Confronting Injustice In My Childhood Church

by Samantha Lambert

“The Church” is a somewhat scary and intimidating phrase to me. I grew up in a “Christian family,” but that phrase means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

I used to love going to church with my grandparents. I liked to hear people talk about God and I enjoyed the sense of community. Church was once what centered me and gave me hope. It deepened my relationship with my grandparents and made me more self-assured. I believed my church loved me, and I loved my church.

And yet, my feet now drag when I’m invited to church because I made the decision to stop going at a very young age.

Growing up, I didn’t know of straight or gay for a long time. My mother never used the words “gay,” “lesbian,” or “homosexual.” That changed when I saw my mother’s best friend, Jan, kiss another woman.

I was nine and had never seen a woman kiss another woman that way. My mother explained that they were in love and their love was just as loving and romantic as a man and a woman’s. She told me that another family friend, Teddy, was also gay, and he and his partner also had a pure and beautiful love.

I had now heard the terms “gay” and “straight” for the first time. I asked a lot of questions, including: could Jan and Teddy marry the people they loved?

My mom’s response made me cry. I could not comprehend why two people who loved and supported each other, lived together, and were nice and happy could not get married. This injustice consumed me. I wanted to know who dared stand in the way of love. 

I tried to think of who would stand up for love, and that’s when I thought of my church.

I asked my mother if one of the elders could marry them at church, saying that nobody else had to know; my mother gently tried to explain why that would not happen.

That Sunday I went to church feeling so confused and upset that I almost forgot to repeat the pastor in verse. I felt betrayed and ashamed participating in a church where I was uncertain of their beliefs about gay marriage. I felt even more ashamed for even thinking of my church in a negative view.

That church was where I had been blessed after birth and attended Sunday School every week. I volunteered to do collection every Sunday and helped out at every Spring Fling fair and potluck. I read the Scriptures often and I respected the elders, shaking their hands and admiring their silver dove pines. I was the granddaughter of the oldest serving elder there, the apple of his and the church’s eye.

I had been happy there. But now I knew I would never be able to feel the same way again. 

So one day, I shocked people by quitting attending. It was blamed on adolescence, with some reminding the other members that my mother had “abandoned” the church before as well. 

My grandfather was upset at my sudden change of mind, but I felt like I had to be honest with myself. Would these elders, this community I grew up in, welcome Jan and Teddy? Would they want them to marry and be happy?

I felt a resounding “NO” in my stomach as an answer.

It was hard to give up a life I was used to, but remaining true to my conscience and supporting the gay community made me happier in the end.

I didn’t know if I could ever come back to a church community, but recently a friend posted a link on Believe Out Loud’s facebook page about the Community of Christ’s USA National Conference

At the national headquarters in Independence, Missouri, members of my childhood church addressed two issues: “same-sex/gender marriage where legal, and covenant commitment services where marriage is not legal; and ordination of people regardless of sexual orientation.” 

When delegates from across the country voted to pass these measures, it meant that Community of Christ became the first major Latter-day Saints church to allow same-sex marriage and gay or lesbian clergy.

This is huge. It is huge for me, the members of the Community of Christ, LGBT Christians, people of faith and any other person who has left their church because they thought they were living a lie.  

I have still not yet decided if I am going to go back. 

For now, I just give thanks that the church that I grew up in is opening its heart and beginning to love everyone as much as I once loved it.

Today, I still read my grandfather’s Bible and even partake in some Joyce Meyer with my aunt, but I also enjoy a good pride parade, equality marches and visits with Jan and Teddy. I’ve learned life is about balance, and I’ve found mine here. 

Photo via Samantha Lambert