I met Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge earlier this year when we teamed together for a panel at South Carolina’s Book Festival. Candace is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. We also share the distinction of growing up Southern Baptists in Georgia. After I put up the post about Eddie’s death and so many of you wrote in of your own struggles with this issue, I asked Candace if she would write a response for the blog from her perspective. She agreed. Here’s Candace’s take on growing up lesbian & Christian:
By Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge
“I’m worried about you,” my mother said.
This was several years ago. Mom and I were driving to the mall during
one of my too few visits back to my hometown in Georgia. A year or two
later, Mom finally stopped driving and the Atlanta metro area breathed
a collective sigh of relief.
“Worried? Why?” I asked. I hadn’t done anything lately to cause worry
– and I was always the good girl, learning from my black sheep older
brother Doug just what kind of wrath my mother was capable of when one
of her children crossed the line. For Doug, there was no line – and I
couldn’t bring myself to burden her further, so I mostly stayed out of
trouble for my entire childhood and into adulthood.
“I’m worried that you won’t be in heaven with the rest of the family,”
she said, studying the red light in front of us in an effort to avoid
Oh. Now I knew what she was talking about. She wasn’t worried about me
getting sent to jail for drugs or running up high phone bills calling
late night sex lines like my brother. She was worried about me because
I’m a lesbian.
Let me tell you what kind of lesbian I am. I have been in a
monogamous, committed relationship for the past eight years. I
graduated from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in
Atlanta and am now the associate pastor of Garden of Grace United
Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina. I’m even, like Karen, a
published author of a book called “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual
Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians.”
And my mother still worries about me and whether I’ll be with the
family in heaven. She doesn’t worry about Doug. She doesn’t worry
about my other older brother, John, who hasn’t darkened the doorway of
a church since his teenage years. But, she worries about me. She, of
course, has no worries about my two oldest sisters – one who finally
ditched her abusive husband, later ditched a biker boyfriend and
finally found a good Christian man and went back to church, and the
other sister who never once strayed from the church.
But, she worries about me – just as Eddie’s family and friends worried
about him, and talked behind his back. My family is openly welcoming
to me and to my partner, Wanda. Sometimes, I think my mom loves Wanda
more than she loves me. On one trip home Wanda didn’t come with me and
when mom greeted me at the door, she looked around me and said with
much disappointment, “Wanda didn’t come?”
“No, mom. It’s just me,” I sighed.
“The dishwasher needs fixing,” she remarked as she led me into the house.
Wanda is “Ms. Fixit.” I’m “Ms. I’ll Change Your Light Bulb as Long as
it Doesn’t Involve a Ladder.”
I came out to my mom when I was 16. She told me it might be a phase
and not to do anything about it. I took her advice, until I met my
first girlfriend at 18. I told her it wasn’t a phase and her words,
verbatim, were, “I think it’s wrong, but you’re my daughter and I love
you. You will always be welcome in my house.” It made me cry. But,
still she worries – and I guess that’s what an 81-year-old Southern
Baptist woman does when she has a lesbian daughter – loves them and
worries, so I suppose I can’t blame her.
But, it’s the same double standard Karen talks about with Eddie and
his brother. I’m used to the double standard, I suppose – being
whispered about when I’m not around or tutted over by my family
members who think it’s a waste for me to be partnered to a woman –
even if she can lay tile floors and fix dishwashers.
I have hope, though, that one day – like Eddie – I’ll be in God’s
loving arms with my family surrounding me in that unending, and
finally unconditional love. And my mother will no longer worry.