Chapter 2 – The 20’s

Amidst the Divide.
In the heart of my journey, nestled within the tumultuous years of “The 20’s,” came a period marked by profound division and personal turmoil. The Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, known colloquially as the Marriage Plebiscite, emerged as a pivotal moment not just for the nation but deeply so within the walls of my church. The debate, while public and political in its nature, bore deeply personal implications for me, weaving through it a thread of anxiety that frayed the very fabric of my connections within my faith community.

The plebiscite’s shadow cast a long, divisive line across congregations, inciting fervent discussions and debates where previously there had been unity. My church was no exception. What had once been a haven of support and understanding became a battleground of ideologies, with the topic of marriage equality at its center. This shift was palpable, coloring interactions, shaping sermons, and altering the dynamics of fellowship. The sense of belonging I had fought so hard to establish within these sacred walls began to wane, replaced by a gnawing sense of isolation.

My stance, or rather my struggle to find one, during this period only compounded the growing chasm. Straddling the divide, I remained neutral, my silence a defense mechanism against the escalating tension. This neutrality, however, was often misconstrued as indifference or, worse, opposition. Misunderstandings became commonplace, with each miscommunication further eroding the fragile bridge of mutual respect and understanding I had painstakingly built with my senior pastors and fellow congregants.

The plebiscite not only divided the church but also mirrored the internal conflict raging within me. The question of how to cast my vote in the ballot became a reflection of a larger dilemma: how to reconcile the teachings of my faith with the truth of my identity. This period of introspection was marked by sleepless nights and fervent prayers for guidance, yet clarity remained elusive. The anxiety and confusion that clouded my thoughts spilled over into conversations, further complicating my relationships within the church.

It was amidst this backdrop of division and doubt that I made the painful decision to depart from my home church. The decision was not made lightly. It felt akin to severing a limb, leaving behind a part of myself indelibly intertwined with my faith journey. Yet, the longing for a place where I could be authentically myself, where acceptance was not conditional and love was not tempered by judgment, propelled me forward. The search for a new spiritual home was born out of necessity, a quest for peace and understanding in a world that seemed determined to misunderstand me.

Leaving my home church marked the beginning of a new chapter, one fraught with its own challenges but also brimming with potential for growth and self-discovery. The journey was a testament to the enduring strength of my faith, a faith that, despite the trials and tribulations, remained the cornerstone of my existence. It was a period of profound loneliness but also of significant learning, as I navigated the complexities of belonging and belief in the quest for a community that embraced me in my entirety.

The plebiscite, for all its controversy and divisiveness, served as a catalyst for change in my life. It forced me to confront the realities of my faith, to question the foundations of my beliefs, and to ultimately seek a deeper, more authentic connection with God and with others. This quest for authenticity, for a place where love and acceptance were not mere ideals but lived realities, became the guiding light of my journey, leading me through the darkness of uncertainty towards the promise of a new dawn.

As I reflect on this tumultuous period, I am reminded of the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of faith. The road was not easy, and the scars of those battles remain, but the lessons learned along the way have become invaluable guideposts for the journey ahead. In the search for acceptance and understanding, I discovered the true meaning of grace—a grace that transcends human divisions, binding us together in our shared humanity and our collective longing for love and belonging.

This search for acceptance and understanding, challenging though it was, illuminated the profound depth of grace that pervades our existence. Grace became not just a theological concept to be pondered but a tangible, lived experience. It was grace that held me when I felt the pull of despair, grace that whispered truths into the heart of my turmoil, and grace that led me to places where the light of acceptance and love shone brightly, despite the shadows that sought to dim its brilliance.

Departing from my home church, a place that had nurtured my faith from its infancy, was a leap into the unknown. The decision, steeped in a mix of sorrow and hope, propelled me into a wilderness period of my faith journey. It was in this wilderness that I encountered God in ways I had never before imagined. Far from the familiar pews and stained glass windows, I found His presence in the quiet, in the chaos, and in the faces of strangers who soon became companions on the journey.

The wilderness period was a time of stripping away, of shedding the layers of expectation and assumption that had clung tightly to my soul. It forced me to confront my deepest fears, to question the foundations of my faith, and to listen intently for the voice of God amidst the cacophony of life. In this space of vulnerability, I discovered the strength of my own spirit, a resilience forged through trials and tempered by faith.

This journey through the wilderness led me to new communities of faith, diverse in their expression but united in their pursuit of God’s love and justice. Here, in these spaces of radical acceptance and profound grace, I began to weave the threads of my story into the larger tapestry of the church universal. Each community, with its unique blend of tradition and innovation, challenged me to expand my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ in a complex and often divided world.

As I navigated this landscape of faith and belonging, I was continually reminded of the centrality of love in the Christian message. Love, I came to understand, is the most powerful testament to the truth of the gospel. It is love that breaks down barriers, love that heals wounds, and love that restores hope. This realization became the cornerstone of my faith, a guiding principle that shapes my interactions with others and my understanding of God’s call on my life.

In this period of transition and growth, I also grappled with the legacy of the Marriage Plebiscite. The public discourse and the divisions it wrought within the church community served as a stark reminder of the work still to be done in bridging the gap between faith and contemporary societal issues. Yet, it also highlighted the importance of dialogue, of approaching difficult conversations with a spirit of humility and a commitment to understanding.

The journey from the aftermath of coming out to finding a place of belonging and purpose within new communities of faith has been marked by both challenge and transformation. It has taught me that our journeys are not linear but cyclical, with each ending marking the beginning of a new chapter in our ongoing story of faith.

As I look to the future, I do so with a sense of hope and a renewed commitment to living out the gospel message of love, justice, and grace. I am reminded that we are all pilgrims on this journey, each with our own stories of struggle and redemption, each called to extend the grace we have received to others. In sharing my story, my hope is that it will serve as a beacon of hope for those navigating their own wilderness, a reminder that they are not alone, and that grace abounds, even in the most unexpected places.

With hope in my heart and a renewed sense of purpose, I ventured into a new chapter of my spiritual journey, seeking a community where the message of love, justice, and grace was not just preached but lived. My search led me to a church that proclaimed its acceptance of the LGBTI community, a beacon that promised refuge and a place to belong. The initial warmth and open arms with which I was received painted a picture of the inclusive love I had longed for. It seemed, at last, I had found a place where my faith and my identity could coexist in harmony.

The church’s stance on LGBTI issues was a significant draw, offering a semblance of the acceptance and understanding that had been elusive in previous congregations. The messages from the pulpit were affirming, and the community prided itself on being progressive and welcoming. For a time, it felt as though I had finally found a spiritual home where the complexities of my identity were acknowledged and embraced.

However, as weeks turned into months, cracks began to appear in the facade of acceptance. It became increasingly clear that not all within the congregation shared the church’s proclaimed stance. There were those who, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, used the guise of acceptance to mask intentions far removed from the teachings of Christ. Their words, initially cloaked in the language of love and support, gradually revealed a darker agenda, one that preyed upon the vulnerable under the pretense of guidance and care.

The realization that the environment I had embraced as safe and accepting was, in fact, harboring individuals with harmful intentions was a betrayal that cut deep. It was a stark reminder of the complexities of navigating faith communities as an LGBTI individual, where the promise of acceptance can sometimes lead into spaces not of refuge but of risk. The disillusionment that followed was profound, shaking the foundations of trust I had begun to rebuild.

This period of my journey was marked by a duality of experience—the joy of finding what appeared to be an accepting community and the pain of discovering the conditional nature of that acceptance. The church, which had promised a new beginning, instead became a scene of spiritual conflict, a place where the battle for authenticity and safety was fought in the shadows of those who sought to exploit rather than uplift.

The impact of this revelation on my faith was significant. Questions that I had grappled with in the past resurfaced with newfound urgency. How could I reconcile my longing for community with the reality of deception and harm found within those very spaces? Where was God in the midst of this betrayal, and how could His message of unconditional love be so twisted by those claiming to follow Him?

Yet, even in the darkest moments of this chapter, the presence of the Holy Spirit remained a constant source of strength and comfort. In prayer and meditation, I found solace and guidance, a reminder that God’s love for me was unwavering, regardless of the actions of others. It was in these intimate moments with the Divine that I was reminded of the true nature of grace—unmerited, unconditional, and all-encompassing.

The journey through this environment of mixed messages and hidden intentions was a painful yet pivotal part of my story. It taught me the importance of discernment in spiritual communities, the need to guard my heart while remaining open to genuine expressions of Christ’s love. This experience, though marred by betrayal, also served as a crucible for growth, refining my understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

In the aftermath, my resolve to find a community that truly embodied the inclusive love of the gospel was stronger than ever. The lessons learned during this time became guideposts for the future, illuminating the path forward with a clarity born of hardship. I emerged from this chapter not with a heart hardened by cynicism but with a spirit emboldened by the knowledge of God’s protective grace.