|Adam, Carl, Leo and Logan cleaning up after the RIC Service
A Guest Post from Carl Dahlquist:
This Lent, Carl was asked to deliver a meditation during our church’s midweek service. The theme for this Lent was Deeply Rooted, Branching Out. What follows is a transcript of the story he told as part of this service. He shared this meditation on Wednesday, March 18th.
Romans 15: 5-7
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Deeply Rooted, Branching Out
by Carl Dahlquist
When I was young, I attended a more conservative, evangelical church. In many ways, I was the epitome of what it meant to be a strong Christian. I was involved with the church; helping out in drama productions, teaching Sunday school to 3rd and 4th graders, going on mission trips around the state and country, and attending youth group regularly. And I was deeply invested in the church.
I learned a lot about what it meant to be a Christian in the Foursquare Tradition. I learned the importance of prayer, bible study, and evangelizing. I also learned what was considered acceptable and unacceptable in the eyes of the Lord. This caused tensions later in my life.
During this time I never doubted the love of God. It was one thing that every pastor, youth leader, and Sunday school teacher emphasized. God loves us all. We learned verses that spoke of the love God has for the people of the earth. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him, will not parish, but have everlasting life.”
The church I grew up in emphasized the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus. The part of John 3:16 about believing in Jesus in order to be saved was a large part of the beliefs of my church. Not a single service went by without a chance for people to confess their faith in Jesus, and accept him into their lives. When we had special services at Easter and Christmas, the success of the service was measured in how many people “came to Christ.”
My church was very clear about their motives in the area of being accepting of others. The church made the claim that all were welcome. And they were, but once they “converted” they were expected to conform to the picture of “true Christian.” At the time, I didn’t really question this. My thought was that this was something that all Christians had to do. Even though I had been saved by God’s grace, and had accepted Jesus into my heart, I believed that the level of my salvation was dependent on how good of a Christian I was. The best Christians, the most righteous, were going to have the best place in heaven.
They also emphasized the price of disbelief. That those who did not believe would suffer in the pit for all eternity. And though they claimed that all sin was equally deplorable in the eyes of the Lord, it was definitely implied that some were worse than others.
So, why am I describing some of the doctrine of the church I grew up in? Because it helps to lay the groundwork for the rest of my story.
During the election regarding Measure 36 in 2004, the measure to define marriage as one man and one woman in the Oregon Constitution, I started to notice what my church really meant by “All are welcome.” We were told that being LGBT was a choice that was against God. That we shouldn’t associate with those that went against God’s will. That we should witness to those that live in sin, and bring them to repentance.
This is when the seed of doubt was planted in my mind. I knew very few people who were LGBT, but I knew that the God of love that I knew couldn’t be the same God that would condemn people based on love. It took me a few years to be able to articulate this idea, and by that point Proposition 8 had taken place in California.
In 2006, I graduated from high school, and that fall I started attending Pacific Lutheran University. I believe that going to PLU for college was one of the best decisions I could have made. I was away from the expectations of my church and family for the first time in my life, and I was able to start really thinking about my faith, and to figure out who I was as a person. During this time, I realized something that I had been keeping from myself. I am gay.
This realization created a struggle within me. My understanding of the world was, in many ways, based on my faith. This struggle pitted my faith in God against my sexuality. I still believed that LGBT people weren’t accepted in God’s family. How could I be both gay and a Christian? The only thing I knew for sure, was that I didn’t choose to be gay.
How could someone who is raised to believe that homosexuality was a sin, something of the devil, choose to be gay? It was this question that made me know that there was nothing I could do that would change who I was. So I did the only other thing that I could think of. I distanced myself from the church. Sure, I continued to play the part of a church going Christian to appease my parents, and to not let on that anything was different.
When I went home to visit my parents, I went with them to their new church. During one of these visits, the pastor preached on the evils of homosexuality, and how we must “protect ourselves from their evil.” This was when I truly realized how much hate existed in the church, and my experiences didn’t really lead to me believing that there were churches that embraced the true love of Christ.
This realization solidified my belief that I, as a gay man, didn’t belong in the church. I decided to make a clean break. I stopped attending any church, except when at home and couldn’t get away with it. I couldn’t understand how people who believed in the saving grace of Jesus, and the eternal love of God could possibly believe that God would condemn someone just because of who they loved.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It was studying these verses that lead me to my current understanding of the kind of love that we are called to embrace. A love for all peoples, regardless of who they are. It was here were I started to take root in my faith again. My very understanding of the nature of God’s love, and the commandments God gave us had been drastically altered. I looked into it some more. Jesus preached about love. The love of God, as well as the love that humans should have for each other. If Jesus taught love, then how can it be that pastors will teach hate? How can we allow hate to fester, choking away the very nourishment that God intends for our spiritual growth? I have seen how hate can grow like a weed, choking away all of the good works that God intends for our lives.
I knew then that I always had a place in God’s family. But I didn’t think that I would be able to find a church that would accept me for who I was. So I continued to drift.
Here’s where you [the people of St. Andrews ELCA in Beaverton, OR
] come in. During my junior year at PLU, I took a term off from school. I needed to figure out some funding issues. I wanted to keep taking voice lessons while I was away, so I started taking lessons from Jacob Herbert, a pervious music minister here at St. Andrews. He offered to give me free lessons, if I agreed to sing in his church choir. At first I used this as an excuse to not have to go to my parents’ church, as well as get free voice lessons. It didn’t take long for your welcoming manner, and general good natures to win me over though.
During that time, I had felt something that I hadn’t felt in a long time. A sense of belonging in a church body. I was amazed by how accepting everyone was, even after I told people that I was gay. And even more amazing to me, was that you called a lesbian pastor to minister at your church. I was astounded. The very idea that an openly gay person would be allowed to even attend a church was amazing, but to call an openly lesbian pastor was quite another. I knew at that moment that I had found my new home.
To bring my experience back into the metaphor of grounded in faith, I was a deeply rooted, strong plant that happened to be in the wrong soil. And with the love and support of everyone here at St. Andrew, I was able to be transplanted into the nurturing soil of a church that means it when they say “All Are Welcome.”