When I look back on my evangelical upbringing, it might be aptly described as a “flannelgraph” childhood. If you have a similar background, you’ll know exactly what flannelgraph is: the flannel-covered background on which picture of Bible characters would be moved around to tell a story. In other words, my childhood faith was picture perfect. I was a good Christian kid from a good Christian home who attended a good Christian school. After graduating top of my class, I turned down several university scholarships to become a missionary instead.
And my childhood church stood with me the whole time. They encouraged me, celebrated me, prayed for me, and even financially supported me in my ministry. And why wouldn’t they? They were like family, many of them affectionately known as “auntie” and “uncle”, despite no blood relation. I loved and trusted them completely. I knew that they loved and trusted me too, no matter what.
No matter what…
Then I came out. I am came out as queer, as bisexual. I came out as fully affirming as a Christian. And now, my childhood church no longer stands with me. They no longer encourage me, celebrate me, and if they pray for me, it is to pray for salvation from what they can only understand as heresy. Their rejection was courteous and polite (they are Canadians, after all) but it was no less absolute. The polite executioner leaves you no less dead. I had transgressed the boundaries of prescribed beliefs and sanctioned behaviour. And the price they exacted for my transgressions was my place as one of them, my belonging.
It was a hard but important lesson to learn: The weaponization of belonging is perhaps the most anti-Christ dynamic there is. I was raised to believe that the love of God was unconditional and so too much the love of the Church seek to be. However, the place from which I was excised was mostly certainly a conditional community whose characteristics have only become more clear with each encounter:
Conditional community leverages fear to coerce conformity and control.
Conditional community justifies oppression in the name of the so-called “greater good”.
Conditional community dresses up condemnation and calls it “love”.