“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
1 John 2:19 NIV
I graduated High School. The Senior Pastor at my Evangelical Presbyterian Church prayed over my cohort, declaring that 2/3rds of all young people raised in church would leave during college. He cited 1 John 2:19. That night, I went rollerskating with my best friend, and we gossiped in circles around the rink about which of our friends would leave. We believed we had received gifts according to the spirit and couldn’t fathom leaving. She declared just before the rink closed, with finality, “Everyone knows you won’t ever leave. Even the pastor joked you’d marry a Billy Graham son.”
The Missions Director asked me to serve on the Missions Committee as Youth Representative. I voted on funding for evangelical missionaries in Russia, Northern & Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. The elders watched me with doe-eyed wonder. I started attending a young adults group on Sunday evenings in a church under construction. We met in a huge tent. The girl I platonically went to senior ball with left for school.
I started dating one of the boys from the tent church. Yet his sister caught my eye. I continued working at the family church’s childcare, the neighborhood child care center, and a women’s retail shop. I fell for his sister. I tried to be close with the boy as we spent Sunday evenings behind the tent church, and I was struck by the profanity of our sexualities on hallowed ground.
“Bones and stones” is what my anthropology professor called the basis for evidence. She said millions of people will die this year for religion and politics, and there is no stupider reason to die. A woman in my class had sex with her boyfriend and they accidentally made a baby.
The retail shop gave me a promotion. I went to Santa Cruz with his sister. We shared a room, but not our bodies. The boy and I broke up. I met another. I was fired from the retail shop, stopped going to the tent, and forgot to attend the committee meeting. Sunday passed in my bed. I left to the wilderness.
Out of work, I tossed my pack and a sleeping bag in the back of an old Chrysler. Spent the summer on the edge of a lake teaching boy scouts how to carve wood, mend leather, and weave baskets. I befriended several gay and closeted trans boy scouts staff, and we confessed our sexualities to each other in a dusty storage closet under pacts of secrecy.
Dropped an atheist-sized grenade into my parents’ kitchen. Turned 20. I start & stop dating a girl. Came out as a lesbian. My dad had heart surgery the same day. Doctors say it’s unrelated. Household in all out war.
My mentor of 4 years married her husband, James*, my junior year of high school after he came to our church as worship pastor. Until she announced the courtship, I assumed he was a closeted gay man because of his effeminate behavior and that he was single at 40.
I engaged in a theological discussion with James regarding the legitimacy of gay and lesbian people. We kept it theoretical.
I argued gay & lesbian people should have the full rights and blessings of the church, and I was able to cite both biblical texts and scientific arguments.
He cited other biblical texts, as well as Christian theologians and academics on the issue. He also reminded me this is the line mainstream evangelicals take on this issue, and I cannot fight the might of the church.
Perhaps it was presumptuous of me to assume my humanity was more important than his theological assumptions.
Moved out. Queer Boy Scout is my roommate, and he turns into an alcoholic boy scout. He moved out. Failed classes.
Unbeknown to me, he brought my insolence to the elders who began purging the church of gay young people. Lucky for me, I was the first to be dismissed; the purge started with my arrogance. Sarah, my boss, brought me into her office with the Assistant Pastor. He began talking. Before he approached the point, I began to pull from my insides the memory of the disagreement four months prior.
He cited an agreement I signed when I was hired at the child care center freshly 16, swearing I believed marriage was between a man and a woman. A memory came swimming back of the poorly lit living room area in our small tin home which had a gritty white folding table that hosted my dad’s entire business and was the only place I had to do homework. I’d read the three lines that sat at the bottom of the third page as an additional clause requiring signature, scoffed, and signed it.
He told me California is an at-will employment state.
He reminded me he was doing me a favor by sparing me the public shame of doing this in front of the church, elders, or the young adults meeting.
Sarah told me I was the best employee she’d ever had. She told me she deeply valued the countless hours of work I had put into the ministry. She said “this comes exclusively down to this issue.” My humanity, I guess, was much less debatable than the quality of my labor.
She said she would give me recommendation letters if I ever needed them, or anything else.
The pastor reminded me I was welcome to attend services, just not as a member of the body.
All remaining church members and employees were required to sign an affirmation of the sanctity of marriage, and that lesbian and gay relationships are an act of sin. I held my tongue when my best friend signed it.
I didn’t tell my parents because I believed that they would have blamed me for challenging the might of the church. what if they didn’t leave the church? It’s one thing to hold the theological view your daughter is living in sin, but it is something very different to stand by her ousting.
Started full time work.
Picked up my brother at youth group. The Youth Pastor stuck his head through my passenger door and told me he thought I was “incredibly brave,” and “this is . . . difficult.”
I thought that was rich coming from a man who sits on the board of elders and could have stopped the purge. His silence, I wanted to tell him, was collaboration in practice.
Since then, I have swallowed many an angry email.
And so it is that I am part of the 2/3rds.
*Names changed for privacy