Two years ago today, I was kicked out of church.
At the time, it was devastating. I was newly out, vulnerable, and needed the people who said they loved me to actually love me. To love me more than they loved their dogma.
Instead, I got called a lot of things. Angry. Divisive. Disruptive.
I was thinking about these terms recently, and how gendered they are. Oh, maybe not on the surface, but let’s think about how they’re used:
When men are called angry, there is usually violence involved.
When women are called angry, they are often just standing up for themselves.
When a man speaks up, he’s seen as assertive.
When a woman speaks up, she’s disrupting the ‘real’ conversation.
When a man challenges church dogma, he gets an entire denomination named after him.
When a woman does it, she’s told to go home.
John got his head chopped off for challenging the authorities. Jesus flipped tables. Peter preached that the old rules were nonsense. Paul insulted people to their faces. We’re taught to praise them.
I have often wondered what it was about me that made the men in charge take such a hard line. There were, and remain to this day, queer people in that church. They range from suppressing their sexuality to quietly going about their queerness. They get to stay.
It’s funny. My coming out was done in a public Facebook post, but I timed it carefully. I posted it on a Sunday afternoon to provide the maximum interval between that and the next time I was due to stand in front of the church body with a microphone in my hand. I worked to minimize the disruption. I didn’t talk about my sexuality in church. And during the five or six weeks when the elders were trying to decide what to do about me (and interrogating me about my sex life and so on), I kept pretty quiet, tried to be respectful.
By then, I had developed a habit of attending church board meetings. On occasion, I would speak up. Once, I said something they didn’t want to hear (a thing that was borne out, as it happens). I was already a disruptive woman. My coming out was self-assured. Over and over the pastor or an elder would say, “You said you don’t want to debate this,” as if it was rebellious of me to be firm in my beliefs. I was a strong-willed woman. Oh, if I could have a five dollar bill for every time I’ve been called strong willed in my life, I wouldn’t need student loans.
Men are never called strong willed.
The ultimatum given to me two years ago included another option. All I had to do was agree to never speak about my queerness or my affirming theology, anywhere, at any time, to anyone. I just had to be…a silent woman. An obedient woman.
The real problem, I have come to believe, was that I was a woman who wasn’t contained, constrained, ruled by men. I didn’t even need a man in my bedroom!
They were scared of me.
I sometimes wonder what I’d be like if I’d been allowed to stay. I’m far more liberal now, both politically and theologically. I used to be very concerned with right and wrong and good and bad, and now I see the world in greyscale. I sometimes wonder if they ever think they might have at least kept me from going completely off the rails, and I laugh and shake the dust from my feet.
Two days ago I sat in church and listened to a sermon given by a woman who is married to another woman. Her sermon began, “I am really angry.”
Praise be to God.