My Breakup Letter to My Church

One year ago today I sent this letter to my employers and my local church. It was a bit longer before my employment was officially terminated, but for all intents and purposes, this was my last day as an Adventist pastor. After today, I will no longer be able to say “I was an Adventist pastor a year ago.” That part of my life and identity will slip further in the past.

That’s inevitable for all of us when we come out. For better or for worse, we lose a part of who we were when the world thought (or was able to assume) that we were straight and cisgender. Most of that is for the best, but as I read this I can’t help but remember who I was then, and the dreams that died forever that day. Perhaps it’s fitting that today I also turned in the last tax return I will ever file with an Adventist employer on it. I have now joined the ranks of those unemployable in the Adventist church.

So today seems like a good day to share something I haven’t shared before, the letter I sent to inform my church and conference of the changes I was making. In a later conversation they asked and I clarified that I hadn’t violated any of the teaching of the church, but that I would now be living by new convictions moving forward in both my teaching and in dating.

I chose an email because even though I wanted to be disruptive and start a larger conversation on a big scale, I didn’t want to be disruptive to the local church that I cared about then and still care about today. I’ve heard rumors that I came out in a sermon, or that the church marched me out when I did. It’s funny how those ideas make their rounds. Instead it was a quiet, uneventful email. That was best. I’m happy that things seem to have worked out for them.

As for me, I remember hitting the send button on this letter, and what most struck me that day is how right and good it felt. There was no wavering, no regret, and no indecision. Instead I felt relief, purpose, and freedom. It was simply the right thing to do, and that is something I have always known. I’m so grateful I sent this. I’m so grateful I allowed myself to become the person I am today, despite all the pain and difficulty I still experience. I thank God for what I’ve been lead to do, and for the crazy wonderful life I’m living.

So without further ado, here is the letter that changed me and my life forever:

******

04/17/2017

Elder [redacted] and Elder [redacted],

This is a difficult letter to write, because it will likely end my employment at the Arizona Conference. Working for this conference, my home conference, for the short time I have been here has been the fulfillment of my greatest wishes and dreams. It saddens me that it has come to this, but I don’t see any other way.

In short, what I have to tell you is this: I have come to a place of complete disagreement with the Adventist church’s teachings on same-sex relationships and transgender people. After much time spent in prayer, study, and openness to God on this topic, I am fully convinced that fidelity to the Bible means defense of LGBT people, their relationships, and their gender identities. It seems to me that a handful of tertiary verses with ambiguous application have been allowed to hijack the entire gospel on this topic.

Further, I have become acutely aware of the damage caused by our theology and find myself unable ethically to continue in silence while people are suffering, in some cases to the point of taking their lives. I cannot with the Adventist church stand quietly by, ignoring the pain, and steadily causing the reputation of Christ to lose the respect of those who care deeply for LGBT people.

Finally, only after coming to all these conclusions, and after spending hours in prayer seeking God’s will on this matter, I realized that this topic is more personal for me than most. I have come to affirm myself and my own sexuality. This is not only about my beliefs and teachings, but also about how I live my life. The truth about me is that I am bisexual, which means that I am attracted to both men and women. I believe I could be happily married to someone from either gender. It doesn’t mean that my sexual ethics have changed except in the one point of being open to dating women, but I still believe in fidelity, monogamy, and marriage.

I am tempted at this point to write a theological treatise explaining how I arrived at this point, so that you can see my heart and my reasons. But none of that would change anything. Its seems daily more clear that there is no room for disagreement on this matter in the Adventist church.

If you would humor me to write a moment about my connection to our church. My father, who recently passed away, was the first in my family to become Adventist. He was baptized at Enterprise Academy in Kansas. He convinced my mom to join the church when he gave her Bible studies on their dates. They raised me on Arthur Maxwell’s Bible Story books. I attended Adventist schools for almost my entire time as a student. Becoming an Adventist pastor was a fulfillment of my most cherished dream and a response to a sense of calling far too powerful in my life to safely be ignored.

Pastoring [local] Church has been the greatest honor of my life. It is the best church I’ve ever known, and they have loved me better than any pastor I know has been loved by a church. I am grateful to have been raised in the Adventist church and community. I certainly never planned to leave nor had any desire to. I expected to serve this church for the rest of my life.

That’s why coming to this conclusion and writing this letter has been nothing short of excruciating. It has been the greatest loss of my life. I believe that the Adventist church has let me down, caused me harm, and that I am sadly not unique in this. Many of us who are LGBT and our families have heartbreaking stories from our experience in Adventist churches and with SDA theology.

But I am forever grateful that in other ways this church has also done immeasurable good for me. I have been nurtured, loved, and most importantly I’ve been introduced to Jesus. For that I am forever grateful. I hope my connection to this denomination will not be severed entirely, though I know that for the sake of [local] church, it will be better if I make a clean break.

I thank you for the opportunity to serve in this conference these last couple of years, though I imagined myself spending many more here. I await your response.

Sincerely,

Alicia Johnston

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