In 1988, I met Jesus on a muddy hillside in Pennsylvania.
I had caught glimpses before, but there, with the smell of pine needles and the body odor of a few hundred unwashed humans, I saw him clearly and I fell in love. I had been raised in the church, but it took a long haired man in jeans and a t-shirt to tell the story in a way that broke through my teen mind and showed me just how much God loved me.
I stood on that hillside, tears running down my cheeks, my normally loud voice quietly whispering the prayer that I finally understood. I experienced something revolutionary in those woods, and was unable to turn away. I had felt the love of a parent who would never turn their face from me, and I was changed. A voice that wanted to speak that love to others was awakened in me.
Ten years later I lay in a hospital room, begging for the birth to be over. I had pushed for hours, and the child in me seemed content to stay there forever. Finally, with the aid of forceps, tears, and a mighty yell, the baby was born. The doctors had said that they didn’t want the baby to cry because there was meconium present in the fluid, but not to be outdone by mom, our newborn let out a cry that sounded more like that of a two-month old than a two-minute old.
Too many LGBTQ people have experienced not only hatred from the church, but silence in the face of their suffering, and I cannot be silent. After far too long, I was allowed to hold this child to my breast and we nursed for the first time. This time I was the parent, and I knew I could never turn my face away from this child. I was changed. A voice of love and protection awakened in me, unlike anything I had ever known.
When my child was born, the doctors announced, “It’s a girl!” And based on the information they had at the time, that seemed accurate. But in classic “don’t judge a book by its cover” fashion, that assessment was incomplete, and 16 years later, the child who had been raised as a girl told us that she was actually he. During this rebirth there was no yelling—even though there were some tears—but the mother who nurses her child cannot forget them. Turning away from him was not an option. The love that I had experienced on that muddy hillside nearly three decades earlier demanded that I show love to others, and the love that I had experienced 16 years previously when we had nursed together in a hospital room has never wavered.
Some, however, were not convinced that love and acceptance were the right decisions. They believed that the parent who said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” didn’t mean that for the gay or transgender children. They believed that support from parents in these cases was best not offered publicly. They believed that the voice that I was sharing could mislead others, shifting them away from the truth, as they saw it. We were told that continuing to speak would mean we could no longer be a part of their church.
My husband, who loves my voice and who loves our son, held my hand as I said that silence was not an option. Too many LGBTQ people have experienced not only hatred from the church, but silence in the face of their suffering, and I cannot be silent.
In the days since, there have been tears and yelling and grief. A day of rejoicing was rendered somber, as we were unable to worship with a church family that we had grown to love.
Being asked to leave a church is an incredibly painful thing. But we are still a part of a larger family, with an infinitely loving parent. And I will not be silent about the vastness of that love.