Refusing to Hear

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used. How have you used the Sarasota Statement? What is your reaction to these phrases? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Angela Williams

“…whose expressions of faith we have refused to hear.”
– The Sarasota Statement

For most of my life, I have refused to hear even my own expression of faith and expression of self. When I was first engaging with the Presbyterian Church at the denominational level, it was as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate to the 221st General Assembly. In that role, I voted to create marriage equality in the PC(USA), not knowing that my push of the button would affect my own potential future marriage.

Seven months later, I cried out for answers and heard only silence. In that void, I heard God’s response, and it terrified me. My gut already knew who I was, and the Spirit offered no other commentary. I did not seek the silence, but the silence greeted me and reflected my identity as a bisexual cisgender woman. In that long, dark night, I wrestled with God. Of course I supported other people’s expressions of their gender and sexual identities, wherever they may lie on the spectrum, but that did not apply to me.

Art by Jeff Gill via Flickr

It took many months of struggling and bargaining to accept and love this newly unfolding part of me. It was even longer before I decided to share that side of me with the world. While I tiptoed in and out of the closet, only revealing my bisexuality to certain confidants, fear made a home in my gut. This fear was the strongest motivator in hiding my full identity. Fear of the injustice I could face. Fear of rejection. Fear of the church. Fear that I would lose relationships. Fear that this part of me would jeopardize my ordination process. Fear of not finding a job in ministry. Fear that I would not be fully embraced as part of God’s beloved family.

Perhaps fear is why we, the church, have refused to hear some expressions of faith. If we truly listened to the stories of those crying out for justice, then we would be convicted to act. If we looked to the silence, perhaps God would not respond, leaving us to wrestle with our gut instinct that something is not right.

Oh, how we are called to change if we truly seek justice, if we actually offer hospitality, and if we fully embrace as part of God’s beloved family those whom the church has harmed individually and systemically. I imagine that in living out that gut feeling, that Spirit nudging, the church would find it difficult to maintain the status quo. How beautiful would the church be if all were loved, welcomed, and protected, no matter the trauma they have experienced.

Still, that process of transformation must begin with those of us in the dominant culture observing silence. In our silence, may we create space for the marginalized and historically silenced to share their stories of injustice. Then, we in the dominant culture must believe them. The Spirit is in solidarity with those stories and moves within hearts and souls to enact justice in this world. Welcome Her movement into your relationship and gut. Wrestle with Her for a while. Then use your voice and privilege to follow Jesus and stand with and for those who are unjustly marginalized and oppressed.

The Sarasota Statement offers wisdom and rich guidance for the church in 2018. While it is both confessional and aspirational, I find space in it where I can wrestle with my own privilege, as well as feel comforted that I am embraced as part of God’s beloved family. Upon reflection, this document encourages me to seek out silence and listen for other expressions of faith in my self and in others that I have refused to hear. Whose expressions of faith have you refused to hear? How can you start listening for their stories?

Angela Williams is training to be a community organizer and a pastor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and at the University of Texas School of Social Work in Austin, TX. She finds life in experiencing music, listening to podcasts, and exploring creation.

How Straight is Your Church?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Laura Cheifetz is one of our presenters. Learn more about his workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Laura Cheifetz

After years (and years and years) of discussing and debating sexual orientation and the place of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people in church leadership, the church constitution changed the requirements for ordination. Rather suddenly, the way was clear for people to serve in ordained capacities regardless of sexual orientation. Several years later, the constitution was changed so that same-sex marriages would be recognized and could be celebrated/officiated by Presbyterian churches and pastors.

painted cross copyAfter these decisions and constitutional changes, some of us shrugged and continued on in our ministries. Some couldn’t stomach the thought and have fought the decision however they could, to the point of leaving. Some of us were ushered into a joyful gay parade of sparklers and streamers. Others, especially those who had left us for denominations who had already given churches permission to officiate same-sex marriages, welcomed us into the throngs of churches who had long been accepting of GLBT persons and their relationships.

While the national scene mattered at a policy level, it is the congregations where the vast majority of Presbyterian GLBT persons spend their time. For these people who are committed to congregations, because faith isn’t separate from community, not every church that professes to be open to membership of GLBT persons is altogether successful.

Even the most self-consciously welcoming church can make missteps in any number of things. A church may consider itself more queer-friendly than it is really is. Some churches are fine with gay people who conform as closely as possible in education and political leanings to the straight people in the church. Many churches are active in working for the rights of gay and lesbian people, but are less able to address the concerns of queer people who face racism and sexism or are gender non-conforming. Others sail along and stumble only when an ill-equipped member says something offensive to a gay or lesbian or transgender member.

Want to talk about it? Attend the workshop I will be facilitating at NEXT Church later this month, called “How Straight is Your Church? Making Congregations Welcoming Spaces for LGBTQ Christians.”

Laura CheifetzLaura Mariko Cheifetz works as the Vice President of Church & Public Relations for the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. She blogs at and enjoys food, friends, her dogs, bad pop music, and television marathons.

Laura’s workshop, “How Straight is Your Church? Making Congregations Welcoming Spaces for LGBTQ Christians,” is offered during workshop block 1 on Monday.