With the composition of a single two-paged letter I was able to lose the respect, support and love of an entire congregation of Christians. The faithful witness I maintained through twenty-seven years of service to a small group of believers came to nothing frightfully quickly.
The Apostolic Pentecostal Church of Rhode Island, is a small, independent congregation with a membership that fluctuates between about 35 and 60 members. I was a member there for 27 years. In fact, I was a founding member. I served as Sunday school teacher and superintendent long enough to now be teaching the children of my first students. I was the treasurer and on the board of directors. The pastor and I were close friends long before he became the pastor and he often told me I was the best friend he ever had. I regularly opened my house for fellowship, as a place to stay for visiting ministries and as a home for those in need of one. Two days after distributing the following letter, I was asked to resign the positions I held in the church. I was told unequivocally by my pastor/friend to retract my divisive statements, and stop believing that I was right in what I had said, or leave the church. I reluctantly chose to leave.
I not only stand by what I wrote, I thank God with all my heart for what he has done for me. This letter is about the relationship between me, my friend Eric, who was sixteen when we met, our church and our God.
An open letter to the APC of RI, from Anne Savoie
My brothers and sisters, I have a testimony and a conviction to share with you and since a church service does not seem to be the place to share it, and I cannot speak with everyone, I have decided to just write it for whoever would care to read it. It concerns something that happened in our church over a period of time, that I believe all need to be made aware of so that it will never happen again. I am not accusing or judging anyone for things done in ignorance; I am guilty myself. If you are willing to hear me out, please do so prayerfully and try to withhold judgment until you have read the whole thing. I do not believe this needs to be a divisive issue, but rather I believe we can come together in the unity of God’s Spirit and agree that we will be a congregation that truly is an expression of God’s love for all mankind.
First, I thank God for the repentance he has worked in my heart, for the vision of his love and grace that he has given me, and for showing me that after so many years, he is still the potter and I am still the clay. He is capable of molding us into saints who can truly bear his heart. I also thank my dear friend, Eric for allowing me and trusting me to share his story with you. I have a great respect for Eric and I am grateful for his love and his humble willingness to let me talk freely about some very personal aspects of his life. Please realize what an invasion of his privacy this letter is and what an act of love it is for him to allow it.
Eric came to God and to us for the same reasons we all have come. God called him, he believed the gospel he heard preached, and he wanted to experience the love and acceptance that are part of being in the body of Christ. Those who remember Eric then will agree he was as faithful, obedient, zealous and sincere as anyone can be. He was baptized in Jesus’ name, he was filled with the Spirit, he repented from anything and everything that could possibly be considered worldly, he was in fellowship every day, reading the word and praying by himself and with others. He witnessed Christ at every opportunity. He was faithful to service, prayer meeting and Bible study. Eric was truly grateful to God for every promise he heard from the word of God. This continued for several months and he became a great blessing to our congregation. He and I also became very close friends. He has been, and continues to be, more of an encouragement and a blessing to me than anyone will ever know.
As time went by there came to be a sadness in Eric. Although he was still outwardly doing all the same things, he began to pull his heart back from God. At first when we would talk about it he assured me it was nothing that he couldn’t handle between himself and God. It did not take long for his burden to start to overwhelm him. He confided in me that he was gay. People often wonder what my first reaction was and I am happy to share it. First, I felt deeply honored that he trusted me. Second, I felt the same heart full of love for him that I always had, and still have. And third, I felt extremely confident that this was well within the realm of God’s grace, and that gay or straight, Eric was as much a saint of God as I was. That was how I felt that first night almost two years ago and that is how I still feel today. I made a commitment to my friend that I would earnestly pray and seek the face of God for him. In all honesty, I expected God to change him. Instead, God changed me.
When I say I prayed for Eric, I mean I cried out for days, weeks and months with a broken heart before the Lord. I truly had not a single clue how this would be resolved for him but I believed with all my heart that God would make a way for him, not only to love and serve God, but also to be happy in this life. Isn’t that what we all want: to have peace with God, to live our lives with someone we love, and to be loved for who we are?
While I was talking about grace and the love of God, Eric was feeling more and more condemnation. He began to feel that the grace of God was not enough for him. The cross could not pay the price for this. He was destined for hell, no matter how much faith he had, no matter how obedient he was. It became increasingly difficult for him to sit through a church service or Bible study. Any mention of judgment or condemnation or hell, he felt was meant just for him. There can be no thought more tormenting than believing you are destined for hell and there is no hope for you. The only viable options seem to be to somehow convince yourself God is not real, or commit suicide and get it over with.
It is heartbreaking to watch someone you love suffer like this. I could not understand where this thought pattern was coming from. My questions: Why couldn’t he see the love God had for him, when he once embraced it? Why couldn’t he accept that Calvary paid the price for him, when he once believed it? His questions: Why was he being condemned for something he never chose to be? Why did God allow people to grow up this way if he hated it so much? Why was there no provision for this in the church? We both became frustrated over things we could not understand and we could not explain. He could hardly bear to carry this burden and I felt helpless to help him.
Eric withdrew more and more, finally leaving fellowship all together. I sought God, I sought counsel, I studied the scriptures, I read magazine articles, I read books by Christians and books by gays. I read testimonies of gays who found help and acceptance in churches and gays who were almost destroyed by churches. I read testimonies of Christian gay men who struggled to live a heterosexual life. Every day I asked God to please bless Eric and protect him and show us what we needed to do.
When I did finally see what was happening to Eric, my heart was ripped in pain and repentance before God. The voices that were driving this beautiful, young man of God to the brink of suicide were not coming from the devil, and were not coming from the world. They were coming from the church. Although it was never preached in so many words across the pulpit, there is a deeply held belief in our church that a gay person cannot be saved by grace through faith and obedience. They need a supernatural, miraculous change of their entire genetic and psychological being. Unfortunately this is never documented in scripture as ever happening, or even being necessary. Is homosexuality caused by a demonic spirit? The scripture never even hints at that. There are scriptural cases of Jesus casting out spirits that caused physical infirmity. Are we prepared to say all deaf or crippled people are on their way to hell because they have a bad spirit? The scripture is clear that there are sinful homosexual behaviors, it does not anywhere condemn a faithful, God-fearing, homosexual. There are sinful heterosexual behaviors. Are you condemned for merely having that nature in you? We put ourselves in a very precarious position when we accept the grace that covers our sin and judge others merely for their temptation. Examine yourself. Do you feel morally superior because you are heterosexual? If you are heterosexual it is not because you chose to be that way, and if you are like most people, there have been times when your sexuality has caused you to sin.
I know and Eric knows that the people in our church would never deliberately have hurt him. But we did hurt him. With our comments about gays, with our “jokes”, with our heart-felt belief that “we” are so much more acceptable to God than “them”. The Bible says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that all are freely justified by his grace. We cannot preach the gospel to someone and then take it back. We cannot have one plan of salvation for us and a different one for somebody else. We cannot put a burden on someone that we could not and would not bear ourselves. This is respect of persons at its worst. It is sin. We need to repent.
As I said, the reason for this letter is not to judge or condemn anyone. That is what God is leading us out of. It is just to encourage us to take a second look at what we believe and why we believe it, and to make us aware that we all affect our brothers and sisters in ways we sometimes don’t even realize. God bless you.
I naively thought I would be able to reach the congregation that I loved with this message of inclusion and that people would feel as convicted as I did about the prejudices and attitudes we had held for so long. That did not happen. My children and I became instant outcasts among people who had been our friends all our lives.
To be perfectly honest, before I met and loved Eric, I simply accepted the condemning view of homosexuality that I had always been taught. To my shame, I rarely thought about it and never prayed about it. I am sure Christian churches everywhere are full of people just like I was. Pray for them! God can open people’s eyes and hearts. God changed me in a wonderful way. Maybe he will use you to put a beautiful, human face on this “issue” for them, just like he used Eric to help me.
Because of the changes God worked in me I have lost many friends and I have lost my church. I still have my faith, my joy and the love of God. I can be excluded from fellowship, but not from the body of Christ. I am trusting God to lead me somewhere where I can worship in good conscience, knowing that all are welcome.
I would like the readers of Whosoever to know that God does answer prayer and you are not alone. There are heterosexual, Bible-believing people who are hearing from God about these things and who stand with you in love and in prayer. I am proud to be one of them. Please forgive me for taking so long to get here. God bless you.