Southeast: Homosexuality and Conservative Churches

Working In a Church You Wouldn’t Attend       ​

In the last three years I’ve been employed by five different churches in four denominations: ECUSA, UMC, ELCA and PCUSA. These moves have been for one of three reasons: enrolling in graduate school, completing graduate school, or for a better opportunity/salary. I haven’t always agreed with the churches I’ve served, whether it be theological or political issues, and that’s okay. Church musicians often struggle with separating their beliefs from the beliefs of the churches they serve. My hope is that, in an increasingly polarized society, we can serve in churches that don’t necessarily preach what we want to hear.

1. You’re not alone. Most churchgoers do not agree with every belief of their church. Whether it be a disagreement with denominational leadership or a local pastor on staff, it’s impossible for an entire congregation to agree fully with doctrine from leaders. It’s next to impossible for people to agree as a congregation. Have you ever sat in a meeting with church elders or vestry? Ask a pastor how much disagreement exists in the pews, you might be surprised what you find. As a staff member it’s important to maintain a sense of loyalty when you’re on the clock and representing the church, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree with every decision.

2. Research. Why do you disagree with the church? Are you well-versed in related scripture texts? Do you fully understand the other side of the argument? It’s easy for us to see what divides us over what unites us. Is the opposition inspired by Satan? Likely not. While you may wholeheartedly disagree with someone on an issue vital to your own existence, that doesn’t mean they are out to get you. Chances are they don’t understand your opinion and you don’t understand theirs. Greet disagreement humbly and keep conversation respectful with those you disagree with.

3. Have Patience. Our world is increasingly impatient. When my iPhone doesn’t recognize my fingerprint on the first try, I feel the rage brewing. I often remind myself that just a few years ago we were forced to hit the number 9 four times to type one Z in a text message. Waiting a whole week for the next episode of our favorite television series to air seems absurd when entire series are available to binge watch. Before you reach conclusions about those you disagree with, take the time to listen to their opinion. It might take weeks, months, or even years but if you approach a problem with an open mind and heart you won’t regret the time you put in.

4. Communicate openly. After I left my last job I explained in an exit interview that lack of communication was a big problem in the position. I was told “You don’t exactly come from a profession known for practicing good communication.” It’s true, many organists would rather retreat to the bench than deal with a conflict head-on. Like any relationship, communication is the key to success. Working in a church is a unique place because staff members are Christians who (typically) genuinely care about each other’s well-being, family life, and are interested in your life outside of work. Trust me, it’s not easy. Try telling a conservative pastor that you’re in a committed same-sex relationship. But my pastor knowing about my home life has helped in more ways than I can count.

5. Embrace your differences. Whatever your differences may be, embracing each other is Christ-like. I’m no theologian, but disagreement didn’t stop Jesus from approaching people. I think of Mark 2 when Jesus dined with tax collectors, John 4 when Jesus talked with a Samaritan woman, John 8 when Jesus encountered the accused woman.… Whatever you think of these stories, Jesus did meet and talk with these people. We too should strive to work with all people without first checking their beliefs.

6. Separate work and personal life. It’s one thing for fellow staff to know about your personal life, but another for them to be a part of it. I have never joined a church I served. Joining a church as a member while working on staff can create conflicts. This isn’t true in every situation, but there comes a time where you’ll be thankful to represent yourself as a paid member of staff, and not a member of the congregation. In formality you are still an employee of an organization. I don’t check work emails from home unless I’m working from home, and I don’t get work emails on my iPhone. I know a very gentle, non-confrontational Pastor who, in a session meeting, was told “As a Pastor you are to be on call for members 24/7.” He delivered an eloquent speech explaining how that claim is false. Everyone needs time away from the office, even if the office is a church. See Exodus 20: 8-11.

7. Have a “line” and know what to do when the line is crossed. Decide which disagreements can be swept under the rug, which are worth fighting for, and which are worth leaving for. As a gay organist, I have no problem serving in a church that does not bless same-sex weddings. If my Pastor ever preached against homosexuality I would log into ONCARD and start the job search. Determine a course of action for yourself if you’re forced into awkward situations. How will you handle a homophobic comment from a prominent church member? Do you address your concerns, smile and nod, or run away screaming? I hope it’s not the latter.

8. Remember why you serve. I was a Music Education major as an undergrad. One of our first assignments was to develop a personal “Philosophy of Education;” what we believed about teaching and learning, why we wanted to be teachers, etcetera. To find meaning in your work it’s important to know why you’re doing what you do. It’s especially important if your position or salary ever comes into question. My purpose in serving as a church organist is simple: to lead people in praising God. The wording is intentionally abstract; it’s not limited to a specific genre of music or instrumentation and it doesn’t limit me to a specific audience. Theological disagreements don’t inhibit my ability to lead worship through music and thus such disagreements take a back seat to the task at hand.

I once heard a story about a senior pastor interviewing candidates to serve as executive secretary at a large suburban church. One of the final candidates, whose previous experience was largely in law offices and government roles, was asked “Why are you compelled to serve in this role, at this place?” The candidate’s answer: “I’ve been looking for a more peaceful, more relaxed, less political place to work!” You can probably guess – that candidate was not hired. Churches are political places and Jesus was political. Navigating difficult situations is part of being a Christian. As church musicians we have the unique responsibility of serving as influential leaders in worship without the ability to preach as ordained clergy. It’s up to each of us to find balance between our own beliefs and those of the church we serve.

– Monty Moniker, Southeast Guest Columnist

Comments

  1. As an organist in Australia, I have never been asked about my religious affiliation by any church I have played in, and I do mean never. I think most Australian organists would consider it an incredibly intrusive question. I imagine it would be fairly similar in the UK.

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