Church Chat: A Response to Metro Church, Riverview, Michigan--by LA Jamison
*Let me start off by saying, that though I understand people's anger, I do not condone nor support people threatening the pastor and his family's lives, to burn the church down, or hurt anyone. Our community and those who support us who send the pastor this kind of messages ONLY confirms his fears and beliefs about us refusing to listen to him. We must stick with intelligent and even passionate conversation but not hateful words. Anything less is a disservice to our community*
Well, just when I think I'm done with this series something new comes up. If you don't know, I created this series that dives into the hearts and minds of local ministers in the area on their views and willingness to talk about homosexuality. So far, in all my little expose’s no one has sat down with me, but they do email and I show those conversations here. Not as an attempt to be hateful but to educate readers on the mindset while keeping things light as possible with some Church Lady humor
This one by far takes the cake and then some in the stories I’ve done for Church Chat. Never did I imagine the rise of an ex-gay movement to happen in my own backyard again after Exodus International closed shop (an international ex-gay ministry). I'm sure this pastor would deny that this is what this workshop is as he denies it is even conversion therapy. But that's because he truly doesn't know what our experiences are and has a conflated idea of what that would mean.
Metro City Church has been attempting to host, in partnership with Forge Ministries, workshops for young girls ages of 12 and 16 who feel they are struggling with their identity around being gay, bi, or transgender or anything else. They say parents must fully commit their child to a full six week program. The church states this about their program:
“With God’s help there can be healing, wholeness and hope. Through thoughtful, relevant and biblical counsel we will help your girl be unashamed of her true sexual identity given to her by God at birth.”
Your young, vulnerable children will have to go through what is called an "intake interview" prior to acceptance via their Pastor, Jeremy Schossau.
Well now isn't that special? Who could it be that is making you think you are gay? Hmm...Who could it be? Could it be.....SATAN!
A little snark-casm aside, let me share this if you don't know this already: I spent over 10 years within ex-gay ministry and reparative therapy myself. I know all the in's and out's about this and how clever sounding the people can be. I also know that all their intents are not to hurt but to "save" which makes some of them even more blind to the damage they are causing. We don't do well to demonize these people and come at them with hate. It only confirms their fears and ramps up their ideology based on out of context Biblical stories. Honestly, many of them are the blind leading the blind. We have to shake them up but dragging them over the coals is totally counterproductive and really isn't what we would want to done us when we are mistaken about something. So let's extend some grace we would want for ourselves.
First, let me share this article that profiles the church and some of the stories of those protesting-people who have had direct relations with the pastor of this church.
In the article, they profile two people, Kim Tooley and her son Seth Tooley. They once attended MCC Detroit, a progressive gay affirming church where Seth took part in a youth group I led there. Seth has come so far. He came to our church really hurting as well as his mother. Seth has fully embraced himself now as a transgender male and is so much more radiant and happy now that he has. From a very early age both Seth and his mother knew something was up with his gender and Seth (who was once Olivia) later determined for himself that he was indeed male but found himself stuck in a female identified body. Imagine waking up to that one? No one chooses to face such a difficult obstacle. Instead of educating the youth at this Church, the pastor disbanded Seth from all his friends via their youth group because the kids were uncomfortable. Later, apparently from Kim herself, they were disbanded from the Church unless Seth showed up to Church as 'Olivia'.
If I had anything to say I wanted people to remember, it is this: children are mirrors of the adults around them. I will say it again because it is important: Children reflect the issues and beliefs of the adults around them. They imitate what they see in us. IF this church was teaching true love and acceptance, their children wouldn't need to fear other kids who are different than them. The parents and church leaders would be educating their children in true compassion and not fear. Instead, they stayed consistent with their fear mongering and pulled Seth out who then became suicidal losing all his friends. And let me tell you from personal experience, loneliness and this kind of rejection at this age have deep repercussions.
Also, I have been to a few "intakes" via pastors and ministers who think their Biblical training makes them adept counselors on sexuality. Do you want your children or someone else's children being asked about their sexual history and attractions by someone who has clearly already stated in their church beliefs that they see anything other heterosexuality as a "sin"? Outside of God's will? What type of acceptance do you really think you are going to get? I can assure you of this, it will be a hybrid form of acceptance. A hands-off approach as if you have a long-term contagious illness that needs to be contained. Until you choose to turn back to heterosexuality (because in their inexperienced minds you have a choice), you will be confined to the pew and to church services.
Folks, do not be fooled. This whole argument about the gay community not accepting ex-gay stances and a return to heterosexuality as some kind of evidence of our intolerance is just another clever argument. Just like the rise of white supremists who imagine they should have a place in politics and culture to spread hate. To that end, actually, let me put my email response to this pastor below. I think it says it best. And please see my previous post on "The Brother's Road", another conversion therapy for men. As well, you can read the journey of my own struggle with faith and sexuality in my book at the Book Space store.
Here are four points I stressed to the pastor in my email. We will see if he responds.
1. Most people struggling with their sexual identity aren't forced into programs like the one you are offering but that doesn't mean the parents and children are not in a very vulnerable mindset. I went through my processes with no one forcing me either but that doesn't mean coercion isn't still involved. They are coming to you just as I did with uncomfortability and confusion about their sexuality knowing your church’s view about homosexuality and that in itself is a form of intimidation I don't think you see. The church has a long history of seeing homosexuality as not being in Gods will so this feeds right into the fear of your people. In the end, with you pastor, whether you see it or not, you are their pastor shepherd and they know what you would fully accept and what your boundaries are. Come as you are...most people know what that means now...you can come sit in a service but there will be limits to your involvement until you believe what we believe about homosexuality. They want God's full acceptance and yours but also self-acceptance for them is in grave jeopardy. They feel it and fear it and struggle with it. No matter your best intentions, the end for them will be years of an imprisoned self by biblical teaching taught totally out of context that no matter how nicely this is spun, will in the dead of the night, when years pass and they still aren't at peace with this, will have them fearing they are destined to hell.
2. The difference for someone confused in their sexual identity calling a church that sees homosexuality as being out of Gods will vs. and an LGBT center is that the LGBT center would help you find where you are on the sexual spectrum and accept you there as you are and as you said in your video celebrate that. Whereas, at churches across the world the homosexual identification would not be accepted as far as that person's involvement in many areas of the church and especially leadership. There is no room for hating yourself at the level a lot of churches like yours would inflict on people by saying if you are gay, “see you at church!” They wouldn't be allowed to serve here and then you are dismissing kids in youth group who are making others "uncomfortable" because of their sexuality? That is not full acceptance. You are asking a gay community that has been so wounded and hurt by that, where kids have been thrown out into the street because parents that believe so strongly about what your traditional family value teaches that they throw love out the window too (we have a place right here in Detroit that takes them in called the Ruth Ellis Center). You are asking us to accept this kind of workshop not for adults but children. Can you maybe see why they might be a tad angry about that?
3. Look at what you are teaching children. You cannot say that with Seth Tooley that the boys were too uncomfortable with him so he can't go but we accept him and love him at the same time. Why not teach those kids HOW to accept and love on a kid no matter what, instead of feeding into their fear and discomfort by saying okay we will remove and ostracize him. How does that even prepare them to be loving out in the real world with kids different than them? Who believe differently? Children reveal a lot about what the adults around them reflect. The children's reactions to Seth are a mirror of the fear, lack of maturity and lack of love that are in the adults around them.
4. Have you or those in your church ever talked with someone who has been through seeing sexual identity as a choice? And the programs that have been around for decades? Do you know both the good and bad stories? Do you think it might be wise to talk with those who claim being hurt by such things as well as those who may claim success? I can tell you it is not how you are describing it in the video as people submitting themselves to being yelled at. Us survivors know it is much more clever and many more half-truths. So you yourself may be duped by ignorance of the experiences of those involved.
We will see what happens next. I've been told the pastor has a lot of money and financial investments in the community. I don't know how true that is but that is something additionally we need to look at as far as whose money may be wrapped in with this pastor or this church should he continue on this dangerous path carrying children on his back.