Theology Ruined My Father’s Memorial Service

by Alicia Johnston

Last night was my dad’s memorial service. I delayed my coming out because of his illness. I knew that he was already struggling with his own mortality and that trying to reconcile the daughter he was so proud of and loved deeply with the ideas he had about LGBT people would be too much for him. He was the kind of guy who, when he saw a same-sex couple on a TV show, would exclaim how gross it was, change the channel, and never watch that show again.

I don’t regret never telling my dad, and I don’t think I ever will.

It’s the reality of the situation that what he would think if I told him I’m queer is 10,000 miles away from what I would mean. He would think I was denying God. I know I am following God. He would believe I was embracing sin and sexual deviance. I know I am rejecting hate and embracing the true and good heart I have been given.

It was the right call. But that didn’t change the fact that after he breathed his last breath, I looked down at his body and realized that my father would never know me for who I am. I began to sob. I wanted things to be different. I wanted the world to be different. I wanted the man who brought me into the world and was one of the first two people to ever love me to know this beautiful, wonderful part of myself. But he couldn’t.

Last night we went to the church where I am a pastor, and we honored the memory of my dad. The service was beautiful. People I have known since I was a child talked about what a wonderful man my father was, and every word was true. They embraced me, told me they love me, and told me over and over again how proud dad was of me.

He was proud of his little girl who became a pastor.

The outpouring of loved I received these last few days, and especially last night at the memorial, has been exceptional. I can’t recall ever being so loved and supported. I’ve lost track of the number of people who told me they are happy to help with anything I need. Everyone answers when I call. Everyone does exactly what I ask of them. Everyone’s hearts are broken for me. Everyone is anxious to show me how much they love me.

This is Christian community at its best. It is a thing to behold. It is true, it is good, and it is the heart of the gospel. And when I come out in a few weeks, and tell them that I affirm my bisexual identity, it will be broken forever.

Today, my choice to be a pastor affirms everything they want to believe about God and the church. But soon affirmation will turn to threat because I’ve taken a different view on a handful of Bible passages, and more importantly because I’ve come to love this part of myself that loves women.

I won’t be able to pastor this or any other Adventist church after that.

These same people won’t listen to my sermons online, praise my ministry, and tell me how proud they are of me for being an Adventist pastor.

My father would not have been proud of me had he lived long enough to see me be honest about what I believe and who I am.

This is perhaps the worst part of the church’s anti-queer theology. It breaks something beautiful. Christian community can be a beautiful thing if you are straight. If you are queer like I am, the cost is silence and shame. That cost is too high.

Even those who are a dedicated allies and speak too loudly on my behalf often experience the cost becoming too high for them. Silence is demanded of anyone who would speak out. How could I pastor in a church that is harming people like me? How could I ignore the compassion of the Bible and still pastor with integrity?

If you are queer in a traditional Christian church, your choices are impossible.

You must be willing to demonize your same-sex attraction, hide it, or both. The church will offer you shame and disgrace, and you must receive it no matter how you struggle against it. You must live with the constant sense of being other. When people say homophobic and ignorant things, you must hold your tongue. Falling in love must become something you fear. This is the cost of remaining comfortably in this community.

If your experience is anything like mine, you will find yourself desperately clinging to any shred of hope that maybe you can just be same-sex attracted and not queer. Maybe these are just thoughts and feelings and not the truth about who you are, how you see the world, and how you experience love and family.

And all of this will impact your mental health in ways you may not even know. I didn’t know, not until I learned to love the way I love did I finally see how much sadness and loneliness I lived with all my life. Not until I experienced the sharp joy of affirmation from God did I discover that my love for women is a gift.

But I can’t embrace this truth about myself and the world and still have my place in this Christian community. I can’t be queer and have my father be proud of me.

These are the impossible choices LGBT people in traditionalist churches face.

Our communities are beautiful, but they aren’t working for everyone. That is a problem. Ignoring this problem is ignoring the heart and soul of the gospel.  The gospel was never intended to be only for the right kind of people, but for everyone.

Originally published by Alicia Johnston

Comments (5)

Linda Taylor

My deepest condolences. I
My deepest condolences. I wish I could wrap my arms around you and give you a ((((BIG HUG)))) There are other Churches more accepting. However, The United Methodist Church is going through a battle right now over Full inclusion of LGBTQ MEMBERS. GOD LOVE YOU. I wish some would stop Cheery picking the Bible.Love your sister. LindaTaylor

Judith Dahlen

Wish you were here my dear.
Wish you were here my dear. And I hope you have a community like ours nearby. I attend Metroplitan Community Church of The Gentle Shepherd in Vancouver WA. We’re a tiny little congregation that works jointly to provide a food bank with Martha’s Pantry that supports those living with HIV/Aids. our pastor lost his congragation years ago under the same circumstances as you. We’d welcome you with open arms while you regroup and heal. J.

Lesley Hamilton

Alicia, courage is yours and
Alicia, courage is yours and God is with you. The United Church would welcome you in the pulpit (US,Canada, Australia), and others I imagine. I am so sorry your denomination will not be able to see your God given wonder. Take care as you share with them and grieve the loss of their love. Blessings. Lesley


This makes me profoundly sad
This makes me profoundly sad for you. I pray for a world where all are accepted and loved as Jesus loved. I pray for you as you come out and go through what will be a difficult time in your life. I pray others will find tolerance and love for you and your choices. You are a child of God.

Caitlin Addison-Howard

Christ opens our heart and
Christ opens our heart and pulls us through the crack in the cosmogenesis. The divine patterning of cause and effect, relationship, attraction and accident makes it possible for us to find love everywhere; no strings attached. The shed where light shows us the way: angles of unlimited possibliities once the gateways are recognized and we step into the light.

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