It has been 20 years since I was a member of any church, and several since I’ve actually sat in one. Issues regarding my sexuality are the main reason for this absence. It wasn’t always that way and one member of my family still stands as the example of how a Christian should be.
I grew up Protestant and was very active in my church throughout my childhood. Sunday school, youth group, and choir were standard parts of my routine, and because of my long blonde hair I was typecast as the angel for every Christmas play.
It wasn’t until puberty hit, and I realized I was gay, that I became sensitive to the language of the sermons. After hearing one too many pastors in high school and college outline the path to Hell for those who weren’t straight as an arrow, I decided church wasn’t worth the frustration it caused me.
That abandonment was tough for me, since before I became the target of the church’s judgment I was quite happy there. I not only enjoyed the weekly ancient biblical tales, I also loved the people within the building. I grew up with them. I hated the thought that their love was so conditional when it came to me.
Shortly after I began to sleep in on Sunday mornings I knew I had to come out to my family. I had not been honest about who I was, and after moving to Atlanta I knew it was time to grow up and own my authentic self. The person I was most intimidated to tell was Dad.
A former basketball player, my father was about 6 feet 2 inches tall and had served in the Korean War. He was a big personality but quite distant at home, so he and I rarely had in-depth conversations. Add to that his dedication to discipline and strong work ethic, and I had the perception he would not be thrilled with my confession and was quite petrified by the idea of telling him. I wasn’t a coward, and his influence taught me that regardless of my fear I would have to look him in the eye and show him who I was.
That happened at a Wendy’s, of all places. We had stopped to grab lunch while on an errand, and I took advantage of our alone time. I let him know about me, and even confessed that of everyone in the family I thought he might be the one who was most likely to reject me. His response?
“Jesus wouldn’t have rejected you, so why should I?”
After all those years of attending church, all those stories I read in the Bible, and all the conversations I had about religion, this was the most Christian moment I’ve ever experienced in the presence of what a true Christian really looks like. An old-school Southern athlete and veteran, someone born in a time of not only homophobia but also racism, held his spiritual focus on the actions of one person and followed suit. I was never so proud to be his daughter.
My father passed away in 2001, and I am grateful I had the opportunity for that conversation before he left this earth. If I ever find a sanctuary full of people like him with arms open to welcome me back into the fold, I’ll set my alarm for Sunday mornings again.