Believers in Exile – This Challenge is Personal

What kind of gay émigré from the church are you?
Some are in self-imposed exile for emotional or physical reasons. Others who have left their spiritual homes did so when asked or forced, while others stayed in their churches but have been psychologically exiled while there. A friend explained the third group this way: “They don’t want you to leave. They need your talent or your money, but they want you to be silent on certain issues.”
Regardless of the group in which you find yourself, you are challenged by this reality. It is something that has always been true. Faith is a personal fact. Someone else cannot believe for you, and you cannot do the believing for someone else.
In a meeting recently, I was asked, “How did you remain in the church when you disagreed with them so strongly about homosexuality?”
“I stayed because of one thing. God loves me.”
“But what did you do to hold onto your faith?”
“I have a degree in religion and I was an ordained minister, but I hope neither of those was the basis for my response. I found nothing in my faith that told me God didn’t love me if I was gay. I was determined that no human being would ever separate me from that faith. They could keep me from participating in their church, but they could not keep me from my relationship with God!”
Every member of the LGBT community has undoubtedly lost some friends whenever we told the truth about our sexuality or told the truth about our faith to our gay friends.
Did they like me better when I was deceitful?
One way that attending church left a lasting effect on many of my émigré friends became a source of solace that they leaned on during their exile. It was the hymns and gospel songs we remember from the days when we were still welcome in the sanctuary. Music becomes a part of our soul.
My survival package included one last thing: faithful friends. There were a few to whom our sexual orientation is unimportant. They love us for who we are – totally.
My husband, Paul, and I are leaving for Croatia in September to spend three weeks with friends there who are also believers in exile. Here in the United States, we have had our battles, but there have been warriors and allies standing with us and fighting for equality with us.
When our friend left Croatia to come to the Gay Christian Network conference in Portland, Oregon, in January, he was the only gay Christian he knew in his entire nation. When he returned home, the first gay Christian he met was a Catholic priest who was attacked by his own parishioners. The next gay Christian he met was the son of a Pentecostal minister. Suddenly he knew two other believers in exile. After a seven-month search, he’s still looking for an affirming church.
We’re going to Croatia to assess needs and explore possibilities. We believe that gays there need support from the LGBT community and affirming churches here in the United States.
Marriage equality is legal there, but “gay” is not a most welcome description. Croatia is still suffering from a war that ended 20 years ago. Unemployment is 43 percent for youth ages 15-25 and 16 percent for adults. Household income is about $800 per month.
It is almost impossible for them to pay for reconciliation efforts. We can provide scholarships.
My gay Christian friend is a national leader in reconciliation working with Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims, Protestants and non-believers. He works with the ethnic Croats and Bosnians and in both Croatia and Bosnia.
Croatian believers in exile need our help. We can’t say no!
Marvin Baker can be contacted at marvinbaker1925@gmail.com.&nbsp

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