In 2005 I was a third grader at Skagit Adventist School, now Academy, in Burlington, Washington. My class was the largest class in the school, 19 kids, something we were all very proud of. Mrs. Gaver, described by some of my former classmates as “out there,” taught third grade that year. She was brilliant. She made third grade a year of learning through fun.
To stretch our imaginations Mrs. Gaver handed out composition notebooks and had us write. Kids wrote stories about their friends, their pets, their families, and anything else they could imagine. Two boys ended up creating entire alien worlds in their notebooks, complete with detailed illustrations, descriptions, and languages.
Eventually, though, story-writing morphed into a tool of manipulation. Being included in many stories was a sign of popularity; fewer mentions in other kids' stories indicated less popularity. The coolest kids were included in the most stories. We wanted to be included in everyone’s stories because it meant we were liked--part of the cool crowd. I have a distinct memory of a fight involving two of my friends. One threatened to exclude the other from his story unless she stopped doing something that annoyed him. She caved and stopped whatever she was doing.
During Pacific Union College's recent Fall Revival Pastor Jonathan Henderson delivered a powerful sermon on the acceptance and love of those in the LGBT community. It was a sermon I didn’t expect I would hear for at least ten years. It was a sermon about inclusion, awareness, understanding and open-mindedness. It was a sermon I had been waiting 18 years to hear.
Pastor Henderson's sermon that told me I was loved by God for who I am, that I am not less worthy of the gift of salvation than a heterosexual, cisgender person. It addressed generations before me whom the Church pushed out with hatred and with the message, “Come back when you’re fixed,” rather than extending the love Jesus told us to give freely. The sermon recognized of the tears of the hurting, the abused, and the suffering--those who are only trying to understand who they are, and to live the lives they were meant to live. The sermon took note of those whose lives ended too early because people representing God told them that they were filth and did not belong because they were not straight.
The sermon opened up the floor for discussion, for voices like mine to be heard. At the end of that sermon I ran down from the balcony after seeing how many people were standing in support, in support and love for the minority who have been ostracized for so long. I ran down the aisle, hugged Pastor Henderson, and sobbed. I sobbed tears of joy. I laughed and cried at the same time and basked in the joy and love that filled that sanctuary.
I decided to stay in the Adventist Church for my higher education because I wanted to give the Church another chance. I have friends who could not stand the homophobia any longer and decided they had to leave in order to be able to figure out who they were without people mumbling words of hatred and disgust. I picked PUC because Gay and Straight People (GASP) exists. I would have gone to a state university otherwise. PUC has been so welcoming and accepting of me. I have found so many friends who love me for me. I feel safe here, safe enough to come out of the closet and truly be honest with others about who I am. It is all thanks to GASP and Pastor Henderson’s "Adam and Steve" sermon and the overwhelming support here at PUC.
When I heard that donors were threatening to withhold funding over the sermon, and then the video was removed from the PUC Church website, I was heartbroken and angered. I was immediately reminded of that argument in third grade. It is like they were saying, "I don't like you so I won't include you in our story." People like me who identify under the LGBT rainbow are being told by the Church, "Yeah, I don't approve of you so you don't get to be in our story and definitely not in God's Story." Just like the third graders who wouldn't listen to the other person and just made angry threats, those holding money over PUC’s head want to exclude people like me, and they are using money as leverage to force PUC’s hand in its treatment of its students. It is the response one would expect from a third-grade bully.
PUC has blown me away with its supportiveness. Sure, GASP is not allowed to be officially recognized as a club, but it still exists. Professors and other staff members have SafePlace stickers up in their windows. The chaplains attend GASP meetings and the PUC Church pastors are strong allies. Students and staff members do not ostracize students for who they are. Perhaps I see the world through rose-colored lenses but I will not cease to tell others about the positive experience I have had here at PUC. I feel for the most part that I am included in PUC’s story and even more so after Pastor Henderson’s sermon. I feel safe as a queer student whether in a class, in the dorm, at the gym, or in church. We are gaining ground when it comes to the inclusion of LGBT members in the Church’s story.
Kari Stickle studies Pre-Clinical Laboratory Science / Pre-Med at Pacific Union College.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6401