This letter is long, and what I have to say has been weighing heavily on me for some time, so I want to start by thanking you for giving it your time and attention. I spent the past ten years thoroughly involved in your evangelical megachurch. I was a volunteer for nine years of my time there — I served in every role of the production team as a stagehand, camera operator, director, graphics operator, and switcher from 2011 to 2013. From 2014 to 2016, I served on a connection team, helping people find small groups and volunteer teams of their own to join. On that team, I was promoted to a team lead, and was later promoted again to a coordinator of two teams. Beyond my volunteer roles, I took an internship, I applied for staff roles, and I was hired on contract as an illustrator multiple times. I served as a background vocalist alongside my husband on the worship team from 2017 to 2020. I was involved over the last decade in at least eight small groups (some of these simultaneously, two of which I led) and two staff spouse women’s groups. I gave thousands of dollars to your church, many times when I did not have it to give and could barely make rent. I did these things joyfully.
I want to make it clear how joyful I was to do these things — the majority of my time in your church was truly happy. I grew and learned more about God and myself in your church more than I can say for any other institution in my history. I came to know the character of God and the goodness of God in ways I had never imagined in the days before I first stepped through your church’s doors in 2010. I had long appreciated and learned from your church’s diversity, the nuance in your sermons, and your focus on community outreach. There are many ways in which I believe your church succeeded and became a vital part of the community, and I was proud to be part of it.
I say all of this because I want it to be clear that when I share my criticisms of your institution in the next few paragraphs, I am not saying these things as someone who has not invested in your church. On the contrary, I am deeply grateful to your church for the many ways it has played a part in changing my life for the better. I have become a different person because of your church. The teachings and experiences I have been exposed to have made me a more open, more understanding, more self-aware human. I met my husband and my closest friends there. But because of my decade-long love for this place, I feel it would be disingenuous of me to leave and not share the honest reasons why. I don’t expect my words to change anything. I recognize the size of your institution, the number of people it hires, and the lives it affects. But if I say nothing, I’ll certainly regret never taking the opportunity to make my voice heard.
In late 2020, I quietly made the decision to leave your church. I am leaving because, in good conscience, I can no longer support, attend, or give money to a church that does not openly affirm and accept the LGBTQ+ community.
The modern megachurch, in my experience in particular, has historically been publicly evasive on the topic of the LGBTQ+ community. You may claim to welcome them through the doors of the church, but you do not welcome them onto your worship teams. You do not welcome them into paid leadership roles. You do not offer to marry them or affirm them in any way, beyond welcoming them to sit in a sermon and change their nature prior to future involvement.
I was made aware, four or five years ago, of a worship team member who was removed from the worship team because she came out as a lesbian. When I found out, I was immensely discouraged that she was removed from the team, but I chalked it up to the fact that it happened at a satellite location out of state; perhaps the decision was left up to a campus pastor whose personal views of sexuality were not reflective of this particular church at large. Perhaps the “higher-ups” at the church were never told. I had attempted to research this church’s stance on the issue in the past, and had noted that an official stance had not been expressly stated; the most I found was in the Q&A section of a small group leader handbook for a series on relationships, where the question of homosexuality was answered by a single verse: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)” At the time, I took that as a careful way of welcoming the LGBTQ+ community without doing much to ruffle the feathers of the southern conservatives filling the seats and, no doubt, funding the mission. In the past few years, I have come to realize that, while your church may not have an official view, your satellite church pastors are more willing to state their views outright, and act on them.
A few years ago, the first woman whose role on the worship team was terminated announced via social media that she was getting engaged to her fiancée. My husband and I both congratulated her, as we sincerely believe love is to be celebrated in all its forms. A few days later, my husband was called in for a meeting with his supervisor at the time, where he was reprimanded for publicly liking and commenting on her post. He was told that he was not to make his political views public, that the church did not have an official stance on homosexuality, and that he should be more careful in the future. He left that meeting feeling uncomfortable and disturbed. I was disturbed and angry as well, as I believe without a single doubt that Jesus would have congratulated her without worrying what the donors, the public, or the media would have thought.
Disoriented and disappointed by this incident in early 2018, we continued to wrestle with our ever-evolving faith and our relationship to your church for the next few years. We stayed because we believed the good your church was doing outweighed the disheartening and sometimes jarring experiences my husband had on staff. I realized that your church attracts a very diverse crowd, and that includes diversity of thought. I had always appreciated that about your church — after all, not everyone drawn to the Mystery will be from the same background, social status, or political history. I had witnessed, in multiple sermons, bold statements against bigotry and hatred. As such, I hoped that one day, perhaps naively, that your church would eventually make a statement about being an affirming church, welcoming all to participate, even allowing LGBTQ+ members to serve on the worship team again. Over the course of the last year, I have come to realize how unlikely that is, as yet another LGBTQ+ worship team member was kicked off of another satellite campus’s worship team after coming out in a private conversation with a staff spouse in mid-2020.
Hearing about this second and very recent event deeply upset me. As a church that spends weekends singing about Reckless Love, it seems that we suddenly become very risk-aware and calculated when that same love is required of us. A love that says “you are welcome here, you are celebrated here,” not, “you are welcome here, but only to come as far as this line — you are not welcome enough to cross this line and play music on our team, or lead our groups, or work on our staff.” It’s bigotry to remove these people, who have as much love for Jesus and the church as you or I, from contracted jobs, simply because of who they love. It is not loving and it is not of Christ.
You may say, “well, I don’t mind having them on the team, but if the public knew…” Then what? What are the perceived consequences of letting a gay person play an instrument on stage? That the crowd will be angry with you? That a “sinner” should not be allowed in such a place of honor? Putting aside the fact that I don’t believe someone is sinning for loving someone of the same sex (resources on queer theology are plentiful and are not difficult to find; as church clergy, familiarity with these resources is a must. I now expect church leadership to have accessed and read more on this topic than the average layperson, compounding my disappointment when I find they have not), we had proudly featured more than our fair share of “sinners” on stage at your church. I won’t forget how two close friends of mine were removed from their staff worship leading positions after they each went through a separate divorce, and weeks later, a prominent worship singer, himself a recent divorcee, was invited to come sing and lead worship on the same stage. The same was true for a prominent megachurch pastor, who was invited to preach shortly after his experience in rehab dealing with alcohol abuse. Both of these men were met with calls to love and forgive, calls that I agree with and fully support. Yet they were re-platformed with the celebrity megachurch stamp of approval in stark contrast to my two friends, who were cast off and moved into positions that were so unfulfilling, their options became quit or get fired. This was hypocrisy — did we only care about loving, forgiving, and re-platforming the person when we know they can fill seats and garner tithe money? Grace and mercy are afforded to everyone according to the Jesus I follow, and this treatment was not a reflection of that. Instead, it was a reflection of patriarchy — it appeared grace and mercy were only afforded to powerful men who are friends of the pastor.
This brings me to my final point: the harm of reckless belief. For too long, the Church at large has pushed out the LGBTQ+ community, based on six verses in scripture that are all hotly contested as to their accuracy in translation. Biblical scholars have uncovered much of the meaning of these six “hammer verses,” as they’ve come to be known, and have found the biblical context does not lend answers for an application to modern times. At the very least, the consensus has been that the Bible is not “clear” on homosexuality; yet, churches around the world continue to act as though it is, based on plain-text readings of scripture that do not offer insight into the context and continue to actively harm people. This has led to decades of discrimination against an entire community who Jesus continues to love, and clearly calls us to love.
Because of widespread discrimination and abuse from the Church, intolerant family members, and indeed from society at large, members of the LGBTQ+ community are far more likely to attempt or commit suicide. From The Trevor Project, who pulled their numbers from the CDC:
- LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
- LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
- In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
- LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
- Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. (view citations and more resources at thetrevorproject.org)
As a megachurch with tremendous influence among the youth, and as a church which claims the heart of Jesus at the center, these numbers should be staggering. This is not an issue to take lightly. This cannot be an issue that is handled by satellite church pastors with no formal theological training who have antiquated views of sexuality. This is a matter of life and death for so many. And it’s based in a belief that isn’t of Christ. I would much rather your church love recklessly than believe recklessly. Loving recklessly may result in messy conversations and angry donors. Believing recklessly results in far worse. We are called to be a light in the darkness, but for this community, we have kept that light dim for far too long. In my view, the only moral position for a church that claims Jesus at the center is one of full acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ individuals. Anything less is contrary to the message of Jesus.
I do not carry any ill will toward your church — it’s not for me anymore, and the lack of LGBTQ+ inclusion is not my only problem with “industry” of Modern Megachurch Ministry. Still, I cannot and will not call the whole mission bankrupt. When the institution is healthy, I think it can do a great service for people who are searching for what it has to offer. But when its doors appear open to all, yet only allow some to participate, it cannot be considered an institution with the heart of Jesus at the center. I will continue to follow the Mystery of God far beyond the doors of this place that has been my home for ten years. I hope as an institution, you have continued success in your mission of showing Christ to those who walk through your doors. But I also hope you make bold statements and sweeping changes to break down the barriers that are keeping some people out. I hope you remember why you started this church in the first place. And I hope you choose to love people recklessly.