A Letter of Encouragement to LGBTQ Seminarians
Perusing Facebook earlier this week, I was disturbed (though not altogether surprised) to find several posts about some nasty goings-on at Princeton Theological Seminary - my alma mater. Openly LGBTQ+ students, some of whom were in their first week on campus, were receiving threatening emails from an anonymous account that employed both weaponized scripture and shaming language. Just reading the Facebook posts, I felt unsafe - though I am miles and years away from PTS. I can only imagine the range of emotions running through the LGBTQ+ community at seminary.
I graduated in 2012. When I was a seminarian, I wasn't yet out - and I didn't feel like PTS was a place where I could explore what coming out might mean theologically. I remember wondering if I would even be able to find a call if I admitted that I was gay - or if all of those voices that said, "Homosexuals are destroying the church," were right. I remember wondering if I were good enough or gifted enough for ministry. And it's not hard for me to imagine that some LGBTQ+ seminarians might be wondering the same things right about now. So just a little reminder...
Dear LGBTQ+ Seminarians at Princeton,
I'm an alumna ('12). I'm a lady gay. And I am so very saddened and so very angry about what you are experiencing at seminary right now. Know that I, and so many other alumni/alumnae stand with you.
But that's perhaps easy to see on Facebook. So there's something more important that I want to say. The Church needs you. The world needs you. You are gifted, and you are called, and your ministry will matter far more than you might be able to imagine right now.
I am privileged to serve a church that I love in Baltimore Presbytery - where there are so many of us LGBTQ+ pastors and church leaders that we're organizing dinner parties just to get to know each other (I kid you not). And here's the thing: I've gotten to know a lot of really awesome, really creative pastors and leaders here - and many of those who are doing the most innovative, most risky ministry are LGBTQ+. Maybe it's because we've had to think creatively for much of our lives in order to figure out how to maintain our safety while still being our authentic selves in the world. Maybe it's because most of us have lived at the margins in one way or another, and we see the brokenness in the system differently than many others. Maybe it's because we've already gotten used to taking risks because so much of simply being in society has been risky for us. Whatever the reason, I find myself working with queer pastors and leaders who are passionate and who think outside of the box, who challenge 'the way we've always done things' and who aren't afraid to take on churches that others might cast off as 'doomed to die.' Whatever the reason, I find myself working with queer pastors and leaders who imagine an awesome, resurrected, future Church, and who are living into that future here and now by following the Spirit in weird and wonderful ways. And this will be you. This will be you! The Church needs you.
And the world needs you too.
I think what's surprised me (though it really shouldn't have) about being a lady-gay-pastor is the number of other LGBTQ+ folks who want to talk about scripture and theology. In my ministry right now, for the most part, it's other queer Christians who have been spiritually abused by hurtful theology for most of their lives - and who don't always find a space in LGBTQ+ communities when they 'come out' as followers of Christ. We meet to wrestle with texts, to untangle the theologies of our younger years, and to find spiritual healing for incredibly deep wounds. It is painful, and it is joy-filled. The thing is, the more I do this, the more I talk about it with others in our congregation (who are straight), the more I realize that many of them need this healing too. In fact, the more that I do this, the more that I talk about it with neighbors and friends who aren't Christian at all, the more I realize that a lot of people need this healing. We live in a world where scripture has been used to hurt people far too often - and you are uniquely equipped to offer healing and hope. You have been on the receiving end of texts of terror. You have been wounded. And in seminary (hopefully!) you are untangling and rebuilding your own theology and learning how to reclaim scripture in a way that is life-giving. You are gifted. You are called. And the world needs you.
I'm not saying it's going to be easy. There are still people who will say, "Well, ordaining the gays is the death of the PC(USA) (or enter denomination name here)." Here's one way to think about that. We proclaim that God is sovereign over the Church. That Christ upholds the Church. That even the gates of hell cannot stand against the Church because the Church belongs to God. Yet these people are telling me that I - a lady-gay pastor - am destroying an entire denomination. Have they just made me more powerful than God? Because I think that they have - at least in their own minds. And this, then, makes me laugh. That's a whole lot of power to give to our community. We should probably use it wisely.
What I am saying is that you belong at Princeton. You belong in the Church. You belong. And if you ever need to be reminded of that, email me (or a whole host of other graduates), or come to Baltimore Presbytery where you already have family, or hang out with BGLASS. Remind each other as often as possible that you are gifted and you are called - the Church needs you, and so does the world. And you are not alone.
Thank you for following that call to seminary. And thank you for the work that you are doing at Princeton. A couple of comments on Facebook have mentioned that "it's not the seminary's fault." Don't let them get away with that. PTS has had structural issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia for generations. It has to stop. I am grateful for all of the courage that you are already putting into that effort.
Most importantly, thank you for not giving up. I thank God for each and every one of you and for your life, your gifts, and your calling. We pray for you. We stand with you.
Rev. Jennifer Barchi