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An Open Letter from a Culture War Casualty

Yes another Open Letter.
I am really not an open letter type of girl. I know this is my second this week and that makes it look like I’m blowing smoke but I’m honestly not.
Open letters are rarely appropriate in my opinion especially in this age of interconnectedness. Why not just send a letter? Why not just speak to the person directly? Why not bloody well post it too their facebook wall like a civilised internet type?
Well the only time I really feel it’s appropriate is when you can’t communicate otherwise. Either the way is blocked (e.g. my letter to a dead ancestor) or maybe the dialogue has just never been started in the first place. That is the reason for this one. I think the reasons will present themselves in the course of the letter. And don’t worry, I think I may have got this open letter thing out of my system now…. yeah…. pretty sure.

Dear Pastor (checks the website) McCarter,

I am writing you this little bit of feedback as I won’t be coming back to the church you minister at.
I have left a few churches in my time some due to frequent moves, some just from finding we were headed in different directions. I think this fits the latter. And I made myself a personal promise, as the daughter of a minister, that I wouldn’t leave a church without letting them know why.
Not because I think I have some great moral high ground, but rather because I think of it as my familial obligation to let you know why I won’t be around. I’m sure most pastors would love to know what the people who leave are really thinking, because in the end you are seeking to shepherd a flock of very ornery, very different sheep. And I may be the most “different” your church has seen in a while.
So as I leave I want to speak with you about a word you spoke on frequently in the past year.
I want to speak with you about Sharing.
I want to ask you, Who can Share?
As I walked up to the front of the church these last 18 months (to the lines on the left as I don’t need the “gluten free option” which is a nice gesture by the way) and partook of the sacrament of communion with the other parishioners one question was always dancing around my mind. Was I welcome at this table? Was this bread and juice for me?

Today I learned, that No, No it is not for me.

I sat next to my wife this morning in the sanctuary, there is nothing new in that, I have done that almost every sunday I have been there. But what was different is that this may be the last time I have that opportunity.
And as you belittled a sacred union that we have honored and cherished for 10 years my heart broke.

I have been in your church for a year and a half. Im pretty sure no one knows my name. That is partially my fault. I work strange hours and small groups are difficult to attend at 5 in the morning. But I sincerely wonder if that is uncommon. In a society, and even a church that limits what is and is not “shareable” I question how many feel open to reveal themselves and bare their soul before the brethren. What is grace if it is limited? Cheap Grace. Cheaply bought and cheaply given. Grace that wears thin when challenged with the distasteful of society. It has been obvious my entire life, that I was massively distasteful to much of the church and as such grace and “welcome” have always been at the price of silence.

So. Let me share with you my silence. Let me be the first to bare my soul. Because that is the call of the gospel in a hurting world, to share, completely. So I will give to you that which was never sought. My story.

I am, as you may have surmised by now, a Transgender Woman.

It is not a path I chose, or a sinful lifestyle I fell into or a result of perversion or one of the other myriad bits of slander that float above my head on a daily basis. It is simply a small error of biology. A glitch in-utero. One I have been aware of since my earliest memories. Some children are born with a cleft lip, I got a cleft brain.
I was born with it, and for a very long time I lived with it.
It almost killed me, but eventually I learned to accept that I was different.
Oh, but the cost.
The terrible cost.

You see I was raised in the evangelical church. I was raised in the Pentecostal church. I was raised in communities much like the one you have fostered. I love that church even though it almost destroyed me. And what almost destroyed me was the proclamations like the one you made this morning. A proclamation against the marginalized. Against the damaged. Against me.

And let us be perfectly frank. That is what is being said. You may soften the language but as I sat there next to my wife, all I could do was say a prayer of thanks that my daughter wasn’t with me in the service. What would it have meant to her to hear a minister say that her parent’s marriage was not a “real marriage”. Our story isn’t every day. It is thought by some odd and by some perverse. But for 8 years it was thought to be the pinnacle of heterosexual perfection.
I married her as a 20 year old man, fractured, bitter, in deep deep denial. I married this woman who has held me close, who has seen the scars of trying to be that which I could never really be, this woman who gave me a daughter and then despite the opposition of her religious upbringing and my own sought a way to love me for who I was. She was the one who pulled the razor out of my hands when I decided that death was better than to live hated by the church I loved, to watch my family vilified and dragged through the mud because I couldn't withstand the psychological torture of pretending anymore.
She was the one who loved me enough to see me through losing family and friends.
And even loved me enough to go through the excruciating process of losing her “husband”.
All that and yet our marriage is ending. Not for lack of love. No.
But because the stress of outside forces has become too much and because we worry about the damage those who find what I am intolerable will do to my daughter.
Like it or not we live in a world that judges those who are not “normal” and the most hateful of those judges is usually the church.
I hoped you would be different.
I prayed you would.

I hoped that you could see that the human cost is too high.
I still do.

You see the reason I am writing this isn’t to convince you that your position is wrong. I know I won’t do that. You have studied the scripture as much as I. From my understanding you went to Lee University, my Alma Mater, so you probably had the same teachers as I. You have heard the same arguments I have.
You have watched the “culture wars” tear through our families and schools and churches. What you haven’t done, is live them. You haven’t lost anything to them. You haven’t suffered at the hands of them. I have. Deeply.
I’m not asking you to decide to marry same sex couples next sunday. I’m not delusional. What I will ask though is that you prayfully and sincerely consider what it means to be an outcast in your own church. I will ask whose stories are welcome at your church? I will ask have you considered the plight of the wounded church of America? Those of us who have lost so much at the hands of the church we love. I will ask who is invited to “Share”. Is it only those who you personally consider worthwhile, who share the exact same views as you? I have done children’s ministry for years, I adore it, would the fact that I was born different keep me from leading a bunch of 8 year olds in Father Abraham for the tenth time? Would it keep me from sharing my story? Would it keep me silent?

I have come to the table week after week. My body slowly changing, my spirit slowly healing. I have heard anointed teaching and felt the presence of God in your church. What I haven’t felt, is welcome. So when you speak of being welcoming, maybe you should start with those of us who never felt it. The wounded church, is a forgiving church. We are waiting. In the margins.

Your Blackest Sheep,
Alaina K Cobb

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