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LGBTQ People and Church Rule-makers

Did that word synod grab your attention? To me, the sound of the word conjures visions of a sinister conclave, if I let my imagination run a little wild. I see hooded men, faces obscured, lining the walls of a subterranean dungeon. In origin, the word is quite innocuous—coming from the Greek where it meant simply assembly or meeting. In today’s English it refers to ecclesiastical governing bodies. And those, as we all know, sometimes do take sinister action.

If you have ties of any sort to the church I grew up in, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), the word might get your attention because that church just held its annual synod. The body was to decide, among other things, on recommendations to pastors who are asked to respond to same-sex marriage in one way or another. This was not even about whether to affirm LGBTQ Christians’ membership in the church or our validity as human beings. Synod’s decision, after a strategically early calling of the question halted all discussion, was repressive and potentially punitive. Pastors could be disciplined for even attending a same-sex wedding of their own child, let alone officiating at one. The decision went against a moderate report, three years in the making, that had polled 4,000 church members as it sought an equitable path. I watched the live-streamed proceedings for two hours. Delegates and advisors who had registered (thirty some) could speak, but there could be no discussion on their points of view. I heard impassioned voices on both sides of the question. I witnessed compassion, pain, self-righteousness, eloquence, and reductionist thinking. I saw that almost all women who spoke (fewer than a fifth of the speakers) were against the motion. Perhaps this is because it wasn’t long ago that allowing women to be ordained or hold office in the CRC underwent similar decision-making and is still called into question. Those of us relegated to second-class status often have a keen eye for injustice.

During the two hours and in the aftermath, both LGBTQ people and our allies expressed dismay, frustration, devastation, and feelings of rejection at the hands of the church we love. People posted questions in a social media group: Should they leave the church? Should they stay and disobey? Many allies asked themselves what they could do. Several went out and bought rainbow ribbons and handed them out to anyone at church who would wear them this past Sunday. Others passed out rainbow “Ally” buttons. Some churches served rainbow cupcakes after the service. I could not have been prouder or more grateful to those who stood up to make their support visible. I hope that such visibility continues and swells into a great wave of love and support.

I left the CRC in 1973. That was the year that Synod made its first anti-LGBTQ pronouncement, right when I was entering a committed relationship with the woman I loved. I now belong to an affirming denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) where I feel supported, validated and sometimes celebrated. But I realized as I watched these people debate—people who wore shorts, button-down plaid shirts, and summer-casual dresses, not hooded robes, and many who have Dutch surnames like the one I was born with—that this is the church of my heart. I love with freedom and joy the people of the church I now belong to. But I love with memory and sorrow and depth and, yes—even still at times—longing, the people of the church that cradled me. I care more deeply about decisions that this church makes than I do about the ones that are being made this week at the General Assembly of the PCUSA. I care about my LGBTQ siblings and their allies who stay in the CRC and try to change it from within.

As I observed people’s reactions, I reflected that I’ve spent much of my life being on both the inside and the outside of things. Here I am an insider because I know and understand the inner workings of the CRC well. Here is a concentration of the ethnicity and American subculture to which I belong. Here I have family, old friends and a new network of LGBTQ friends and allies. And here I am an outsider because I separated myself a long time ago from the day-to-day life of any CRC church. I felt great empathy for my friends, great appreciation for the actions of our allies. I also felt as though whatever words I might add to our CRC social media groups could not and did not carry as much weight as those of the people still in the church.

I could also tell that my reaction to Synod’s action was far less intense, far less pained, than the reactions of my friends who are still in the church. It was both personal and not personal for me. In the end, the words of those who remain, trying, always hoping, to change the church, are the words of greatest import. With his permission, I’m sharing the poem written by Eric Van Giessen because his is the eloquent voice of one who stays and hopes for anger to bring justice and for sorrow to remove what covers the real and the true.

SYNOD 2016

Knees tucked tight under my chin,
I find myself watching a spectacle
more tedious than televised golf.
Clearly there was a handbook
that I failed to review…
or else the signposts have been
intentionally disguised so as to
ensure the SOS of the foreigner.
I have my passport ready,
my birth certificate with a detailed
family lineage and a plaqued
certificate of CRC competence—
just in case my confusion
becomes cause to question my belonging.
A docket of white men adorned with
glasses and a short-sleeved
button up uniformity speak
spaciously about the need to affirm
a motion to provide spiritual leaders
with clearer guidelines on how to
exclude me and to address my issues.
As a call to clarity some brandish bibles
causing the Book to jitterbug before
the delegates – as if it was
to dance for its life tonight.
“This book provides all the answers
we need with unbridled clarity!”
Except when it doesn’t…and exhaustive
interpretation and illustration
is necessary – a notion that is highly
irrelevant to the current cause.
Amongst the casual bashing and
hellspeak, tears and thoughtful warnings
are spoken to the deep exhale of
the thousands watching paint dry.
To those tears—to those allies
I curtsy in a gay huzzah:
your tears kept the paint wet for a
few moments more.
But it would dry and dry the same:
a putrid eggshell-white…
rainbow free since 1973* and beyond.
I weep because I wanted to write
a different poem.
One where “Do you take this man”
could blessedly christen
my father’s lips someday—
a sacred oneness sealed with a
once forbidden kiss—
I weep knowing all too well that those
110 say aye’s**—with ‘Biblical’ surety—
tipped the pill bottle
into my sister’s mouth
to resounding applause
some belly singing the tune
“Victoryyyyyyy in Jeeeeeesus…”
while others with dry mouth
search for a song yet unwritten and
too often sung.
In my dreaming I wonder
what might have been if
I was there to stare into their eyes if
I’d danced across the stage
with a with a pride-flag cape if
we’d arrived in hoards to circle
the CFAC*** and pray hand in hand
the Holy Spirit as our swaying song—
her mysterious moving turning hearts.
Now I pray patience and courage
to write that unwritten song
to wear my cape with pride
and to grasp those hands
firmly till our bones ache and
those grinding knuckles become
a tinitic drone in their ears
a reminder that we are here
we are queer and we will not
permit the domicide of our
Mother’s house by hatred and fear.
May the Sustainer sustain us.
May our anger be used for justice.
May our sorrow peel away the paint
and reveal the Kingdom.

© Anna Redsand (except for Eric's poem) All Rights Reserved
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