Dear church, I understand that people have strong opinions about the current issues of homosexuality. Not everyone is comfortable with the queer community – not everyone thinks it is moral, but my issue is not whether a non-heterosexual orientation is moral or right. My concern is why the church feels so uncomfortable opening its doors in a public arena.
My mom explained to me that members of our church do not see the need for a public open and affirming (ONA) statement that it should be “good enough” to simply welcome people without the public banner that the ONA stamp provides.
Well, as a young adult, I want you to understand it is not enough. I have stopped attending a church because there is no open and affirming church near my campus. Maybe you think that sounds a bit extreme, but I feel justified.
I am a double major in psychology and religious studies – and my primary focus here has been on humans’ fear of death, and how religion functions as a comfort in the psychological process of being afraid to die.
Mostly, I am interested in teen suicide. I know it sounds like a grim topic – but as a 20-year-old student, I have already lost too many friends to random causes of death and suicide.
I have constantly questioned why the suicide rate has been increasing so rapidly over the past decades, and why it is currently the second leading cause of death.
Recent statistics released show that at least 745 people committed suicide in Namibia between January 2020 and June 2021, while 1172 people attempted to commit suicide in the same period.
I work with the student Wellness Committee on campus to organise events for suicide prevention and to raise awareness of mental health issues. After talking to students, what I have concluded is that most adolescents are depressed because they feel unloved, alone and an overall pressure to be or act a certain way.
We are supposed to have good grades in high school, go to college, work and be involved in a diverse selection of clubs and activities.
I have to tell you that sometimes, it feels like too much to live up to all these.
In a world where I am told how to look and act, and sometimes even think, I would hope that religion would be a place where I could find my comfort.
I would hope that my church would be the community that I felt welcome in – no matter who I was or what I did.
You say it is not important to put out a public statement, saying everyone is welcome in our church. I cannot express through writing how wrong I think you are. I was told during confirmation that there was a fear that the church was not attracting young people; a fear that the church might die out. Members of the congregation argue that members of the church are decreasing since the ONA debate began in the church.
I wish someone would take a look at the positive increases as a result of this decision. My friend told me a few days ago that the church he attends at school has tripled in size because of the influx of college students after the church became open and affirming. I ask why no one is looking at this change in numbers, instead of focusing on the negative.
As a young person, I need a church that welcomes me – a church that can outwardly say that I am accepted for exactly who I am.
It is not my prerogative to decide whether God thinks I am a sinner, and I do not believe that a group of my peers have the right to pass that judgement on me either. Jesus accepted the lepers and the prostitutes. So, why is it our right to decide what is sinful in the eyes of God?
You may point to the Bible, but the Bible was written by humans. I do not mean to say that the Bible is not important but I am saying I do not believe we can hold the Bible up as a testament of exactly what God thinks about an issue such as sexuality.
I realise my opinion may not matter much, especially coming from so far away. I wish I could be there in person and better express my opinions about the issue, especially from my standpoint as a religious study major, but I hope that you at least take the time to consider where I am coming from.
I do not seem controversial at face value: I am young, female, straight and educated. On paper, I fit into all of the stereotypical boxes, but I am not perfect. There are a lot of things I do not like about myself, and probably some things that God does not look so favourably upon either. Does that mean I am not welcome?
I believe God loves me for who I am, and I would hope that my church community would feel the same way – and more importantly, that it would be willing to welcome me without judgement. There are plenty of places in the world where I feel as though I am an outsider; please, don’t make my church one of them.