ADMIN NOTE: After submitting a story update on Nov 12, 2016 (reflected below), Robin then asked on Nov 13 that her story be taken offline out of concerns that its publication might negatively impact current professional relationships. This page is therefore to remain in DRAFT status until Robin should one day ask for its republication. (Drew)
I came to faith during my youth after a member of a nearby Mennonite church knocked on our door inquiring if anyone wanted to attend bible school. My mother was only too happy to find something to occupy us for the week. I was accepted and welcomed into this community that indoctrinated me in the Christian faith, and it was there I learned its central tenets such as the divinity of Christ, salvation by faith through grace, and the resurrection of the dead.
Several years later my mother sent me to a Lutheran church where I was later confirmed. Again, I felt that same sense of acceptance and belonging. When I had children it was only natural for me to want them to have a similar experience. However, when I separated from their father (we were never married) and came out as a lesbian, the acceptance was retracted with a warning that my ‘lifestyle’ was incongruent with God’s will. I remained outside the Church for the next thirteen years, praying for God to lead me back when the time was right.
One sunny afternoon as I was browsing through books at Barnes and Noble, I stumbled upon John Shelby Spong’s Why Christianity Must Change or Die. I was certain it was the sign I had been waiting for. My heart was filled with warmth and my mind and body with a pervading sense of peace. At that point I made the decision to put God front and center.
Several years later I applied to Princeton Theological Seminary, and in 2005 was accepted into their Master of Divinity program. During orientation, we all gathered in Stuart Hall and were informed that for every one of us seated there, there were four others who had applied and not been accepted. We were told we were there because the faculty and administration had prayed and believed God had called each of us to ministry. The message was clear that we were being welcomed as members of the chosen elite, and that we, too, would have the privilege of walking on the sacred ground of the seminary campus. Those who could not make the grade were quickly cut or silently vanished within the first few weeks.
My experience at Princeton was a major eye opener as I soon realized that I had become a pawn in their plan to become more culturally diverse. Had I applied as an out lesbian two years prior, I would not have been accepted as the president at that time, Thomas W. Gillespie, was heterosexist. I am told he was also racist. (In fact, Princeton was one of the last seminaries in the North that allowed students to house slaves.) While the seminary wanted change, there was no doubt they were in charge of when and how it would happen. Members of the gay and lesbian community were told, sometimes overtly, at other times covertly, when and where they could openly discuss the integration of spirituality and sexuality.
Supporters of LGBT inclusion followed these mandates in order to stay within the fold and commend themselves for the work they were doing on behalf of LGBT rights. They, not LGBT individuals, decided what was done for the sake of inclusion. When the Presbyterians for Renewal sponsored a talk by a fundamentalist theologian, rather than protest, the on campus LGBT group, after having consulted with faculty, sponsored a party instead. It was an insult and affront to LGBT seminarians who had the courage to be open about their sexual orientation. Most seminarians belonging to less inclusive denominations were too fearful to openly respond. Whatever illusions I had about Christianity and God began to slowly fade as I witnessed the ongoing hypocrisy of institutional religion.
After graduating with my Master of Divinity in 2008, I was ordained to a pastoral care residency (CPE) because having a master’s degree from Princeton provided a degree of certainty that I would be successful in my vocation. Finding the supervisor misogynist, hostile, and aggressive, I resigned after completing the first unit. I subsequently filed an ethics complaint with the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), the licensing body for chaplains.
Of course, my Christian friends tried to console me by saying such things as God was testing me or had other plans for my future. As I succumbed to poverty, the only help they offered was in the form of prayers. I was shunned by all of the other pastoral care residents, except one, and by CPE supervisors and my conference. I was reduced to going to the food bank, and was so devastated I had practically lost my will to live. All the while my Christian friends distanced themselves for fear that they too might become like me, one who was no longer part of the fold that offered them their sense of security and privilege.
After a year and a half of unsuccessfully searching for a job that paid a decent salary, I decided to apply to a master’s program in pastoral counseling at Moravian Theological Seminary. It was a clinical counseling program that offered the option of secular employment in the event I chose to break ties with the Church. It also offered me some much needed time for discernment. I graduated summa cum laude in May 2013. The ACPE eventually ruled in my favor and the CPE supervisor was put on a year probation with supervisory oversight. Only then did my conference ask how they could support me. It was too little, too late.
In the interim, I had done pulpit supply at a United Church of Christ congregation. After leading a book study on the Jewish scholar Ellis Rivkin’s What Crucified Christ, the senior pastor called me into her office and verbally thrashed me, questioning when I last read my bible and what it meant to me. To add insult to injury, she promptly canceled all my future preaching engagements. As heterosexual clergy she asked me, gay clergy, to leave the only ‘Open and Affirming’ church in the conference. It was evident that both my theology and sexual orientation were major impediments to securing employment. At that point I realized Christianity could not provide answers to the suffering I had endured at the hands of well-intentioned Christians, and more specifically, clergy.
It has taken me several years to scratch and claw my way out of the hole that religion left in my life. Fortunately, due to my clinical counseling degree, I am now happily employed as a full-time, licensed therapist. I no longer want anything to do with organized religion or the institutional Church. Today, my belief is in nothing more than kindness.
To those who have yet to leave, I would say hang in there; it gets easier. Trust yourself and you will slowly begin to discover the right course of action. Just as with any other loss or separation there is a grieving process involved.
Updated November 13, 2106