My Holy Betrayal in Retrospect: The Pain I Caused My Community

I’ve started and failed to finish blog after blog, even though they were great topics and important, meaningful, things I believe in. It seems I’ve had writers block because of my last post about Losing My Religion, a kind of dear John letter to the Adventist church, the conservative Christian denomination in which I used to pastor before coming out.

The day after posting it, even though every word came from a very deep and honest place, something felt off. It was only a half truth. One stop on the way to wherever I’m going. Neither a final destination nor the last word on my relationships with the church I grew up in.

Every sermon is a heresy. It’s something I’ve often said. Maybe every blog post is also a heresy, guilty of the same crime for the same reason, only able to contain a small portion of the truth.

So here’s another side: Most of the best, most loving, kindest, and most generous people I know are Adventists. Many of those people are also totally unaffirming of the way I experience love and family. This is a complex truth. It’s hard for me to handle.

I’ve been looking forward to the day my anger and hurt would abate enough for me to engage more directly with individuals from my church, maybe even attend a service again. That is beginning to happen, and it’s bringing with it unexpected emotions.

During my time as an Adventist in good standing, many people invested in me. Faces flash into my mind as I write these words, faces of people whose kindness got me through difficult times, whose faith in me gave me hope as I pursued the difficult path of becoming a pastor in the Adventist church as a woman.

When I was about the graduate from my Adventist High School, I was gifted a precious book that still sits on my shelf. A book about grace signed by my teachers, one after another affirming their confidence in me and my bright future. This is a beautiful gift for an 18-year-old. I recall professors who spent endless hours guiding me through difficult questions and struggles. I can think of Administrators who offered me jobs, and more importantly whose confidence in me was so crucial for my success.

Adventists were there for me in moments of need. Offering me a room in their home when I needed it, showing up in the hospital to pray with my father who had been diagnosed with cancer when I was on the other side of the country, letting me know that he was being loved when I couldn’t be there yet. Adventist administrators gave me ridiculous amounts of time off so I could be with my father even though they knew I may well be quitting my job to be with my family. My Adventist church family put together my father’s memorial service, making all the arrangements and showing up with food for the reception, after only one phone call from me asking for help.

Adventists are the colleges who supported me through ups and downs and difficult seasons of ministry. They are people who encouraged me, mentored me, gave me opportunities I wasn’t even sure I was ready for, and helped me succeed.

Adventists, many of them anyways, are people who will be there for you if you need them, no questions asked, no thanks required, because they know how to love well.

I wounded these kind and loving people when I came out as bisexual and opposed the church’s treatment of LGBT+ people.

People I worked with side by side, building up the church, now watch me tear down our work. The energy they poured into me I now use to accomplish the opposite of their intentions. I know for certain that my coming out caused people to leave the Adventist church for good. More than that, they are afraid for me because of the choices I am making, and they are afraid of the harm they believe I am causing to others.

The word betrayal is not too strong. I betrayed them. I betrayed the church that nurtured, raised, and loved me. Over the months since coming out, I’ve only twisted that knife. I feel my betrayal, even though I believe I’m doing the right thing.

How must it be for them? Adventists who love me now struggle with my announcement and struggle with the new me. Some are cruel to me in their struggle. Some want to dialogue. Some are even cheering me on. But most seem at a loss and want mostly to care for me but don’t know how.

I know my betrayal is necessary. I’m intentionally causing those good people to struggle, and I hope by God’s good grace to continue. LGBT+ people struggle unseen and unacknowledged in the Adventist church. Straight Adventists need to feel this hidden struggle. Nor is the pain I’ve caused in any way comparable to the extreme stress and resulting mental health challenges LGBT+ people face as a result of unaffirming theology. Yet I know that for some it has felt like I punched them in the stomach. I’ve been told as much.

If I have betrayed my church, my betrayal is the best way I know of being faithful. It’s a holy betrayal.

So why does part of me want to say sorry? I guess for the simple reason that I hurt people I love and who love me. ‘Sorry’ is not the right word and apology is not what is owed. I need to be clear about that. I have no shame and no regret but know I am in the center of God’s calling in the ministry I am doing now. I do want to acknowledge something I haven’t before. Here’s what I would like to say, if it’s not too late, if anyone I’ve hurt is listening:

“I now see past my own pain enough to acknowledge yours. I know you are not malicious but well-intentioned. I see that I’ve undermined the work we were doing together and how hard that could be. I can accept that you are hurt too. I know things are forever changed between us, but I hope they aren’t over.”

If you think I owe the church an apology, I guess this is the best I can do. There is healing in these words for me; I hope there is for others as well.

And this is important because I know my story is not unique. So many of us LGBT+ Christians who are in traditional denominations or coming out of them are in this struggle, and so many of the people we left behind are struggling as well. Perhaps my words can be of some help. If I’ve missed the mark, remember, every blog post is a heresy.

What now? What hope remains for people who have so hurt each other? What reconciliation can there be after such gut-wrenching mutual betrayal?

I don’t know. But for some reason I feel hopeful.

Maybe my hope comes from this: we are all trying to follow Jesus, and even if we don’t know how to manage this mess, Jesus does.

5 comments

  1. Alicia, thank you for sharing your heart! My gay daughter struggles, too. She wanted to be accepted at her church but some just couldn’t. Long story short, she left. Her fondest church memory was listening to the pastor (who did accept her), preach about Jesus for an entire year. Being a preacher’s kid she could be pretty tough on other preachers but these sermons meant the world to her. She was hungry to learn more about the unconditional love of Jesus. I believe that it may be that some of issues like LBGT+ will not be settled on the side of “Loving God and loving each other” before the second coming. What’s wonderful news for you, Alicia, is that God wants you to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who taste rejection. Let them know that Jesus will never leave them, that He is faithful, that He loves talking with them, that He has plans for their lives that will give them peace and courage to stand for Him. Thank God for the shut church door because it is the way to head you in the direction where Jesus is calling you!

  2. Alicia, an amazing story. I am an active Adventist in my church, teaching and leading. I have a brother and three cousins who are gay and have changed my perspective. It is the watershed issue of our current generation. Thank you for your honesty and integrity. Life is so complex, and yours maybe even more so. I pray that God leads you where He/She wants you to go

    1. If I had not had a gay daughter and witnessed her struggles and watched her from an early age grow up, I’m sure I would not have comprehended the struggle gays have. I know Jesus Loves our daughter just as she is and that she loves Him. He loves everyone and can bless those most who feel their need for Him. The lepers, the prostitutes, the people in life we turn our face away from who want to be engraved by Jesus gather together at the Cross to receive Heaven’s blessing and are not turned away, they are the first fruits of Heaven’s mercy!

  3. Alicia, your blog was reposted in Adventist Today, as you likely well know. There is also an interview with sociologist Dr. Ronald Lawson who gives a brief account of his experience that is worth the read.

    Many of us have experienced rejection and extreme hurt from the “church”, and I’m sorry that you have as well. God is always open to questions; without them we will never grow or learn. Unfortunately, living in the comfort of what we have been taught by the “church” (your choice of denomination) is the inertia of Christianity. God does not ask us to live within our comfort zone. God’s blessing on you and your work and ministry.

  4. The emotions you express are so poignant in my life, well said! As a lifelong Adventist who happens to be transgender, who taught at an SDA University for a time, I fully understand. God bless you as you continue to minister with the Gospel of love and hope!

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