I’ve been hurt by the church and by many Christians. I also have great love and appreciation for the church, and I identify as a Christian. I say this not out of pride or shame, neither to cast stones nor to redeem the church, but simply as context for my story.
I attended the Grand Rapids Christian Schools from pre-K through 12th grade, and then went to Calvin College. I had an academically rigorous, socially enriching, theologically rooted education. My sons attended a different school for a time, but this year we decided to look into the Christian schools again. Touring the elementary school, my mom and I were in tears, imagining how supportive, rigorous, relevant and nurturing a place it could be for my boys. We encountered several faculty and staff we knew, and spent a portion of time speaking with my former 4th grade teacher. Our admissions contact was warm and hospitable, our questions thoroughly answered, and we left grinning as well as tear-streaked, convinced that this was the best school for my boys at this time.
My wife and I met with the admissions director, the principal, and a service coordinator soon after. We discussed my children’s gifts and challenges, our hopes and goals for their education, and what brought us to this school. They discussed what they do, how they do it, and for whom they do it. As the principal spoke of the various kinds of diversity present amongst the enrolled families, I asked him directly, “How do you feel about having a lesbian couple enrolling their kids?” The principal didn’t miss a beat, looked me in the eye and said, “Honestly? I’m glad to have you here and honored to welcome your family.” I have to admit, while part of me expected this kind of response and knew we belonged, part of me was sadly surprised at his warmth and genuine welcome.
While my children’s dad is supportive of this school choice, my wife and I are the two taking responsibility for it. Due to our legal-but-not-recognized marriage, we run into all sorts of interesting challenges. Hammering through the financial details, the admissions director apologetically smiled and said, “To say that your situation is complicated would be a bit of an understatement.” I agreed with her, smiled right back, and said, “Think of this as the education you never knew you’d get!”
At every step of the way, every person we had contact with at the Christian school was warm, genuine, honest, and in a word, loving. There was never a hint of condescension or conflicting theologies, no “looks,” nothing to indicate that we might be any less than wholly welcomed.
Then the Superintendent personally called me. He wanted to meet with me and my wife regarding our enrollment, as well as some things the school was doing about which he thought we’d be interested. Are you waiting for the ball to drop? It doesn’t. He, too, was respectful, humbly apologizing if any of his word choices were inappropriate, eagerly extending love and hospitality on behalf of the Christian schools. Not only that, but he contracted with a local non-profit organization that specifically works to bridge the perceived LGBT-Christian gap. Every teacher and staff person in the elementary school will be part of this facilitated training, for which opportunity several of them have already directly thanked the Superintendent. There is a buzz in the administration, and an intention to keep the closet propped open with Christian hospitality and love.
A few days ago my mom and I took the boys to get their new school supplies. They eagerly picked pencil boxes and notebooks, water bottles and lunch bags, and paraded up and down the aisles trying on backpacks and sneakers. Excited about their new school and starting a new year, they are oblivious to the fact that our family, stepping proudly and openly into the Christian schools, is creating ripples of change. My boys will be warmly welcomed, taught well, and well loved.
I listen to the local independent radio station, and one of my favorite programmers always ends her show with: “Trust your hopes, not your fears.” When we first entertained the idea of looking into the Christian schools, I received some concerned comments. Families enrolled there and friends who used to work there cautioned me that it might be new for the school to admit a lesbian household. They hoped it would go well, but were ashamed to admit they had some doubts. As a child of the Christian schools and a committed Christian, I trusted that my family belonged there. I expected to be welcomed, and you know what? We were.
Trusting in our collective hopes for a better world, the Christian schools are welcoming the lesbian parents, and fears about the perceived LGBT-Christian gap are crumbling under my boys’ new sneakers as we all go back to school.
(I was approached by the Editor of The Network News, the newsletter of our local LGBTQ non-profit, to contribute a monthly column. I will post the links to each online newsletter as they are available, but I will share my articles as they are written. This was the fifth one, for the September 2014 issue, titled “Back To School.”)