What a weekend. What a week. What a weird, weird world.
Wonderful, still. Probably. Probably?
But for now, OH MY WORD.
My son has been throwing up since Saturday, and, with the state of the world right now, the state of my country, and the state of my church, that feels wholly appropriate to me. Like his body has offered the only reasonable response to what’s going on. Vomit.
We thought he was getting better by Monday, but NOPE. More puke. Cherry Popsicle just everywhere. Also, he keeps pooping his pants because gauging soft poopies versus farts is VERY, VERY HARD when you’re sick. He keeps laying in bed saying, “Sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to let my poop out,” which is exactly how I feel. I’m trying, dammit, not to let my political or religious or familial poop out, but I’m not exactly sure when it’s going to slip out anyway.
In a turn of events that has taken us quite by surprise, given years of effort to stay together and stay in conversation, believing there’s room at the table for people who disagree, our broader group of churches — the umbrella organization of 60+ churches in our region called Northwest Yearly Meeting — has let us know those of us who are open and affirming of LGBTQ people must leave.
Because we belong to a church organization that operates based on consensus and not hierarchy, we didn’t see it coming. At all. In a group that purports to believe in consensus — that has the process of discernment over years if necessary written into its doctrinal statements — there was none, and there is no appeal. The decision was mandated, the process was bypassed, a “time sensitive” clause of questionable application was brought to bear, and, as a result, Greg and I and our children will be leaving the church family into which Greg was born and where we’d hoped to raise our children. Not right this minute. Not immediately. In fact, our smaller church — the one we actually attend — may stay with the larger group; it’s far too soon to tell, and they’ve made no decision yet. But within the next year and a half, we Woolseys will be leaving the Northwest Yearly Meeting and leaving behind Greg’s family, who advocated for the separation and who will, I assume, remain with the churches that have no room for us.
There are many things I don’t talk about in this space, though I’m sure, given all I do discuss, it comes as a shock I have any filters at all. Disagreements with extended family are usually one that stay on the down-low, although I assure you we have had plenty of disagreements. Some resolved. Some unresolved. Many that carry significant hurt, as I suspect is true for all families, everywhere. Now, I have a strange choice: to remain silent in an effort not to exacerbate the extended family’s pain and our own, or to speak out with the hope of alleviating the pain of those who have been made even more marginalized and vulnerable with this decision. With this type of theological purging, though, and with it the knowledge that our LGBTQ friends, an enormous number of whom are already at risk of assault and violence in the greater community, spiritual harm by church communities, and who are more likely to cause self-harm or engage suicide as a devastated response to the loss of family and community, I cannot remain silent. I cannot, from my silence, contribute to that loss and cause more harm to a people already so vulnerable. I can’t do it without it costing my soul. I won’t.
So. We will soon be without our broader church home. Our choices: adhere to a statement of human sexuality that categorizes homosexuality with incest, bestiality, pedophilia and rape, and remain with the church Greg was born into, with many people we love very much… or follow our conviction by the God whose other name is Love, and follow our best understanding of Scripture which is to welcome our beautifully and wonderfully made LGBTQ friends, to repent for the ways we’ve belittled and discriminated against them, both explicitly and insidiously, to ask for forgiveness, and to try to do and be better.
Our choice is clear. We will make our way in the wilderness of the unknown.
It is, as my friend Paula put it, a rending.
This is a week when our country is in chaos with a ban on the world’s most vulnerable.
And a weekend when our church is in chaos with a ban on the church’s most vulnerable.
And in the midst of it, in the midst of the rending, we had one 10-year-old boy puking and his twin brother finishing, finally, after 13 months straight, Harry Potter Book 7.
I spent Saturday rushing between the puke bowl, Popsicles, Gatorade and cold wash cloths… and the child who was riveted by the ending of Harry Potter.
And, because I’m a mother, I hovered. And I worried. And I posted to Facebook, as he stayed up too late reading…
…and read into the next day.
“Mom! You will never believe what Mrs. Weasley said to Bellatrix!
‘Not my daughter, you bitch!’
Ha! I think Mrs. Weasley is just like you, Mom.”
He has 11 pages to go. Harry Potter, Book 7.
“MOM! I love this! THERE ARE, LIKE, 100 GOOD FIGHTERS for every Deatheater!”
He has 8 pages to go. Harry Potter, Book 7.
#ImportantReminder #InRealLifeToo #HarryPotterForever
And then, he finished.
At the end of Saturday.
When our churches, apparently, finished with each other, too. The end of a long story, full of good and bad, that we’d hoped wouldn’t end.
As his brother puked, he finished Harry Potter Book 7, and I was a wreck.
HE was fine.
*I* was a mess.
I managed to ask him through my blubbering, weary and worn in more ways than one, what he thought, and he said, “It’s such a good story, Mom. SUCH A GOOD STORY. But why are you crying?”
“Oh my gosh!” I said back, “Dobby? Dumbledore? Lupin? Tonks? FRED, kid! FRED DIED. I just can’t. Twin boys, and one’s gone.”
I sat on the couch with tears streaming down my face, looking at my kid, one of my own twin boys, losing EVERY BIT OF COOL I HAD. Cool dribbling down my face.
And you know what he did? He reached out and held my hand and said, “But, Mom. You can’t lose heart during the bad parts. You need to think about the whole story. You need to think about how good wins in the end. Right, Mom? Isn’t that what it’s about?”
Oh my word, friends. Oh my word. Out of the mouths of babes. And out of the pages of Harry Potter.
You can’t lose heart during the bad parts.
You need to think about the whole story.
You need to think about how good wins in the end. And you need to do your part to make it so.
In conclusion, what a weekend. What a week. What a weird, weird world.
But wonderful, still. If you think about the whole story, anyway. And about how good wins in the end.
Sending love, friends,
P.S. Um… and now let’s talk about privilege. Because have you noticed how I’ve made this entire story so far about me and my family? MY sense of hurt and disenfranchisement? And Greg’s? Yes. I’ve noticed, too. I’m quite good, it turns out, at making things all about me.
My friend Elizabeth spoke my heart earlier this weekend when she wrote: “I am sad to be removed from the conversation and from the invitation to worship. I know you don’t understand this, but I actually think it is important to worship and be in community with people I disagree with. I want the opportunity to learn and grow from you. I want to get to know your kids at camp and I want to hear the Spirit speak through you in worship. I want to be witness to your gifts and challenged by your passions. But I can’t be and that is a slap in the face for this privileged middle class white lady. I suppose that is one good thing coming from this: an understanding that I never had before of what it is like to be rejected from a group of people you want to call your own. I promise I will spend the rest of my life working hard to not recreate this experience for anyone in the future.”
Our LGBTQ friends have suffered far, FAR more than what those of us who are removed from fellowship are experiencing this week. We are, in fact, SO privileged to have even been able to say phrases like “I want to be in community with people I disagree with,” because being in such a group did not come with the price of our sanity, our faith or our lives. Now we get to enter into a new kind of privilege; the privilege of experiencing, in a tiny way, the kind of disenfranchisement and marginalization our LGBTQ brothers and sisters have been experiencing for decades.
I am ashamed it has taken this long to enter your suffering, LGBTQ friends. I am grateful to get to do so now. You, of course, are the very ones who have taught and are teaching me how to be welcoming and gracious. Thank you for being Jesus to me.
57 responses to “On Leaving Our Church and Entering the Wilderness of the Unknown”
I just clicked the link to this from your Bought a Farm post. This is so sad! I guess it’s been quite some time since it happened now, but so beautifully written and so courageous!
[…] to Do Now.” And, “All Our Problems Are Solved!” And, “Even Though Our World Is Absurd and Sad Right Now, I HAVE A PLAN FOR UNLIMITED […]
I need to thank you, Beth, for this post and for your amazing decision to support the LGBTQ people in this country.
I have actually never been to your site and was drawn in by a post from my cousins (whom I adore & who have many kids themselves), but didn’t expect this treasure of a post (I should have, though. My cousins are both beautifully spiritually minded and hilarious in their taste of “exhausted-mother-humor”). But, I was brought here and I think maybe it was to a) take heart in the fact that there are GOOD religious people in our country who don’t want to tear everything down with hate & fear & control but want to use compassion & strength of conviction & wisdom to build it to include EVERYONE in their diversity, and b) to tell you that I am a mother of a single child who I fought to have with almost my last breath, and this remarkable, loving, stick-up-for-the-underdog, incredibly brave & heroic child is Transgender and I fear for his/their life from this world that we live in today. I am fearful of those who are making decisions that they don’t know or don’t care how far-reaching these decisions ripple out into communities and directly affect our LGBTQ fellow humans. Your post, though, man… your post gives me renewed hope that people who I don’t know and who I could easily stereotype & assume you’ll be hateful & snobbish to me & mine, aren’t necessarily the same as those who are taking that ugly road our country is on. This means the world to me to know this. This really restores my faith that humanity & compassion still exist in our country.
I am no longer Christian but went through leaving my church & community behind a long time ago in a situation not unlike what you’ve experienced. It’s not easy, it feels like losing a limb at times, but you will be rewarded in life for your beautiful open-heartedness & for the message that you are sending to those who most need to hear it. You will find a community again and I believe you’ll be so much better for it.
Thank you so much for standing by my child and my family, because that’s exactly what you’ve done. Your voice is counted and heard, and we will be forever grateful to you & those who spoke up for us. Please share my gratitude with anyone who chose the same path that you have. Blessed Be!
P.S. I’m gonna try your easy-peasy cinnamon rolls this weekend! Merry Christmas! 🙂
Beautiful post Beth in so many ways. I knew you were incredible the first day I meet you and hope we meet again. I love your writing. Your honesty. Your heart. And I FULLY support your tough decision.
[…] Our umbrella group of churches has removed us from membership. FLASH FLOOD. […]
You. Rock. That is all.
I was never convinced to join Friends Meeting, but I attended long enough to learn there are many strands within the Friends tradition. I looked at your Yearly Meeting’s site and they warn you they are “Evangelical”. The Quakers I spent time with never tried to convert others, and I admired them for that, and for other things. I trust there are other faith communities that have room for you, if community is what you need.
we homeschooled under a Friends covering, although we started off meeting in a different place because? I’m not sure they had their own place; had thought that was typical but maybe not for all of them? but then somehow as I understand even though we kept the name and supposedly were still under them they somehow no longer had a representation in the leadership? of the covering – how could that be? and then we ended up no longer even meeting where we were but got our own place? how could all that even happen? I don’t even understand the whole Friends thing in relation to our homeschooling
[…] to keep me Safe and Protected, as though those are the goals, and, instead, found me walking a ragged path through the wilderness rather than the well-trod highway I was told was the Narrow […]
I know it’s been a while since you posted this, but welcome to the rending, tearing apart from those you love for the sake of believing in the love of God. From those of us who have been living in the chasm between the two for a while, welcome. Truly. You will find a new community of those who have had similar reckonings and found that the love of God transcends any church and can sustain you despite the institutions where you used to meet with Him cutting you off. I won’t say it’s a comfortable life, but there’s a different sort of goodness and faith that has made the journey worth it.
[…] strange season of life for Greg and me. For our family. For America. For the universal church, and for ours specifically. For the world, […]
[…] are certain things that are harder to write than others. Mine tend to get a little flip flopped. Writing about the church? Ugh. HARD. Writing about pooping my closet? Surprisingly easy. So I’m not necessarily like […]
I love reading your blog, Beth, and I have recommended it to many of my friends. I love your spirit and your sense of humor, even though we don’t always agree. This is one of those topics on which we don’t see eye-to-eye. I don’t usually leave comments and I hesitate to do so here, but I also believe that it is important to stand up from time to time. I believe in the Bible as the inerrant word of God, which applies even when we (I) don’t much like what it says. Being a Christian IS hard. It’s not about following a denomination – which Christ specifically speaks against. It’s about following Christ himself – His words, His example. One thing He taught us is that there is right and wrong behavior, no matter how much we want All Things to be all right. We can and should, however, love everyone and treat everyone with respect, because He created us all. It does not mean that a Christian condones behavior against which the Bible specifically speaks, but it means we love our fellow humans anyway. We all have something in our lives that causes us to struggle, it’s part of being human and part of what keeps us close to (and in need of) God if we’re honest about it. The key is not to give in or give yourself over to that thing. God asks only that we struggle in His direction, as none of us will ever achieve perfection.
Yes, there are many Christians who agree with you and disagree with me. There are thousands of Christian theologians who, after faithful studies of Scripture, context, history, original language study, prayer, etc. have reached different conclusions about the interpretation of Scripture in all areas, not just this one.
I agree with you that there are behaviors that are right and there are behaviors that are wrong. I disagree with you that homosexuality is a wrong behavior. I’m happy to share with you why I believe in the authority of Scripture and believe homosexuality, including in behavior as well as orientation, is not wrong. Just let me know if you’d like me to do so.
Regarding Biblical inerrancy, I believe the Bible is inspired, not inerrant. Biblical inerrancy as a doctrine wasn’t floated until 1978 in Chicago, tied to evangelical protestantism. Until then — and scripturally — the Bible as been seen as “God-breathed” (the Apostle Paul’s words), or inspired. Here’s more if you’re interested:
If you’re not interested, no worries.
I do fall on the side of those that disagree with you, however, I would love to hear how you came to your conclusion and what formulated your reasoning. Im always interest in hearing other sides of the story so to speak.
Tracy, here’s a link to the blog post where I outline why I believe what I believe: http://bethwoolsey.com/2014/03/on-coming-out-as-a-christian-whos-an-lgbtq-ally/
where in this link does it say anything about 1978?
[…] Too many thoughts about the state of the church and what it looks like to leave. […]
Beth, this post is so powerful!
I too used to belong to a church that was not in line with the word of God which I did not realize until after I left. It is challenging taking that step but know that God is with you every step of your journey whether you feel like he is or not.
As a Christian and as a teacher in the Catholic school system it is wonderful to hear of someone standing up for their beliefs. I pray that I instill in my students and my children the example Jesus set for us to treat our neighbours how we would want to be treated!
This is such a powerful post, Beth. I needed to be reminded not to lose heart during all of these bad parts. Love will trump hate in the end. Yes, indeed.
I teach my children that when in doubt, go with kindness. You’ll almost never go wrong if you act in kindness and empathy.
Bravo to you and your husband for going with kindness, and standing in your convictions.