A reader and friend of Hacking Christianity sent in his reflections as an LGBTQ pastor in The United Methodist Church. Read on for a snapshot of his journey and a shared experience that resonates a different way for him.
That Feeling in the Pit of your Stomach
Rev. Joey Heath-Mason
Have you ever met someone and when you found out they were a Christian you immediately hesitated, especially when that someone is a church leader or pastor? You get that lump in your throat or butterflies in your stomach. That feeling comes because you are wondering, do they know me? Do they know that part of me? Will they truly see and believe the depth of my faith?
As a pastor you might be surprised to know this happens to me, but it just doesn’t happen sometimes, it happens almost always. You see, as a gay man I always have this fear at these introductions. I recoil a little bit, and ask myself “can I be honest here?” “can I say husband?” “do I need to just try and pass in this moment?” “is this safe?” It is a very unsettling feeling when it happens and even more so when it constantly repeats itself over and over again.
To be clear, I am not afraid of being judged, disagreed with, or even not liked. Rather:
- It is a fear of the hurt I feel every time I am made to feel not welcome or less than, the fear of alienation.
- It is a fear of the pain I have felt time and time again. It is the look on someone’s face, even without words, that says “oh” and you can see the inner monologue that happens.
- It is the conversation that suddenly becomes awkward or uncomfortable or just cut short.
- It is painful because it is a reminder that I am not really in the club. I am not really a part of the club and I have only gotten this far because folks have willingly or unknowingly let me through.
It is a reminder that no matter what happens in my ministry, no matter how beautiful my family is, no matter how much I strive toward perfection, I am seen as “not living up to scriptural holiness.” I am seen as one who does not truly believe in Scripture. I am seen as one who prefers to cater to the culture rather than the Savior. I am seen as one who lacks the integrity to uphold my vows. It hurts because no matter what, I will never be good enough, even as none of us are good enough, and yet it feels like my not good enough is somehow worse.
I recognize I am not the only one to feel this way. I know that I am coming from a place of privilege as a white man who has the option to pass for straight. I know for women, people of color, those with disabilities, and even other folks from the LGBTQ community, racism, sexism, ableism, and all kinds of discrimination are not so easily avoided and are a part of their real lived reality.
I also realize I have voluntarily committed my life to the church in full knowledge of the rules and regulations. I have known my entire adult life exactly where the UMC is on the questions of LGBTQ people and our place in the ministry and the celebration of our loves. I knew when I stood at the altar and said “I do” that I was entering into a holy covenant that might one day be used against me. I know that there would be many less questions if I were willing to commit to being celibate and to leave my marriage behind. I know I could choose to leave the church I have been a part of my entire life and choose a new church home that is more accepting of me. I know these things like I know that feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I meet new people.
And I also know that I feel called to ministry in the UMC. Even with my theological difference on sexuality, the Wesleyan theology of our church just fits me right. The mixture of grace and call to holiness. The call to transform my own life and to transform the world. The striving to end injustice and oppression everywhere and to love and care for those the world sees as the least, the lost, and the lonely. It is the vision of hope that I have been learning to believe my entire lifetaught to me by this church. It is in this theological space that I feel most at home, at least for now.
To be honest though, I am not sure how much longer I will feel that way.
Rev. Joey Heath-Mason is cradle United Methodist, growing up in southern Georgia. After he hearing a calling to ministry he enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary. Since graduating Joey has served in a small rural church, a larger suburban church, and now serves in campus ministry at American University. Joey is passionate about being church that welcomes all and providing space for all God’s children to build relationship with God and one another. Joey lives in the DC metro area with his two dogs and husband of two and a half years.
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