St. Philip Lutheran Church
26 June 2022 + Pride Sunday
Rev. Josh Evans
As I write this on Pride weekend in Chicago, I can’t help but remember my first Pride parade – also in Chicago – now 11 years ago.
At 21 years old, after just graduating from college that spring, I was newly out – with all of the nervous, anxious excitement the coming out experience brings with it.
I also wasn’t just at my first Pride parade. I was at my first Pride parade with my church.
I want to say that again: I was at my first Pride parade…with my church.
I still can’t believe that sentence is true. Because as someone who grew up in the church, and who also knew I was “different” from a pretty young age, even if I couldn’t articulate what “different” was until years later, I knew that being in the church and being “that way” were mutually exclusive. It just wasn’t possible.
Either stay closeted in order to stay in the church or leave the church in order to be fully myself.
Dear church, that’s the message so many LGBTQIA+ folks who grew up here have heard time and time again. At worst, we’ve been condemned to hell and told to repent or else. “Just pray hard enough and God will cure you.” And at best, we’re greeted with well-meaning choruses of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Which, to be perfectly clear, is no love at all.
Those messages have been enough to make so many LGBTQIA+ folks run the opposite direction, as fast as they can, never once looking back. And to them I say: I don’t blame you.
But, dear church, for others of us LGBTQIA+ folks, it’s not that easy.
Five years after her groundbreaking single “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga released another single that begins: “You’re giving me a million reasons to let you go.” And Gaga sings on: “I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away.”
Even at the Pride parade, marching with my church and dozens of other like-minded churches for the first time 11 years ago, still, towards the very end, among the parade spectators, was a cluster of a few of those reasons: A group of “good church folks” who were there that day for no other reason than to protest and to remind the parade-goers that our lifestyle was an “abomination.”
I’m grateful their numbers are pitifully small every year, compared to the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQIA+ folks and our allies who gather to spread love and joy. But they’re still there nonetheless – and in churches all across the country this morning, there are preachers who continue to spew that same kind of hateful messaging to their congregants who believe them.
Dear church, you’ve given us LGBTQIA+ folks a million reasons to let you go, a hundred million reasons to walk away.
Many have, but for some of us, it’s not that easy.
Something about this church, as hurtful as it’s been to us, won’t let us leave. “I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away,” Gaga sings, “But, baby, I just need one good one to stay.”
Dear church, this is a love letter.
This is a love letter from a gay Lutheran boy who just couldn’t walk away, although he almost did (and sometimes still wants to).
This is a love letter from a gay Lutheran boy who remembers sitting around tables in the basement fellowship hall for first communion classes in fifth grade and who remembers Thursday chapel in Lutheran grade school every week, when he first fell in love with hymns like “Go, My Children, with My Blessing” and “Have No Fear, Little Flock.”
This is a love letter from the closeted high school kid who still chose Lutheran education over public school when given the option for a change.
This is a love letter from the still-closeted college student who cherished that Lutheran education so much he went to a Lutheran university to go into teaching himself – and when he realized teaching wasn’t for him, he opted for “plan B” and enrolled in the pre-seminary program.
This is a love letter from the pre-seminary college student who opened an email one week from the director of the pre-seminary program, with a reminder of their regular Wednesday group dinner – only this week, the topic of conversation was going to be what our “pastoral response” to the “sin of homosexuality” should be.
This is a love letter from that still-closeted, still pre-seminary student, on the cusp of graduation, who lied through his teeth and went through the motions just to get that pre-seminary certificate, knowing full well the culmination of that certificate would likely never happen.
This is a love letter from a new college graduate who was so desperate for that “one good reason to stay” that he started googling “gay-friendly churches in Chicago” (when he didn’t even know there was such a thing), until he found a community he was able to come out to, without judgment but with total and complete affirmation, marching through Boystown in the Chicago Pride Parade in 2011.
This is a love letter from a queer pastor, eleven years after his first Pride parade, and then after three more years of searching, four years of seminary, and three and a half years of ordained ministry, who found a reason to stay.
Dear church, this is a love letter for you.
This is a love letter for my fellow LGBTQIA+ siblings and for our straight, cisgender allies.
This is a love letter for you who have been hurt by the church and for you who, intentionally or not, have done the hurting.
This is a love letter for you who have been here your whole lives and for you who still consider yourselves newcomers.
This is a love letter for you who have never had to wonder if you belong and for you who question it every single day.
I’m writing this love letter on Pride weekend. Today we celebrate pride, and we affirm the commitment this congregation made five years ago when we became “Reconciling in Christ” and proclaimed God’s unqualified and extravagant love for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, all ages and abilities, all races and ethnicities, all socio-economic statuses and religious backgrounds.
Of course, we are not perfect in our welcome (no one is), but that doesn’t stop us from trying when we mess up and fall short.
Because, dear church, we have to keep trying. We have to keep loving. We have to keep welcoming.
The church has given too many people a million reasons to walk away. Some of them are never coming back, and we can’t change that.
But some of them are like me. Some of them are still here. Some of them are looking for just one good reason to stay.