This summer’s Annual Conference was my first experience with a Brethren Conference of any kind. I showed up at the Richmond Coliseum with my mindfull of fears and worries of what might happen when a group of lgbta people start walking around with large reminders of the exclusion the CoB so deeply practices, by brazenly displaying 11×17″ photos of lgbt and allied Brethren. I felt really proud of all the work that went into BMC’s Picture Project — the gathering of photos and stories was just so tremendous. Here’s adescription of the project from the BMC website:
We were primarily interested in photos from CoB lgbt people and our families; both those who have left the Cob, and those who remain yet struggle. We also included some non-lgbt allies who have either already left the church because of its exclusive practices, are just barely hanging on, or who daily struggle to remain a part of the church and wanted to express their solidarity. We received over 80 beautiful pictures that we enlarged and mounted. We invited supportive individuals at Annual Conference to carry a photo with them at all times at Conference. Our goals were two-fold:
a) to challenge the exclusionary practices of the church by making visible the presence of CoB lgbt families and allies.
b) to encourage individual conversation with other conference-goers.
Growing up in the CoB, I heard every year about BMC’s presence at Annual Conference. I was always eager to hear what creative and moving way BMC staff and supporters would use space never given to them. I’ve been inspired over the past few years to pay more attention to the CoB as I learn more and more about the policies banning BMC from having a space at Conference. For me, it has been a situation in which the more I learn about the struggle for BMC to do seemingly simple things at Conference such as providing information for passersby and staffing a BMC booth, the less hope I have for the Church of the Brethren to right its wrongs. I’ve become hesitant to believe promises for change, and as this year’s Conference grew closer, I prepared myself for the worst: no one will carry posters around with them, BMC materials will be taken from booths and thrown away or not allowed, and people won’t show up for the BMC witness. I was ready for Annual Conference to be the last straw for my relationship with the Church of the Brethren.
It almost pains me to say it, but I’m afraid I’m sticking around for a while. Due to three main reasons (meeting wonderful and genuine allies, learning more and more stories of lgbt people in the Church, and conversations in the exhibit hall), I just can’t help myself. Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m not completely separating myself from the Church of the Brethren; at least not yet.
Now back to those reasons…
I met wonderful and genuine allies at Annual Conference. Family members and close friends of lgbt people in the Church stood out to me as an amazingly powerful presence. The Picture Projectcertainly got people involved, and I believe it allowed people a chance to speak out in a manner as moving as it was loving and influential. Some of the allies who joined us in the witness have been advocates for lgbt rights for years, even decades. I deeply respect those individuals who would challenge their own privileges and work to create change.
The more I learn about lgbt people who have, at one point in time, associated with the Church of the Brethren, the more my anger grows. It’s a strange kind of anger, however, that makes me feel equal parts motivated and discouraged. It’s an anger toward the CoB matched with the respect I feel for the lgbt Brethren population. The actions of the Church of the Brethren in the lives of some of these individuals have been so detrimental that I am amazed we can call ourselves a “Peace Church” with a serious face. The stories of lgbt people in the CoB are often filled with a deep love of a Church that frequently rejects them outright or demands their silence. Many are forced to distance themselves from the Church which had always been a presence in their lives. The strength one must possess to journey through pain, frustration, and betrayal truly astounds me. I have become aware of a great number of individuals who have braved the trail before me, and for that I am grateful.
Sitting in the exhibit hall, I was able to discuss the Church of the Brethren in all its liberal glory. Or rather, the hopes for the future. I was able to meet and get to know some individuals involved with Womaen’s Caucus, On Earth Peace, and VOS … and I picked up on the strong energy to believe that change is possible in the Church of the Brethren. For the first time in my life, I thought to myself, I really want to believe that the Church can change. The commitment formerly present in a few has now sparked in many, and may one day spread even more. I am not yet ready to commit to the thought that the Church of the Brethren will change for the better, or even that it has the ability to make that incredible turn around. I will, however, commit to stickingaround for a bit longer. I want to see where this is going…