I have some baggage but I hope one day to be able to use those experiences to help others, like you helped ‘Sam’.. Thanks for sharing your story, Rachel.

  6. First of all, I commend you rachel for leaving your comfort zone to be there for a friend: greater love hath no man than this…

    With me, it isn’t at all the same thing, but having grown up on 3 continents, shuttled between 5 different schools, and indeed worshiped in congregations that range from liberal to conservative in at least 3 major religions, I feel like there has always been a part of me that is in the closet- an essential part of me that I conceal from people because it is different, and associated with something they don’t like. In each new place it is a new/ different thing, but there is always something.

    I recently worked for 2 years in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and would regularly tell people that I was from Canada since it is considered a more neutral country in the current conflicts (rightly or wrongly). I acknowledge that it is nothing like the magnitude of a gay person in the closet because the fact that I am a British citizen doesn’t mean that much to me. I could stop being a british citizen, and not feel much loss. For a gay person the stakes are much higher.

    But at the same time, I find myself constantly entering and exiting closets, and I do it just as much here in the ‘tolerant’ west as I do elsewhere. Probably more in Minnesota than many other places I have been. It is also interesting that when I attended a liberal church that was very affirming to gay people, I found much intolerance and even hatred toward people who didn’t agree- republicans in particular. I knew some politically conservative people there who were all but ejected because of what they believed. Evangelical intolerance is an awful thing and goes against the heart of Christ’s message, but they do not have a monopoly in it.

  7. Mark,

    I am SO grateful for your reflection. I especially like your words about moving in and out of closets. So true.
    I am also grateful and especially challenged by your call to the liberals who say they are for full inclusion (ALL means ALL) but then when the rubber hits the road, other points of view or conversation are shut down.
    I am so glad to call you friend. Thank you Mark (and Becky, Becky, Tia Lynn and Makeesha) for such heartfelt and wonderful reflections so far. Nothin but gratitude.

  8. I can’t even begin to imagine what a gift it is for Sam to have a friend like you. I mean, I know what a gift you are already to me and I hardly know you, but seriously sister–what a loving thing to do.

  9. I read this earlier this afternoon and since I couldn’t reply I just thought about it a lot. Asking myself your question and going deep into it.

    First, I’m proud of you. “Sam” is so lucky to have you and sweetie to stand beside her doing this time. How I longed for physical, one on one, to be right there with me while I tried to figure things out. Although I had so many of y’all here, as we have shared before, there is also something needed with that eye to eye contact. So I’m proud of you example of selflessness to enter a place that wasn’t easy and for being a support to Sam. I will be praying for all involved. In His mercy!

    Second, I kept thinking about this question over and over. Would I go back into the closet? Well, I guess you and I both know being fully out of the closet is still “new.” So a part of me cringed at the thought. To have this time to embrace not having to hide or shade this or that, its been an awesome. Then I think of your situation and if I were in your shoes. How could I not do it for someone who is in a place I have been. In some ways it be an honor to stand in a gap for someone like Sam. Its an unique situation to be in and to help mentor and guide is a special thing. So given the right situation yes, I would go in the closet for a moment. However, I can’t lie and say my heart kind of feels a hinge and my inner voice says, “what about hurting a family further by shading parts of my life too.” But I feel the overriding thing here is that my heart goes to people like Sam who are in the situation I too have been in myself, but also wanting to protect them from the pain of what I have experienced.

    Rachel, I cannot tell you what an honor it is to call you a friend and sister! You challenge me and stretch me in your journey. Thank you for sharing your life here.

    Blessings!

    Jules!

  10. This is such a great post, and you are a wonderful friend.

    I’ve nothing to add to what others have said, except I was amused when I clicked through to the position papers link to see their picture of Jesus – so white and European looking, although at least he has dark hair. He was from the Middle-East, AG folks!

  11. Lady…all I can say is, you are truly a warrior. I continue to learn from you. The blessing for all of us is to stand on the shoulders of those who went before us knowing full well we are preparing for the weight of those that will follow. God’s peace. dd

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