Linda A. Marousek
December 11, 2018
Where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.
Hi. My name is Linda Marousek. I’m almost 65 years old, a retired lawyer, an M.Div. student at Portland Seminary, on a path toward ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. And I am a lesbian. You notice that “lesbian” was not the first thing I said here: my theology is pretty traditional. If you are interested in queer theology, I can send you a bibliography. And next month, I hope to talk about atonement theology.
But by way of introduction – I am a misfit. What I want to tell you today is the story of my journey, as a lesbian, from Christian community, through exclusion, and back to community. And I want to tell you what that journey has meant, in terms of spiritual loss and gain.
When I was about nine years old, I heard a voice in a dream, whispering, “Peace shall come when all the world knows the gospel.” A year later, I was baptized by immersion at my parents’ Baptist Church. I’d requested, no, probably demanded to be baptized after I overheard my third grade teacher say “I wish I could believe that God made the world.” It had felt like a punch in the stomach. My response was to ask my mother if I could be baptized.
I “got saved” again in a Pentecostal church in the early ‘70’s. It was in the midst of the hippie period, when some young people were identifying themselves as “Jesus people.” As a 17 year old new Christian, I found myself surrounded, supported, nurtured, loved by 40 high school kids who shared my faith; 5 or 6 girls who were my close friends, classmates, Bible-study companions, and social life; and 120 adults in my church who were delighted to see all of us. The support of that community saved my life during my senior year of high school, when I struggled with loneliness and culture shock as I returned to my hometown after spending the summer as an exchange student in Brazil. I lived in and through that community, reading the Bible, going to church 3 times a week, spending my evenings and weekends in Bible study groups and prayer meetings. The results were joy unspeakable; a willingness and ability to see my faith as real, effective in my life, and something to be shared.
Then I went off to college. Antioch College is an old liberal arts college in Ohio. I picked it after reading in Acts 11:26 that they were “called Christians first at Antioch,” but Antioch College in 1973 was not friendly to Christians. It was politically far left and rigorously intellectual; many of the students were not religious. But – there was a small group of Christians, 10 or 12 of us, who met for Bible study, prayer, and to socialize. I can still remember their faces and voices and names, as my true friends during my first movement away from home, that year of homesickness during my first year of college.
All that changed in 1974, the year I turned 20. I found myself attracted to a woman in the Bible study group. I spent months praying about it, every day, and eventually the answer was clear: it was love. As soon as I took that step, I knew there was no place for me in the church. I had heard stories from my home church: a choir director, a Bible college teacher, dismissed, shunned, for lesbian tendencies. You’ve heard gay people say, “The church betrayed me,” but that’s not what happened here. Betrayal suggests that the church failed to live up to what it had promised. What I knew was different than that: as a lesbian, the church was no longer promising me anything. The church was not betraying its promise to me; it was saying THERE IS NO PROMISE FOR YOU!
No promise for me? I knew in my heart that couldn’t be right. The joy of my faith had already saved my life twice. That first loving relationship with another woman began with our shared faith. So I began to look for a promise. It was the mid ‘70’s. It was the beginning of gay people creating our own churches, telling each other, “God does too love us.” There was Troy Perry’s book The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay, and then there was the Metropolitan Community Church. There was Evangelicals Concerned, and in Seattle there was Grace Gospel Chapel. We were outcasts, gathering together to celebrate God’s love for us – but all along, there was this nagging sense of being the crowd of hungry stray cats around the back door of the restaurant: We are here together. We are fed. We are locked out.
What were the alternatives to the “gay church?” You could go to a mainstream church, but you had to be invisible. I traveled and moved a lot in those days. I went to church almost everywhere I lived. I never told anyone that I was gay. I was careful all the time. That cost me something. It was destructive to my growth as a Christian. I was guarded. I was not a member of the community. I could not participate fully; I was sure that if I did, I’d be thrown out.
All that bad news eventually caused a separation from the church. My partner and I stopped going to the gay church. We didn’t go to church at all for 8 years. I tried to study and pray on my own; so did she – but there was no gathering, no place for Jesus to be in the midst of us. That separation from community created stagnation in my faith, left me joyless.
When my partner and I split, once again it was clear that only God could save my life. I started looking for a church, but I no longer wanted to live in the gay ghetto. I found a Methodist church. I loved the joyful music. I went there for 6 weeks, crying over the breakup every Sunday, before anyone spoke to me, but God comforted me in the music and the calm and clear preaching and teaching. I stayed. I heard about the Methodist Book of Discipline and its proclamation that the practice of homosexuality was incompatible with my faith, and I learned that my kind pastor argued every year at General Conference that that rule ought to be retained. I stayed anyway. I came out to the pastor and to 2 or 3 dear friends, and I continued to love the good music and the good preaching from a man who was convinced I was going to hell. I left that church when I had a new partner and we needed to be more open, and as I said good-bye to the pastor, I said to him, “I’ll see you in heaven.”
I landed in a Disciples of Christ Church. At first it seemed like a good fit. The pastor was smart, supportive, and said he wouldn’t tolerate intolerance of me as a lesbian. He encouraged me to participate fully, and I tried a little. But the church members seemed distant, and I ended up feeling lonely, guarded, and not a part of the community. I didn’t learn their names, and they didn’t know mine. I left every Sunday feeling lonelier. Later I heard that many of the members of this church had come there in anger when their old Disciples of Christ Church had established an active ministry to the gay community. No wonder.
In 2006, I decided it was time to make a change. I was tired of being lonely in my Christian community. I sent a 2:00 a.m. email to the only Reconciling in Christ church I found near south King County, Resurrection Lutheran Church in Tacoma, Washington. By sunrise, I had three email responses: “You are welcome!” I came to Resurrection the next week, and never looked back.
But when I finally arrived at home in church, could I be there? I had years of false community, masks, bars, and barriers. It took, it’s taking, time to heal. I was at Resurrection for year before I was willing to become an official member. I was guarded with sharing my personal stories, and selfish with my time for the church. But God kept breaking my heart until it began to stay open, and I am thankful, joyful learning to overflow.
What I know now is that this is not just my story. I think that all of us have ways we feel unacceptable to God, to other people. The real good news of the gospel is that we are wrong about being unacceptable to God. In God’s grace, in the life of Christ, we are accepted by God, just as we are. The other good news is that with courage to reveal ourselves to each other, just as we are, we can create for ourselves, we can create for each other, the same acceptance by the church community – to live in God’s grace with all of God’s people as our brothers and sisters.
My faith has been blessed by my life. And now I have arrived at a community where I hope to be a blessing as well as I have been blessed.
Here is what I think now:
The church must be a place for Jesus in the midst of all of its members.
The church must not be a stumblingblock to anyone seeking God’s face.
I am here, I ask you to be here, to create these new realities.
So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more, but judge this rather,
that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
Let Me Introduce Myself...
Linda A. Marousek