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February 26, 2024: I Belong - By Pastor Janet


Monday, February 26, 2024: I Belong - By Pastor Janet



Editor’s Note: Janet Blair is the Pastor of the combined communities of Knox Presbyterian and Thanksgiving Lutheran.  She wrote this powerful article in 1999 and is reprinted here for the members of the Emmaus Community. It must have been much more of a struggle to write this 25 years ago when the LGBTQ+ Community confronted so much ignorance and discrimination - even among God fearing Christians. We have made progress - not enough in many quarters -- and we must always welcome those who have been left out understanding that to be Christian is to understand that we are one people.


Article by Pastor Janet Blair of Knox Presbyterian and Thanksgiving Lutheran written in 1999

 



I Belong

 

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.” John 10:16

 

 Believers offering understand these words of Jesus as a reference to the gentiles whom Christ would gather into his one flock. But to another group of outsiders – gay and lesbian Christians – Jesus could have been talking about them.

 

I’m from that “other fold.“ I am a lesbian Christian

 

The past several months have been extremely emotional for me because of Matthew Shepard, the young Wyoming student who was beaten, hung on a fence and left to die because he was gay. The message expressed in the violence is well known to me, and every gay and lesbian person: You are not welcome; You do not belong; You are not God‘s child. “  With that in your ears, it can be hard to hear Jesus‘s words of love and acceptance.

 

Last June I was a voting member at the Metropolitan, New York Synod assembly. We approved two resolutions that invited lesbian and gay people into our congregations, and committed the senate to specific, funded ministries to gays and lesbians. We also asked our bishop to urge synod churches prayerfully to study the scriptures on issues of human sexuality, and consider becoming Reconciling in Christ congregations, which welcome gay and lesbian people into the fullness of parish life.

 

Discussion of these measures are heated and lasted several hours. At one point I stood before nearly 1000 fellow Lutherans, and shared that I am a lesbian. I’ll never forget the way all those heads turned to me when I said the word lesbian. My eyes met those of a woman who looked astonished – as if she had never seen one. Recalling her eyes, I now wonder if she has known a lesbian as a friend or relative. Has she ever met a gay person who teaches Sunday school, as I do, or served on the church council as I have?

 

I wonder if those who harshly cried out against the resolution would have spoken as they did if they knew me – if they shook my hand every week to share God‘s peace. If they kneeled next to me to take communion or sat near me at the funeral of someone who we both loved. Would knowing me as just another parishioner have softened their hearts and cooled their words?

 

Do they know that every time someone speaks as if I am a monster – or as if I’m mired in evil and am just too dense to know it – that they voice the notion that God has rejected me? Have they any idea that every time my spirit is crushed by such rejection, my heart grows closer to God?

 

I grew up in the Lutheran Church. Although I feel safe, loved and known in my congregation – a rather mainstream group of Lutherans – I’m one of only a few from the “other fold“ who have this experience. Many of these other children of God turn away from the Christian church because they perceive that the door is closed to them. They blame the church for rejection, brokenness, fragmentation, sorrow, death.

 

I wouldn’t be in the church, were it not for God’s grace shining through the people in my congregation.  Without them I wouldn’t be strong enough to persist in believing that I do belong to God‘s “one flock,” that I am loved by the “one Shepherd” who is kind to outcasts, who said “love, one, another, as I have loved you,”

 

I am here - because I have heard and experienced the truth of Jesus‘ words through the affection and openness my congregation has shown to me. As a child, I learned that God loves and welcomes us all. What would I have done if, as an adult, I’d discovered there no longer was a place for me in the church? My anger and disappointment would have ripened into self-doubt and self-hate.

 

Perhaps, with ironic sadness, I would now be remembering Jesus‘s words. “If you find the world hates you, know it has hated me before you.”

 

For the world does hate me - more when I speak up then when I’m silent. Yet I’m healed again and again through my friends’ and congregations’ compassion and sustenance. They help me hear Jesus’ words above the racket of rejection. “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. No one will snatch them out of my hand.“

 

In my prayers and dreams, I hear the church say to gay and lesbian Christians, “come to the table children of God.“ I see gay and lesbian children of God coming to sing the hymns, to participate in the liturgy and to share in Jesus‘s body and blood. I see them coming because the Lutheran church is calling them, as Jesus calls out to all “come to me, all you that are weary – and I will give you rest.“

 



At the time of the writing this was the postscript to the article:

Janet Blair is a member of St. John – Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Brooklyn and longtime member of LCA. She has been pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support she has received since this article appeared in the February 1999 issue of The Lutheran.

 

 

 

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