June 25, 2001
Dr. James Merritt, President, Southern Baptist Convention
First Baptist Snellville
PO Box 647
Snellville, GA 30078
Dear Dr. Merritt,
I am Karen Weldin, Director of Operations for Soulforce, Inc. I will be Co-Chair of our Soulforce Journey to Justice in 2002 at your Annual Meeting in St. Louis. I’m writing to ask you officially for a meeting to talk. I want more than anything right now an opportunity to share with you a part of my story. I want more than anything an opportunity to sit down with you and visit. Will you please read my story below, call me and set a time to meet. Please let me share my heart with you. A part of my story follows.
I remember when I was a child walking into the First Baptist Church of New Lenox, Illinois. It was a mission at the time. We met at the Lions Club Building and there were less than one hundred people. I can still see the old building, hear the creaks of the wooden floors, hear the gospels being sung and feel the love of the people. We were family. That was especially important to me growing up. I was already a Christian. I wanted nothing more than to please God and live my life serving God. I was loved and embraced by the First Baptist Church of New Lenox. Leaders in this church guided me and helped me mature in my relationship with God. The foundation of my Christian life is rooted in this Baptist church.
I remember being a part of Girl’s Auxiliary and loving every minute of it. In those days, there were steps and I immediately began working the steps and continued all through High School. I was so proud to become a Queen Regent in Service. I loved studying about missions, reading scripture and memorizing Bible verses. I loved doing service work and helping others. I can remember, like it was yesterday, when I was sixteen and at Church summer camp feeling God’s call to special service. There was no doubt in my mind that God had a special plan for my life.
I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship for the Academy program at Oklahoma Baptist University between my Junior and Senior year in High School. I was so excited to be able to spend eight weeks at OBU in Shawnee, Ok. It was a wonderful experience. I couldn’t wait to graduate from High School and return to OBU the next year.
I returned to OBU in the fall of 1971 and it was there that I first learned the word lesbian. My four years at OBU were bitter sweet. I spent those four years torn between excelling and living with fear and torment that I might by gay. While my career at OBU began with me being very active and outgoing on campus, I soon withdrew and isolated myself struggling with trying to reconcile my spirituality and my sexuality.
During the summer between my sophomore and junior year at OBU I received a summer missionary appointment to Oakhurst Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia. That summer had a very profound effect on me. I was overwhelmed at the love, acceptance and inclusion of that church. The issues at the time were that of racial equality. I had never felt such grace and love in all my Christian experience up to that point. I went home not quite knowing how to integrate that experience into my life.
I graduated from OBU in 1975 with a B.A. in religion and planned to go to Southern Seminary in Louisville. However, by this time I had become more inclusive with my own beliefs about women’s roles in ministry in the church and society. My application was turned down at Southern. I was devastated. I went to graduate school at the University of Oklahoma instead. I started a career as a counselor and practiced as a Certified Alcoholism Counselor and Licensed Marital and Family Therapist until 1994.
From the age of twenty to thirty I struggled vehemently with accepting the fact I am a lesbian. I prayed, read the Bible, sought counseling and did all I could to deny that reality. I remember seeking help from the on-campus psychologist at OBU. He told me I was over reacting. He said that all persons have homosexual tendencies and that given the right time and place they would surface. This frightened me even more. I couldn’t figure out why I was so weak – why could others repress these feelings and thoughts and I could not? I sought help from another therapist and he told me I was not homosexual. I thought that would solve my dilemma. I had a therapist telling me I wasn’t a lesbian. However, even with that assurance, the feelings and thoughts would not go away.
I continued to struggle until I was thirty years old. The entire decade that I was in torment I continued to read the Bible, pray and earnestly seek God’s help. I remember so consciously deciding to pray a prayer every day. The prayer was, "God, please take my fears away and help me to be the person you want me to be." I was terrified of rejection from my Baptist family, childhood church and circle of friends. I slowly backed away from attending church and sought spiritual nourishment from other sources. I began to live a double life. When I finally realized I was a lesbian, surrendered to that reality, and accepted it, there was peace inside like I had never felt before. There was still fear, however, of rejection by people close to me, and because of this fear, I continued to live in the closet for another fifteen years. It took me fifteen years to come out and realize the true freedom of my spirit – true peace and serenity God had been trying to offer me all of my life.
I think what kept me in the closet for fifteen years was the fear of rejection of primarily two people – my Mother and my childhood spiritual mentor – my GA leader. I was so afraid of experiencing what I knew would happen.
I finally decided to face this fear in 1990. I had met a wonderful woman named Susanne and fell in love with her. I decided it was time to be honest with my Mother and come out to her. Living in fear had cost me any possibility of closeness with my family. Out of fear I had kept myself at a distance from them, out of fear I kept my personal life a secret. When I hurt there was not family to share this with. When I was filled with joy there was no one to share this with. Living in the closet was costing me my youth, my integrity, my authenticity, my freedom to serve God. When I came out to my Mother she immediately said "you know that is a sin against God." I was crushed that that was her first response, but it was also expected. That is what she had been taught, it was what I had been taught. It took me fifteen years to get to the point I could accept the fact I was a lesbian. I could not expect her to accept it in one day.
My Mother and I continued for the next seven years pretending we never had that discussion. My sexuality was never discussed, my personal life was never discussed – we lived by the rule of "don’t ask, don’t tell."
In 1994 I had a heart attack and was not expected, at the time, to live. A shift happened inside of me. While it took almost a year to rehabilitate myself to the point of being able to function, I knew in my heart I was still on a journey with God to live out a special service that was still unfolding. As a result of this experience, my fears were lifted. I had a new appreciation for time and a new awareness of my purpose on this earth like I never knew before. In 1997 I came out to my Mother again. This time it was in a counselor’s office. My older sister was there as well. They both reacted very negatively, but I knew that we had to deal with reality if we were ever going to have any type of meaningful relationship. My Mother has three daughters. I warned her at the time I believed that she had two daughters who were gay. She was adamant that I was wrong.
The next three years were spent alienated from my family. No family member was willing to deal honestly with who I was and I was unwilling to go back into denial.
All during this time I continued to have my membership at Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma. In December 1999, I contacted Trinity and told them to take my name off of the membership list. Even though I came to the conclusion that there was not a Baptist church anywhere close to me that would accept me for who I was, I was reluctant to surrender that membership because my faith was rooted in the Southern Baptist Church. It was like giving up a part of me – giving up my family. In March of 1999, I began attending Metropolitan Community Church United in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I later joined.
In 1998 I began wrestling with the call to special service I had felt back in my youth. I began thinking once again about the desire to attend seminary and prepare myself for the ministry. I contacted Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK and began to make preparation to attend. I enrolled as a Master of Divinity student in the fall of 1999. I am still a student today and love every minute of it.
In the spring of 1999, I was praying and searching to know God’s will for my life. I found myself standing in front of the Gay and Lesbian bookshelves in a bookstore in Oklahoma City and Rev. Dr. Mel White’s book, "Stranger At the Gate," caught my attention. I purchased a copy, went home, and immediately began to read it. I related so much to his journey and struggles to reconcile spirituality and sexuality. I knew what Mel was saying because I had experienced so much of it in my own life. At the same time, I also knew that God had created me lesbian and that I had to embrace that reality and step out with courage to help others come to know that truth as well. I contacted Soulforce, attended the first trip to Lynchburg, VA to dialogue with Jerry Falwell, and have been a part of Soulforce ever since.
My life is an unfolding blessing after blessing since I surrendered my fears, stepped out in faith and trusted God to be who God created me to be. Soulforce has enriched my life and helped me to grow spiritually in leaps and bounds. My journey continues to renew my soul.
In December 2000, I received a telephone call from my younger sister. She is thirteen years younger than I, divorced with two children. She is also the sister I told my Mother and older sister I believed was also a lesbian. She called telling me that she was, in fact, a lesbian and that her ex-husband had just "outed" her to many people, including our Mother. She had received a telephone call from our Mother asking if it was in fact true that she was a lesbian. My sister said – yes. Thirteen days later, police arrived at my sister’s door with an order to remove her children from the home. My Mother had filed an emergency guardianship order to have the children removed. The entire case was motivated by fear and ignorance about sexual orientation. My sister called me and I rushed to be by her side as fast as I could. I will never forget the pain and anguish in her voice. I will never forget the pain and tears of her nine-year-old daughter screaming she did not want to leave her Mother and being torn from her arms. The guardianship case was dismissed, but the Father of the children immediately filed a custody case to continue what my Mother had started. The case was just over today. If sexuality were a choice, no Mother would put her children and herself through this kind of pain. Families are being torn apart and children are being scarred for life because of fear and ignorance. This is spiritual violence.
This past year I received a birthday card from my Mother. I share a paragraph with you from her letter enclosed in the card:
"I will not accept and cannot accept your sin and life-style. I LOVE you very much. I have given you back to God. He made you and loves you more than I ever could. I believe we are put here with a free will, and you my child have chosen to believe the biggest liar that ever was. I believe that one day, in God’s own time He will turn you around and bring you back into the fold and he is going to save your soul. It may be that He will take you out of this life, and that’s okay with me, as long as your soul is saved. I cannot change you. My job is to pray for you. He’s in charge. I’m not."
I love you,
Dr. Merritt, I love God, I am a Christian, and I daily seek God’s will in my life. As I reflect on my own life, what I learned in Southern Baptist churches and from my training and education I can only express gratitude to God and my teachers. If you look at the Acteens website today, it says that in Acteens girls grow towards becoming all they were created to be. It says girls are given an opportunity to grow in understanding God, themselves, and others. This happened for me. I was given the foundation to grow and become all I was created to be. I was taught that God’s plan is to reach everyone with the message of hope and love. I am committed to extend my witness in order to glorify God. I treasure my GA bracelet that is symbolic of a "queenly quest." I was given the opportunity to learn what a quest was all about. I learned to search for Truth to be willing to move forward on God’s journey for my life, and not be afraid. I truly believe I have developed Christ’s vision for a lost and hurting world. I have become more confident, courageous and creative. My character has grown and I have a passion for the Truth that motivates me to continue to live out my hearts desire to love God, show mercy and do justice.
Before I went to New Orleans, LA with Soulforce June 11-13, I wrote to Rev. Ted Kersh who is pastor of the church my Mother attends. I asked Rev. Kersh to visit with me. His response was this:
"I do not want to waste your time or mine in meetings that would just allow us to say what we think or feel about this issue. If meeting with you could help you come to a position of rethinking your lifestyle, I am interested, but other than that, I do not see any reason for us to meet together. Once again I hope you understand. I am not being harsh or difficult, but the fact is I have some deep convictions concerning the biblical teaching on homosexuality. Those convictions will not change."
I wish you the best in your life. Sincerely,
I don’t understand, Dr. Merritt. Is it not a part of our Christian responsibility to be open to Truth? Isn’t that why we commit ourselves daily to prayer and Bible study to allow God to continue to work in our lives and reveal more to us as we continue to mature in our relationship with God? Is it not our Christian responsibility to be willing to meet with our sisters and brothers in Christ and do all we can to reconcile our relationships? Is not the foundation of our faith based on soulfreedom and priesthood of the believer?
Last year I had an opportunity to go to Atlanta, GA with the Soulforce leadership team. My childhood GA leader and spiritual mentor, I spoke of earlier in this letter, retired and moved to a suburb of Atlanta. I was so excited to perhaps have an opportunity to visit with her and share with her what God was doing in my life. I wrote to her and asked if we could meet and visit. Her response was that would not be possible. She went on to say:
"Karen I want you to know that I love you. You will always be very special to me. As Ann of Green Gables would say ‘our souls were knit together.’ However, it saddens me about your life style. You know the Bible and know it (life style) is a sin. We cannot make the Bible say what we want it to say. God’s word is the same yesterday, today, and forever…I think the people who are living that life style are the one’s misinformed. Perhaps just not willing to change. Chapter 1 of Romans makes it very clear. V-32 is very plain…I hope you will consider turning your back on this life style. What a wonderful witness you could be…"
I can’t tell you, Dr. Merritt, how much this letter hurt. I know she believes with all her heart that she is right. My heart aches for her and the millions of Southern Baptists who believe this and are willing to throw away wonderful loving relationships in the process. I tried for twenty-five years to "turn my back" on God’s truth and reality for my life. The only result was I was restrained and limited in my witness for God. To have come to the point of reconciliation with my sexuality and spirituality is the ultimate gift God has given me. I thank God everyday that I can say – "I am free, I am free, I am free." I am free to love God, other people and myself. I am free to be open to God’s guidance and direction in my life. I am free to be fully who God created me to be.
The Southern Baptist church, embraced me, raised me and now has rejected me. I believe Jesus weeps because of this tragedy. I believe Jesus weeps over the alienation, pain, and suffering gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender persons are experiencing as a result of fear and ignorance. I believe Jesus weeps over the heartache and pain suffered by Southern Baptist families as a result of their reactions to their gay children. Millions are sitting in Southern Baptist churches afraid to speak. They are afraid to share their heartaches for fear of rejection, condemnation and alienation. Something must change. I ask you again to meet with me. Please, just be willing to get to know me and let’s share with one another from our hearts and pray together that God will lead us and guide us to Truth. I wait to hear from you.
In Christ’s Love,
"…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8