Editor’s Note: Audrey was recently featured in an article in The New York Times discussing various Christian responses to the rash of suicides among GLBTQI teens this fall. We asked her to write about the experience of responding to those suicides as part of her ministry, and to offer some thoughts about one secular response, the It Gets Better campaign.
“IT GETS BETTER.”
Three words that are simple, innocuous, and yet filled with hope and understanding of a reality that is not yet. “IT GETS BETTER”.
On the day after National Coming Out Day, I had a surge of joyous emails, calls, and facebook updates from members of my congregation and people in the community of Lynchburg, Virginia, where I serve as Family Life Minister in a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation. We had just experienced our first “Solidarity Service”; a time of worship I organized with clergy from the United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Unitarian, Unity, Reformed Jewish, and Evangelical traditions. It was a wonderful visual and spiritual symbol for those struggling with their sexuality or a community that does not accept them because of their same-gender loving identity living within our city. The celebration was muted in lieu of a country made newly aware of the pain and bullying that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning people experienced after many gay teens’ suicides blazed through our media this fall. Our local community, both LGBTQI and straight, was thirsty for a declaration of healing and grace for all God’s people. During the hour long service in Lynchburg, many of us felt we had a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, and I wanted to proclaim to the world, “Yes, it does get better!” because for me, this was a culmination of a long journey.
“Coming out” as lesbian as a person of faith was difficult despite my open-minded family and Christian faith. Many people talk about the expectations that parents have for their children that need to be mourned when their children “come out”. I also experienced loss: of sameness with my older sisters whom I always tried to be like; of feeling I would ever be “normal”; and of a life without struggle in my chosen profession of ministry. Stepping into a place of further exclusion within my church as a minister (first as a woman and now as a gay woman), I lost my ability to speak from the “center” about who Jesus calls us to be. I came out in divinity school to myself and close friends to discover preaching from the margins would not be a choice – I would have to do it in order to be authentic.
Following the Solidarity Service, I watched pieces of the It Gets Better Campaign on Youtube. I found myself listening to strangers across the globe comforting young people who are struggling with tears in my own eyes. This message, aimed at people so much younger than I am, with far less road traveled on their journey to self-knowledge, nonetheless stopped me cold. Perhaps this “It Gets Better Campaign” is something we all need to hear whether we think we are “out” or “safe” or not in pain any longer. I am struck by how “It gets better” goes to the core of who we are as people of faith. For me, hearing from so many virtual strangers who struggled in this homophobic world and yet found hope, and felt called to share hope, helps me to understand that my own struggles are no different than other people. And that connection to others helps me give myself grace as well as understanding of my own ability to reach out to others.
The story of Jesus is one that proclaims redemption and life abundant for all people. To follow him, we must all be willing to live into a world that is better for all people. We need to be better: better stewards, better pray-ers, better at accepting God’s grace, and better at praising God with our hearts, souls, and minds. And as we work on ourselves and live our own journeys, it does get better. I wonder if after Jesus came back to the disciples on the third day we could summarize all that he communicated to them with “it gets better”. We know he promised them a divine advocate and comforter. We know that he assured them that he would be there when two or more are gathered in his name, and that they would never be alone. The writer of Matthew shares that Jesus gave instruction before he left. “Go out and make disciples of all nations… teach them to obey everything I commanded you…” because it will get better?
For me, “getting better” did not happen overnight. I struggled through my first four and a half year call as an Associate Minister where I served “in the closet”. The journey of “getting better” included years of hard work with a fantastic therapist who counseled me on the importance of owning my feelings and not taking on the worries of other people. And “getting better” occurred after time and again meeting LGBTQI Christian role models who live with integrity accepting and loving all parts of themselves and the people around them. It has gotten better, but it took time.
- Time to live into the understanding that God is present with me regardless of whether the church supports me.
- Time to know that perhaps what Calvin described when explaining the invisible and the visible church had something to do with a church that appears to be open and affirming and inclusive, but will not support or hire LGBTQ ministers readily (and the fact that places outside the church are often more inclusive than the self-proclaimed Body of Christ)
- Time to see that this marginality that God gives me is one that can be used to glorify God as I take up the cross of discipleship from my placement in life as a beloved child of God.
Getting better has meant learning extreme gratefulness for the open and affirming congregation I now serve as well as developing a passion and appreciation for my present ability in the church to reach out to all those who are hidden and struggling both locally and globally in a broken and too-often homophobic world.
I now proudly serve on our denomination’s Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples Alliance (GLAD) as chaplain and on our Open & Affirming national team. And while we try to discover ways to help congregations see those who are often invisible and minister to them, I am glad that the It Gets Better Campaign is there as a tool to help all those struggling in the world. I do hear those words “It gets better” from so many faces, colors, voices, and places as confirmation that God is in this struggle for us all to learn how to get better together.