One Person's Story
When I was in junior high, I met him. He was the son of my piano teacher. He was a couple of years ahead of me in school. He lived in a different area of town so we did not grow up going to the same grade school or junior school, but eventually, we would go to the same high school. We first got to know each other as his mom had us perform duets at her piano recitals. I adored his mom. I adored his family. And I adored him.
By the time I was a sophomore in high school, he and I became very close. We were in symphonic band, marching band, and jazz band together. He introduced me to his friend group, invited me to go to church with him, and seemed to adopt me as the little sister he never had. He introduced me to musicals, Hitchcock movies, and murder mysteries. When he was around, adventure seemed to follow. He always seemed to be in search of excitement and joy. I noticed people (peers and adults alike) were either instantly drawn to him or repelled by him. Something, at the time, I could not figure out.
There were times when we were inseparable, and then there were times when he seemed to disappear. While most of the time there was a sparkle that radiated from him, there were also times when deep darkness resided in him. At the time, I couldn’t figure it out.
From the outside, it seemed like he had it all. From my perspective, he had it all. He came from a strong Christian family. He had an older brother and sister, while much more serious than him, seemed to adore him as much as I did. He was bright, charming and people (especially parents and teachers) loved him. He had big dreams, big plans, and seemed destined to live a big life.
But then, something happened that I didn’t understand at the time. It was in his senior year. My optimistic, joyful, best friend became negative and miserable. He no longer wanted to go out on the weekends, attend youth group at my church (I told him I didn’t feel comfortable at his church, so he began coming to mine), or hear about my plans since he stopped talking about his own. We began to drift apart. Then, one day he told me he believed I was going to hell for considering being a minister as a woman and for accepting the “radical” beliefs of my church and my family.
After that, he pretty much cut me out of his life. I stopped taking piano lessons to avoid awkwardly bumping into him at his home. I was hurt and confused, but I moved on to new friends and new adventures. He graduated from high school, went off to college, and I didn’t hear from him or about him until I was in college myself.
Out of the blue, he called me on a weekend when I was home from school. The conversation was uncomfortable and strained. He apologized for the way he treated me in high school during the last months of his senior year. He told me he didn’t believe it was wrong for women to be ordained, but he could not understand why I would waste my time and talents serving the church. He told me he wasn’t close to family anymore and probably would never step into a church ever again. As he spoke, I hardly recognize this old friend of mine.
Years later, I heard that much of his family, his friends, and his church had cut off all ties with him. Why? Because they found out he was gay. While I was not shocked by the news, I was deeply saddened. I was sad he felt that he could not be his authentic self around me. I was sad that even when I reached out to him years later to assure him nothing had changed on my end and I still loved him as the person I had gotten to know in my youth, he could not accept this truth or my attempts to restore the relationship. I was sad that his family could not love him fully for the person God had created him to be. I was sad that the church that had baptized and claimed him as their own, turned its back on him. I was sad that life had become so difficult for him simply because he no longer wanted to hide and live in the shadows of secrecy and shame. I was sad that he had been hurt by so many people who claimed they believed and were living out the teachings of Jesus Christ.
This is why I am an ally. This is why I am proud to be a part of a denomination that understands the importance of authentically, faithfully living out the commandments of Jesus to love others the way Jesus loves. This is why my heart rejoices when churches choose to educate themselves on the real meaning of scriptures that people have used to condemn and deeply harm others who are simply being who God created them to be. This is why my soul sings when I see rainbow flags flying in the front yards of churches or their sanctuaries.
Likewise, my heart aches when I hear hate speech in churches or experience intolerance or unwillingness to learn, to grow, and to move into a place of acceptance, affirmation, and inclusion of all of God’s children, embracing all the beautiful ways God has created us. When I witness such things, I think of my old friend and the damage that was done by Church.
My old friend is only one person. And even though there is a sadness for me about the people who turned their backs on him, I rejoice that the hurt and darkness he experienced did not lead to him taking his own life. Others have not been so lucky. While I cannot go back in time and make it better for him, I know I can for others. And you can too--simply by loving and accepting others as Jesus does.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister