These next several posts will probably be the hardest ones I’ll ever write. Some of this still affects me and will continue to affect me long into the future. I am in no way disrespecting my church, my pastor, the elders, or the congregation. I love attending my church and uphold them to the highest regard. Unfortunately, I was hurt by my church — and this is my story . . .
Around this time, I was doing pretty good with my walk with Christ! I was reading my Bible daily, didn’t have any desire to hook up with anyone, made pretty good grades at my university, had a pretty good job, and was very involved in my church. Though I was still a bit shy and quiet, I made some friends through Renovate, my college-age ministry.
Some of my friends asked me if I was going to attend a thing at my church called the School of Ministry, or SOM, for short. SOM is a one-year Bible seminar for anyone wanting to go deeper in their faith. Think of it like this: a four-year Bible college education packed into one year. Very grueling and intense but, in the end, very rewarding.
I was very interested in attending because my older brother went a few years back, and he came out a different person. He was already a strong Christian, but once he attended SOM his faith grew even stronger.
I wanted to have that same experience, learning more about the Christian faith and the Bible.
I told my parents that I wanted to put my regular college studies on hold and attend SOM because I felt that’s what God was calling me to do. They were up for it and wanted me to attend this school, too. With the additional support of my friends, I applied to SOM and waited to be interviewed.
While waiting for the call, I remained very excited to attend the school. I kept telling my friends about the school, how my brother learned so much there, and how he taught my family and I more about the Bible.
During this time, I held my church to an incredibly high standard.
But on the other hand, I also heard that people, for various reasons, didn’t make it into the school because the head director didn’t feel like they’d been actually led to attend the school. This made me a bit worried about my chances, but that didn’t hinder my hopes of making it.
A few days passed, and I got the call; it was my time for my interview. I went to the interview both nervous and excited. This was gonna be my next chapter in life, and I was praying for God to tear me apart in a good way.
I walked into the office, sat down, and was greeted by two people from the school. They looked over my application and said everything looked good — except for one thing.
While filling out my application, I had to submit my testimony. I typed out my entire story and gave them an overview of my past, including my struggle with homosexuality, and my present-day life. I was naively optimistic that my testimony would get me in.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
One section in my testimony was of great concern for them. It was this: when I was going through puberty, I experimented with another kid younger than me. I didn’t know that it was wrong, and I explained that this experimentation only lasted a short while.
But the school wouldn’t have it.
They explained to me that my past behavior was close enough to being a pedophile. They didn’t want me to have someone from the church find out and use that part of my life as leverage to threaten me to do something I didn’t want to do, getting the church in big trouble, too.
On top of that, they told me that I could never attend SOM in the future, be around the youth, get a job at my church, or officially become a leader in any department at my church.
I was in shock upon hearing this news but stayed calm, and I agreed that I understood the circumstances. They shook my hand and said that they were sorry, and I left the office with my head held high.
By the time I walked down the hallway of my church, no one there, I burst into tears. Everything they said hit me like a ton of bricks.
How was I gonna tell my family that I didn’t make it? What was I gonna do with my life now? What would my future look like?
It felt like I was being spiritually disciplined by my church, yet it was evident that I wasn’t in habitual sin. I wasn’t sleeping around, I was doing great with my walk — and my church decided to discipline me over something that I did a long time ago! I knew something wasn’t right about the situation, yet I felt that I couldn’t say anything because these people had pastoral authority over me.
At least I was right about one thing: I was torn apart by this event!
But this was just the beginning.
Have you ever been hurt by your church? What happened, and how did you move forward?
* Photo courtesy Pietromassimo Pasqui, Creative Commons.
Hey Matthew, that’s brutal man. As a growing believer, that must have been devastating. I try to be gracious whenever church acts harshly but here it seems like they were trying to protect themselves when they should have been protecting you. I’m trying to imagine Jesus stopping anyone from going on with him because of their past. You were incredibly mature and gracious holding yourself under pastoral authority even as the bricks were landing on you. I don’t know if you stayed at that church, but it’s obvious you’ve continued on with Jesus. For some, lesser hardships have caused them to leave the faith. You inspire me Matthew.
It may be a broadbrush, but I’ll bet most people have been hurt or disappointed by their church at some point, I’m just guessing SSAs and gays find it out sooner. Sometimes moving forward has meant moving on, and it’s almost impossible to stay if the pastor is against you cause he gives cover to others to treat you how they want. But on the flip side, being there can change attitudes for the better if people are willing to. At some point, church, if it’s Church, is supposed to be the body of Christ where you experience the reality of the presence of God in a living way in being together. That some people insist on making it less is no reason to expect less than the real thing.
Thank you man! Yeah, it was brutal, but just stay with my stories cuz I’m going to post a few more and the last one is like what happened after all this stuff cleared. I’ll probably talk about my reasons for staying with the church I’m attending. But thank you for commenting, I really appreciate it!
You stayed?! even after so many doors were closed? Now I want to hear the rest of the story and what you found there that made you want to stay.
Matt, I’m so sorry to hear how your church hurt you. I have a similar story that involves a SSA Christian friend in my own church, and me to a lesser degree.
I have been careful not to name my church in any posts, so I might post soon about that experience. Like you, I don’t want to give my church a bad name, but similar actions were taken against my friend and even against me to a lesser degree.
Yeah, it was very hard trying to figure out how to tell this story, but I know it needed to be told. Thanks for understanding Marshall!
Oh my Matthew. OUCH. I read your post an hour ago and I’m still steaming with emotion. What is up with “Christian leaders” that willfully CRUCIFY people for being honest and human? I have been “encouraged” to give my testimony in men’s retreats – do they REALLY want to hear all that? Would I be “stupidly vulnerable”? Which hurts more, their negative reaction or my own stupidity of trusting them? Oh my – I will be brief here. Maybe add more later. Just to be clear I do not think YOU were stupid – you were courageous!
Thank you! Yeah, there’s a lot that I didn’t want to get into, mostly because it’s still a delicate situation. But I did grow from this, and it has helped to reach out to other people who’s been hurt by the church. So there’s that!
That is difficult to read, Matthew. How devastating! You were excited about your faith and wanted to go deeper, only to have the fire of that enthusiasm drenched by a wave of foolish authority. Kudos for moving past this terrible hurt. I think the only way to move forward is to realize that God had no part in it and was not honestly consulted. You move forward by asserting in your pain that he is still for you and worthy of that enthusiasm. It is also helpful to know that King David, beloved of God, could not be accepted by SOM if he were as transparent as you. I take comfort in knowing that God had your back and wept with you as you walked through that church hallway.
Thank you! Yeah, it sucked to have that fire gone after these events. But there was a lot going on that I haven’t explain, maybe I’ll do that at the last post. Thank you for your comment!
One of our boldest displays yet. Thanks for sharing so openly, Matt. I have many conflicting thoughts about your church, this notion of leadership and “qualification,” and YOU. But for now, I eagerly await your continuation of this story. Love you, brotha!
Thanks Tom. Yeah, one of these days I’ll explain it to you in person, so you get the full picture. But trust me, it was a really sticky situation, and now I get why my they did what they did.
Rejection is my biggest fear. When other SSA guys say things like “some people will reject you, but that’s OK” that really scares me. I hate conflict and generally have done a pretty good job of avoiding it in my life. Even when I’m vulnerable with others, I am very selective about who I share things with and what I share with them. Risk-taking is not my thing. (hello, Enneagram-6 weakness!)
But at the same time I know that I’m not going to get the intimacy and support I need if I’m not vulnerable with more than a couple people. As I start looking for a church in the next couple weeks, yes, I’m looking for someplace “safe”. But, still, being open is certainly going to be a challenge. Especially when I’m dealing with Christians who make mistakes and sometimes hurt people.
“Risk-taking is not my thing. (hello, Enneagram-6 weakness!)”
Yes! Right there with you Karl (Enneagram 6 here too).
“As I start looking for a church in the next couple weeks, yes, I’m looking for someplace “safe”.”
Once you find that new church (I encourage you to look around) it might not be “safe” right off the bat. It is my experience to garner trust with people you need to build relationships with them first and foremost. SSA is a part of you and me, but let people in to see the rest of you first. When I introduce myself to people I honestly present the person I am, but not ALL of me in one take. In short, give yourself that time to mingle and bond. Let it take a natural progression.
Moving out for college is already an admirable risk, Karl. You’re doing great! Finding a church can be tough and rough; finding safe people to open up to can be even tougher and rougher. But the reward of finding safe people to support you (and for you to support in return) is so worth it. Keep it up, brother. Excited to see where your journey leads.
Matt, I want to join the chorus of others on here who have already said “I’m so sorry this happened to you”. It enrages me as the church has and is becoming the farthest thing from Christ-like. I do want to say that the understanding of spiritual authority is also off from its biblical definition. In modern understanding only few have a voice and it’s the job of the less-important, non “titled” few to simply submit. This isn’t how Jesus operated and neither should we. In my humble yet accurate opinion (that’s a joke people), I seriously believe you need to (if you haven’t already) approach that leadership all these years later as fellow brother in Christ, and explain their wrong LEST IT HAPPEN TO SOMEONE ELSE if it hasn’t already. Whether they listen, or change is irrelevant. You have a responsibility to them as a brother in Christ to at least make known their deficiency or you’ll be held as accountable for being silent.
Thank you for sharing, Matthew. I am so saddened by this story. Keep pursuing Jesus- often he puts desires in us that get used in other ways. It may “seem clear” at the time that this is what you’re supposed to do- but God puts these desires in our hearts- to use them.
When I was a kid- people would ask me- what do you want to be when you grow up? I always thought privately- a counselor. I’m not a counselor by trade- but I can see that God uses that desire in how I have the capacity to love and build into people around me. I’m praying for you that God will use the desires of your heart to advance his kingdom- and to bless you.
Thank you again- God bless- praying for you. Josh
What idiots…I feel angry reading this. This would only be acceptable if they treated all sexual immorality between two people the same. Otherwise they’re hypocrites… judging another coz they sin differently to how they sin. I’m angry that this happened to you!
I have been”disciplined” by many churches for several reasons. The first was for being depressed, then they insisted on reparative therapy. The second was a licensed counselor who attended the church who told the pastor I was SSA. I was two weeks from completing school to be ordained and the senior pastor told all of the staff. The assistant pastor told me and I resigned before I was humiliated. Then a pastor in the same denomination made a pass at me and the old church pastor was bow the district supervisor. He didn’t believe me when my roommate said this, (against my permission). I was told I have to submit to deliverance to stay in the district churches. I left of course and went to another denomination. Lastly, I applied to be a youth worker and answered truthfully that I was sexually abused as a child and I was told I cannot be left alone with anyone under 18 because their insurance determined the stastics of abused becoming abusers is too high to allow. I left reorganized church for 5 years after that and attended a house church. It was the best thing I could have done.
Good grief, where do they get these morons to run these organizations? Its stuff like this that’s turning people away from churches and Christianity all together.
Wow Matt! It’s not a surprising reaction, but It’s still so disappointing! Wouldn’t it have been amazing to see the church in 1 Cor 6:10-11? Is repentance not good enough for the modern/improved churches of today?
Thanks for sharing it, even if it was hard!
[…] few weeks passed after my church incident, and I still could not process what had happened! The anger inside me started to swell up. I would […]
[…] before my whole church ordeal started, before being told I couldn’t lead in any ministry, I was already heavily involved […]
I posted this elsewhere but I’m going to say it again…
In 1995, after SEVENTEEN YEARS of ex-gay reparative therapy… and I still wasn’t “fixed/healed” yet… and I was a seminary student at the time, the pastor and elders of my church of 10 years called me to a meeting. I was told (hold on to your seats guys)… that I was “too needy and too broken” and that until they had “psychological proof that I could relate to people in a healthy way…” I was no longer welcome at church.
I have NEVER acted on my sexual orientation. Ever. But after 17 years of therapy and I wasn’t “straight” yet… these elders/pastor thought there must be something wrong with me… and they threw me out. I was in seminary. I was being mentored for a future pastorate. And instead they threw me out because I wasn’t “fixed” yet… I’ve never been so hurt in all my life.
Now it’s 20 years later. I’m in a different church and denomination (one that is just as conservative mind you!) I finished seminary at a different school. I’ll likely never be ordained. That still hurts. But at least I’m in a church that understands what it is to be a single, celibate, chaste, same-sex attracted person.
You’re a leader in my book. You’ve lead me and countless others. Your lack of title cannot change how God is using you!
[…] after the whole ordeal with my church, I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone or be in a community again. I isolated myself and […]
Thank you for sharing. I have said many times that Christians are the only “army” in the world that shoot their own wounded.
I had some bad situations in the church I grew up in…that made things so difficult to keep attending. I loved to usher at church and greet people…I felt it a ministry that God had given to me. One time, I greeted a couple, not knowing they were dating. I told the lady she had a beautiful scarf on…well it was very lovely, but the man got mad and reported me to the church leadership and I was reprimanded for saying that. It was crazy…they felt it was like sexual harassment when that was the furthest thing from my mind. Turns out, the man was a convicted criminal and was in the newspaper for harassment and other violations. I felt vindicated finally but the damage had been done. I could not believe one could not given an honest compliment without it backfiring.
In another time, a lady had started to attend the church and she was desperate to get married. She found out about me, and seeing I was single, began a campaign in the church to have me marry her. Even if I was straight, I would not have been interested…she was extremely gifted and talented and would have been a great catch for a guy, but she was so bossy and controlling that every guy she had ever been interested in walked away. I tried to express my concerns, but she became angry and treated me terribly and went around the church saying bad things about me behind my back. Soon, a number of people started giving me the “ice” treatment…
Another time, I was ushering at a special service, and a man was walking through the parking lot and saw a service going on and walked up and asked to see a program. I got him one and he started screaming about the music and then looked at me, became belligerent and threatening saying, “And, what’s with you, you are gay aren’t you.”
Fortunately, I had feedback from many, many people saying God had used me to bless them, so the good far outweighed those bad times…I just wish churches would not be such battlegrounds at times and people would be more Christlike. But, I can sure appreciate it when people share about being hurt by a church…
I have to laugh about it now, but one time I had been on vacation and the next Sunday I was at church at the coffee time and a man came up to me and asked how my vacation was to _____ (I had been to British Columbia (BC)). There were a lot of people talking and I misunderstood him and thought he said DC as in Washington, DC. I said quietly I had been to British Columbia, not Washington, DC. He blew up and started screaming at me, saying he knew what he was talking about and he knew where those places were. I was speechless that this would have triggered him to have such an angry response. I have been asking the Lord to let my responses be like Jesus…regardless of what others do and say. The human side of me hurt at the time, but life’s parade must go on.
[…] with my church, I was ready to call it quits. Looking back now, I kind of did! After being told I couldn’t attend a ministry school or be a leader and stay away from the youth — twice! — I was deeply hurt. It seemed […]