22 April, 2012
Dear CTS Faculty, Cabinet members, and SCC,
I've been wanting to write you about the housing policy for months, but haven't been sure about what to say. I know that there are many stakes in the discussions around this policy, and I recognize, as President Hayner says, that our community remains “strongly divided concerning this and related issues.” However, I'm not here to stake a claim on an “issue” today. I'm not interested in talking about the politics of this right now. I simply want to tell you my story and want to share with you how this discussion and decision effects me personally.
I got on a plane from my home in The Netherlands to come to Atlanta on August 17, 2010 with all of my belongings packed in 2 suitcases. As the plane lifted off, I felt as if I could breathe for the first time in years. As it crossed the Atlantic, I felt myself slowly disentangling from my church, a church that didn't realize their Youth and Children's Director (me) was gay, from church staff-colleagues who believed homosexuality to be a sin, from parents who wished so badly for this daughter to be the straight girly-girl they had always hoped for, from friends and a community who had likened homosexuality to pedophilia, from years of secrets, from a father who believed gay people go to hell, and from a god who looked on homosexuals with distant judgment. At least, I thought I was leaving all that behind.
The first and hardest lesson I learned at seminary is that wherever you go, there you are. Once in Atlanta, I discovered that I couldn't disentangle myself from my past, because my past wasn't “out there” across the ocean, but again right here, coursing through my very veins. Without realizing it, I had over the years internalized all the damning messages I had been given about my identity. I discovered a deep and ugly inner-homophobia that I couldn't “think” my way out of; and I discovered this pool of rage inside me at the Church, my family, my community, and even God for the debilitating, paralyzing effects of a life-time of judgments about my identity.
For the first time in years I was no longer expending all my energy keeping secrets, and now, suddenly, I had all this time to feel rage and sadness at others, but ended up directing it mostly at myself. As I looked back over the last 15 years of adulthood, I discovered that every major decision I had made in those 15 years was driven by fear; fear of exclusion, fear of not being accepted, fear of being different, fear of being deficient and second class, and mostly fear of simply not being okay at my core. I had spent my adulthood pretending to be the straight person I thought the church, God, and my family wanted me to be. For several years I've had this wonderful partner walking alongside me, my best friend, this person that helped me discover new depths of love that I didn't know existed, the person I knew I would be committed to for life, and in so many ways the very best thing in my life; and yet, I didn't tell a soul about her.
I always thought that if everything looked okay on the outside, everything was okay. I had to come here to realize that that is simply not true. I had to come to seminary to learn to grieve and sit with what seemed to me a broken mess, and it was this CTS community that enabled me to do that. In classes I began to learn that maybe my church, family and community were wrong about their interpretation of the Biblical passages on homosexuality. Among the professors, I encountered for the first time these deeply faithful Christians who believed that being gay was not a sin or an abomination, but the beautiful way that God had made me. Among the students, I came across these wonderful Christians, clearly called to ministry who also happened to be gay. I had never met a self-accepting gay Christian before coming here (I know..it's crazy that I had to move from liberal Holland to conservative Georgia to meet these people). Through conversation, presence, being part of the community, I began the process of accepting myself, of seeing myself as a gay person whom God created, loved and called “good.” I still struggle with inner-homophobia, with fear of exclusion, with a deep rooted sense of not being “okay,” but I'm getting there and I am so grateful to this community for bringing healing to what felt 18 months ago like an impossibly broken mess.
Having heard professors speak so openly and encouragingly about accepting my homosexuality as part of my identity created by God; and having heard minister after minister at the communion table claim that this table is open to all and that we are called to expand it to include everyone in community; I thought that this institution to which we all belong would only need a slight encouraging push to expand their housing policy to include homosexual people. Surely if God's table is to be expanded, if the denomination's ordination standards are to be more inclusive, if professors proclaim that I too can be a whole member of the household of God, surely asking to live among my seminary community on campus with my life-partner should not be a problem. Naively, I thought that all that was needed was an actual application, a real-life same-sex committed couple wanting to live on campus. So my partner and I applied for on-campus housing in Spring 2011, and several weeks later were denied with a one-line e-mail. Ever naïve, I assumed it was just a matter of time, that the administrative cabinet just needed a few months to get together to sort out this issue. As the cabinet discussed and explained concerns and questions, and kept talking about the issue, I was hopeful and patient, thinking it's only a matter of time. But this past Friday I realized this is both true and not true.
Yes, it's a matter of time. I have no doubt that one day same-sex couples will be allowed to live on campus because justice will prevail. But I can no longer wait for such the time when it “feels comfortable” for the institution to make this change, because every day that this institution upholds a policy that systematically excludes same-sex couples from living as neighbors in the community injustice reigns. Justice delayed is justice denied. Every day that this current policy stands, it undoes all the good work this community is doing in the area of inclusion. For how can I believe that I'm invited as family to the table and yet be excluded from living among my brothers and sisters? How can I believe the words of professors who tell me I'm really “okay” and that God created me gay and good, when the institution tells me that I'm not good enough to live in the community with my family? How can I believe those who tell me in this community that I'm called to ministry, that I'm valuable and loved in the community when I'm not invited to truly be a part of the community? How can I believe I'm family in the household of God, when you treat me as a guest? How can I break bread with you and believe myself to be your sister, when I'm not even allowed to live next to you? How can I speak your liturgies of inclusion when your policies exclude me? I cannot buy your words when your actions do not align with them, and I so desperately want to believe your words, because they have brought so much healing to me.
You have brought healing to me in precisely this area, and it is for that reason that this decision hurts so very much. The decision on this policy tells me that no matter what you may say to me in the classroom, at the table, in the church, ultimately I'm not really family, not really part of the community, but rather a guest; a welcome guest, but a guest nonetheless. And don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to be your guest, but I do so very much wish to be a full member of this community. I think in some ways it's all I've ever wanted from the Church, my family and my community; but every time I think I'm part of the community, part of the family, I recognize once again that the Christian community doesn't really want me, or accept me as I am. I sometimes wish I could walk away as my brother did many years ago, but for reasons I can't explain I feel compelled to stay, to keep knocking at that door and to hope and believe that one day I too will be embraced as sister.
Sincerely, and respectfully,