Then they came for me…

It would be great if I could share a self-congratulatory tale about how I overcame the bonds of prejudice (against gays, women) with great moral courage and fortitude. Unfortunately, my tale reads something closer to the famous poem by Martin Niemöller:

"Martin Niemöller (1952)" by J.D. Noske / Anefo - Nationaal Archief. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Martin Niemöller (1952)” by J.D. Noske / Anefo – Nationaal Archief. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

For as much as I trumpet about gay rights and so forth, I have not always been this way. In fact, I recall very specifically telling my gay cousin as well as a gay Facebook acquaintance some very hurtful things. Looking back, I’m not sure how either of them tolerated me in the slightest. I wasn’t saying anything like Westboro would say, but in my ignorance, I did my best to subvert hard evidence in order to maintain my position of agreeing with what I thought the Bible said.

By 2011, I had reversed my position on evolution from my days as a Creationist of sorts. I was also in something of a Libertarian mindset, so if I remember right, I had already decided that gay marriage should be legal. Still, I was morally against gay marriage; it was not my business, but if you asked me privately, I would still offer you excuses for why it was wrong. I’ll avoid reciting any of those excuses so no one has flashbacks to hurtful conversations.

And, of course, my church at that time mostly agreed with me on this issue — not so much on evolution or how to treat the Old Testament. But I was naive, and I didn’t understand how exclusionary cultures worked. My church was an Acts 29 church, and there was some talk about “open hand” and “closed hand” issues. The “open hand” issues were ones on which we could agree to disagree between the laity and the leadership. The “closed hand” issues were not up for discussion; if you were to disagree, perhaps you should look elsewhere for a church.

I thought I was safely inside the “open hand” since I had discussed whether I would be welcome at the church whenever I first joined. But as my participation and influence in the church grew, I became a problem. It also grew evident that my belief in evolution may actually have had implications for those “closed hand” issues, what with my metaphorical/mythological interpretations of the Old Testament. I remember my ex-fiancee growing absolutely livid that I didn’t think Ruth or Boaz actually existed, and of course my church was no help to me and branded me as “dangerous” for my beliefs.

And so, as the story goes, the church all but kicked me out, eventually, and then the pastor tried to put a knife in my back as I left, “warning” other pastors about me. (In a delightful fit of irony, this actually directly resulted in the church’s demise through no action of my own, but the details of that are somewhat private.) As a result, I still have a hard time going to church — Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome, as some are calling it — even when I enjoy the service and the people.

What strikes me, though, is that not only had this church, which had planted itself in the heart of the gay community in Houston, alienated me, it had also alienated the entire culture around it, and it had done so deliberately. Almost all of us drove in from elsewhere. I lived fairly close with a 15-20 minute drive, but even the pastor had nearly twice the driving distance. Everyone came so far just to preach a message hostile to its surroundings. With misguided intentions about evangelism and “mission,” which seems to be church-speak for cultural imperialism, we all drove in to be a “light in the darkness.”

Now we didn’t talk about LGBT issues often, if at all, but if you were to ask the pastor, he would tell you unequivocally that it was a sin. He might have tried to be nice about it, but this much is lipstick on a pig. And whereas in a suburban church, LGBT issues might be the furthest thing from your mind outside a select few times when something happens in the news to rile the conservatives, at this church, it hovered over us like a fog.

So my eventual betrayal reads like another verse before the end of the poem.

Then they came for the gays, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not gay.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Not a single person from the church stuck up for me when I had to depart. When I warned others of what the pastor had done, they were all with him. Everyone either abandoned me or tacitly accepted the pastors’ actions. And while I certainly don’t blame myself for what happened, I realize now that the way in which they abandoned me was how I had abandoned the LGBT community: with silence and self-justification through dogma.

They say experience is a dear teacher — but only fools learn from none other. I was the fool, here, and I should have refused to participate in yet another exclusionary system. It took having my entire world shaken from its foundations to wake me up to the reality of my exclusionary and harmful beliefs.

I share this to warn others who would be like me. What would happen if you changed your opinion about a key issue? You say that would never happen, but then you learn something, and it does, so unless you plan on living in a hole or never learning anything, you can bet it will happen. Would the people who now call you friend abandon you? It has happened to me and to countless people like me.

Sure, you could trade up to another exclusionary church that accepts whatever new beliefs you have, but isn’t that missing the point? Find people who encourage you to learn and to thrive as a human being, not who want you to be just like them. Don’t wait until it’s too late, until they have come for you, to realize that what is going on around you is not okay. Don’t be like me.

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About Chris Attaway

Raised in the digital wilderness of the pre-Internet 2.0 era, Chris Attaway is a true gamer and Internet citizen. After a stint studying computer science, his life got flipped turned upside down, and he ended up studying philosophy to help him sort out his life. Now the black sheep in a family of engineers, he has set out to get his footing in the world of freelance journalism. With interests ranging from gaming and technology to LGBT rights, race and politics, Chris is a diverse and skilled writer who always tries to give a fair shake to his subjects.
This entry was posted in Christian Culture Issues, Ethics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Then they came for me…

  1. Queendeedee says:

    Chris, your blog is a light in the darkness. Keep on keeping on, I’m on the other side of this world from you geographically but I’m standing right beside you in spirit.

  2. I was not thrown out of a church, but I probably would be today, if I decided to go back. I have not been to a church service in many years, and don’t intend to ever return. Why? Because the Christian Church is all about power and control. Hell fire and brimstone preaching is designed to scare you into submission. I don’t need that kind of negative encouragement to live a life of compassion, justice, and love. There are too many other opportunities for community involvement to subject myself to the control that I experienced as I was growing up in a Baptist Preacher’s house.

    • Not that you need to go back, but there are many churches which don’t really fit that description. Though I’ve been attending sparingly, my wife and I really enjoy the Episcopal church where we attend, and they are very accepting.

  3. Alan says:

    Most/all of what we believe and know comes from others and it seems like it is only ours when it gets challenged and sometimes discarded. It’s a strange and good thing that becoming more open often means that we are less sure of what we thought we knew. Hopefully that journey leads to something more sure, but it doesn’t often work out that way. It may just be insecurity that makes us so uncomfortable having to live without answers.
    Had never heard of open and closed hand before but find that churches that center on iron clad doctrine often miss, or never look for, the living presence of God in things. Truth should be living and mean growth, not something to pound others with.

  4. megmichelle says:

    I have post traumatic church syndrome for sure.

  5. Pingback: I no longer condone most of the views on this site | The Discerning Christian

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