Before the crucifixion of Jesus, this veil was a barrier between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Only the Israelite priests had access to enter the Holy Place, located in the center of Herod’s Temple in first century Israel. The Holy of Holies, behind the veil, was the most holy place. Only the high priest was allowed to enter this place, and even then only once a year.
But then the veil was torn.
Outside the Holy Place was the Court of Israel, where only the men were allowed to enter. This is where the priest would perform sacrifices at the altar. Surrounding the Court of Israel was the Court of Women; surrounding the Court of Women was the Court of Gentiles.
Are you noticing a theme here? The Temple of Herod was set up in such a way that as people moved closer to the center of the temple, to the heart of God, there was a filtering process. Only the most privileged in Israelite society were allowed to move the closest to God’s presence.
But then the veil was torn.
What those words must have meant to the devout Jewish woman unable to enter the inner courts of the temple with her husband. To the God-fearing Gentile forced to admire Yahweh from a distance. To all the sinners and tax collectors, to those broken and unclean, to everyone who was never good enough. God’s presence is now available to all. The veil is torn.
But what was destroyed that day wasn’t merely a piece of cloth. What was destroyed was an oppressive and manipulative religious system. When human beings get to decide who’s in and who’s out, who’s chosen and who’s rejected, who is a child of Abraham and who is a child of Satan, a funny thing happens. Those who have the power to grant access to God tend to grant access to those who look a lot like them. When given that power, we tend to create God into our own image rather than honoring the image of God in all people.
But then Jesus died on the cross. In doing so, he defeated the enemies of God. And in doing so, the veil was torn. The religious leaders no longer had the authority to say who was in and who was out, because God was freely available to all. Male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile. Every tribe, tongue, and nation. Every color, shape, and size. All are one in Christ Jesus.
Now it’s 2,000 years later, and this ancient tiered approach to God’s presence has once again seeped into our churches. With our words, we celebrate the Christian God as one who is available to all. Who extends his grace and his love to everyone. Yet with our actions, we tell a different story.
As the Sadducees exerted their religious authority over the Second Temple Jews of Jesus’ day, so too have we created our own tiered approach to worship when it comes to one particular demographic: the LGBTQ+ community.
Like the Gentiles of the first century, we have pushed this group of image-bearers to the very edge of our churches. We welcome them with arms that at first seem to be open, but in reality are only outstretched to keep them at a distance.
We have taken the sacred scriptures, which were always intended to give light to the darkest parts of our world, and used them as instruments to rebuild the Temple of Herod with our own veil of contempt.
Church, it’s time to tear the veil.
This blog post has been on my heart for the past ten months. It’s one that I’ve tried to write several times to no avail. I just haven’t had the words to express the heartbreak that I experienced last year in March, just before the Covid pandemic hit.
A bit of background. I’ve been a part of the same church denomination for my whole life. My family has been an active part of this church stretching back five generations. I fell in love with it, with its message, with its mission. Over the last 28 years, I invested deeply into this church, building relationships with people around the country and around the world. Taking part in ministry in Oklahoma, in Illinois, in Ecuador, in Cote d’Ivoire. I was fully prepared to devote the rest of my life to global missions within this movement. But last year, I smacked face first into the age-old veil.
Within the last few years, I felt like it was time to start seeking formal ministry credentials with the church. The culmination of a trajectory I’d been riding for two decades. I was approved, assigned a cluster group, met the other men that I’d be growing alongside for the next three years as we all pursued our credentials together.
But then after my first module in the program, I had to have an interview with the Oklahoma credentialing board before I could go through to the first round of licensing.
I’ve dwelt on this for almost a year now, so I don’t want to dwell on it much longer. In short, I was unwilling to condemn the LGBTQ+ community. I couldn’t in good conscious call homosexuality a sin. I confessed my beliefs that we ought to accept queer Christians into all aspects of church, including worship, fellowship, and ministry.
The veil was not torn that day. I was taken out of the credentialing process and was encouraged to seek a different church that was more open to my “progressive tendencies.”
I’m an emotional person, but I’m not a huge crier. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve cried in the last five years. But that night when I got off the phone with the credentialing board was one of those times.
Actually it would take two hands, because I just remembered I also cried during the movie A Dog’s Purpose. Add This is Us to that list. Still two hands though.
In that moment, all I could think about was how that one experience, as painful as it was, was nothing compared to the rejection experienced by queer people on a daily basis. For the first time, I caught a tiny glimpse of what it felt like to be held at a distance and told, “You’re not like us. You don’t belong here.”
To be fair, the members of the credentialing board didn’t know me personally. The church that my family was attending at the time made it clear that we were more than welcome to stay and be a part of the church. But once I saw that veil, I couldn’t unsee it. I could no longer be a part of a system of selective inclusion.
So that’s where we we’ve been for the past several months. Praying, seeking, trying to find what’s next. I miss my church. But I also feel a sense of freedom. I’ve been theologically affirming for years. Every church I’ve been a part of, I’ve secretly held these beliefs, but I never voiced them out of a fear of excommunication. But now that I’ve spoken these convictions, I feel more confident in them. I feel more honest. And I’m excited to be a part of a church community where I can fully be myself.
To all my straight cisgendered brothers and sisters, we have to do better. We can do better. You may not see it, but there’s a veil. Conditional acceptance is not true acceptance. Spend some time to reflect on the church’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and reasons for that treatment. Let’s tear down that veil.
And to all my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, I’m sorry it took so long for me to use my voice to draw attention to the veil. I’m sorry that I sat idly in a system that was oriented against you. But I’m here now. And I’ll never stop using my voice to fight for your place in our churches.
So here’s my goodbye letter to the Evangelical church. You have shaped my life. You have planted the seeds of my faith. You taught me how to worship, how to pray, how to read the Bible. Through your nurturing, I met the Holy Spirit. I fell in love with the Gospel. I grew into the person I am today. You invested everything in me. And for that I am truly grateful.
But at the same time, I also realize that you invested in me and allowed me to invest in you because I’m heterosexual. Had my brain been wired differently, I know my experience would not have been the same. There would have been conditions. There would have been expectations. I would have been given the choice to be fully accepted in the church or to be fully loved in a covenantal marriage relationship. I would have been abused. I would have been rejected. And all the while, you would have been saying “I love you, I just hate your sin.”
And for those reasons, I’m out.