Wednesday, March 16, 2011

why don't they just leave (once again, sigh)

It must really suck to have this aimed at you from both sides of the Great Divide: those firmly within the CofC, and those who have left and don't understand why everyone else just won't grow a pair and do the same.

Those of us who, like Paul Tillich describes, are "aliens" within our own churches (his summation of the existential predicament of theologians) are pretty used to hearing this occasionally from CofC people who are tired of putting up with us and our tiresome oddity and annoying vocality. Certainly I've heard it enough, as this blog's archive testifies. If you decide to dwell within the CofC as alien anyhow, you learn how to screen this out--or at least, armor yourself against the hurtfulness of it. I imagine that the HU students & alumni who comprise the HU Queer Press anticipated this kind of reaction from the pious faithful. In fact--the overall message of The State of the Gay seems to be a response to this question, an answer to that reactionary attitude: Why don't we just leave? Because we're part of you--and we always have been. And because we're invested in making this community that we're all a part of a better one, for everybody.

In case there were any doubt about this, the latest statement from HUQP ought to clear it up. Demanding that hate mail to the HU administration cease, HUQP writes:
We are frustrated that others would pervert our message of compassion and open dialogue by speaking with hate and violence. We wish to create a better campus for all, queer and straight. This cannot be achieved by alienating or attacking those with whom we disagree. Anyone who uses or advocates violence, in word or in action, has completely misunderstood our zine's message.
And they end the statement with this:
"The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of unity, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work"

- Archbishop Oscar Romero
It is the same message I tried to express after a couple years of wrestling with the emotional aftermath of a truly awful experience in a CofC, in which I felt personally targeted and deliberately ambushed--despite having said and done nothing to express any of my heretical theological views within that church community. You can read the full blog post here. But here's an excerpt:

I've wondered if I really should just give up, and go away. I can't count how many people over these intervening years have asked why I don't--students, friends, family, colleagues. My answer used to be that this church is my home; how do you leave your home? But that Sunday I wondered for the first time if maybe my home might leave me, instead. Later, in defiance, my answer was, why should I? This is my home, too. Then I wondered if it was true that my presence was divisive and harmful to the church, an act of self-gratification and arrogance. I began to be afraid that I really was the kind of person described in your sermon.

For a long time, that was my fear: that my sincere wish to remain a part of the body of Christ into which I was baptized and raised in the faith would be divisive and contentious no matter what I did or didn't do, because of what I do (or don't) believe on this (or that, or that other thing).

But now, I know what I will do next time I'm in the neighborhood. I will be walking through those church doors. I will take a seat in a pew and I will sing, and pray, and listen, and contemplate scripture. I will praise God with you. Because I am certain now that it is not divisive for me to remain. It is a conscious act of unity.


Scott Lybrand said...

I read this post a week or so ago, and have been thinking about it since. As someone who left, I can only say something I've said before: you never really leave.

That HU Queer Press means so much to those who are no longer in the Church of Christ demonstrates that a part of us remains behind. Part of us, it would seem, can never leave. And perhaps that's the way it should be.

I left because I could no longer stand the tension. But my thoughts have returned to the CofC lately, and I wonder if I made the right choice. I wonder if I could be doing some good if I'd stayed.

I spoke today with the minister of the CofC that asked me to leave. I told him that though I was no longer a member of his church, I still had an interest in his congregation. I don't mean an interest in the sense of curiosity or a desire to observe the happenings of the church. I mean that I have a stake in the Church of Christ. And always will.

I don't think that those who left are the ones who grew a pair. I think it's the ones who stay.

JJT said...

Nah. It takes balls to do either.

I'm really impatient with attitudes on either side of the go-or-stay that presume there's only one right choice. That's an absolutist attitude that offers one single universal answer to a multitude of particularities.

And either way, the same painful theological re-constructive work is necessary. And either way, you get crap from people. So...I'm just not willing to say that one is harder than the other, and def not that one is any better than the other.

I especially think it's rotten, in this case, that the "why don't they leave" mantra is getting shouted from both sides of aisle. Bad enough to hear it from the "faithful," which you can expect...but to also get it simultaneously from people who ought to understand where the HUQP is coming from, that's truly harsh.

Unknown said...

I met my raised-in-the-church-of-Christ husband when I was in seminary. Woo baby! I had words for him. Actually, it was remarkable how *little* he knew of WHY his parents' church believed what they did. I "converted" him away, and the elders decided that they had to meet with him to tell him to break up with me because I was an evil influence. He never has gone back and never will. Thank God my in-laws are a little more open-minded and willing to believe that people *can* be Christians without attending and being baptized into the CofC. I'm interested to dig a little deeper into your blog and see what you have to say. I had no idea there was a leaving "movement."

JJT said...

Welcome, Robyn, you evil temptress! ;)