Pastor Jackie Carter
Pastor Jackie walks us to the back into the chapel in the small Table of Hope Metropolitan Community Church in Wichita, Kansas. A place founded to be a church that reaches out to "all people, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, all races and faith traditions." She states as we get comfortable with each other and she starts to delve into the details of one of the only fully accepting and affirming churches in Wichita. "It may not seem like a big deal, sure you're open, you're affirming, you will let me in through the doors of your church but if you refuse to validate my marriage do you really value me?"
Wichita is listed as the number one worst place for LGBT+ people to live in America. Wichita has a firm spot on California's travel prohibition list - banning state funded travel to Wichita, reason being is Wichita's strong negative stance on LGBT+ people. Upon arriving we didn't immediately recognize this, but as we talked to Pastor Jackie the reality of LGBT people in Wichita and the state of Kansas in general was heartbreaking.
Yes, I feel threatened. I feel threatened a lot
"My life has been threatened for being the pastor of this church." Jackie says, her eyes wandering to the light pouring in rainbow patches through the elaborate stain glass windows, coating the church in a prideful iridescent rainbow. "We've had over 110 windows shattered in our church from people throwing rocks and shooting through them. Yes, I feel threatened. I feel threatened a lot. Just last week we were doing ashes for ash Wednesday, giving them out outside the church. My partner was scared for me, she said to me the night before, 'are you certain that you want to stand out on the street?' So we had 2 or 3 of us standing out there together, so that at least there would be someone left."
She chuckles to herself a little, a response not expected while talking about the horrors of the reality of the LGBT community in Wichita. Safe places are not easy to find, allies are not easy to access, and getting denied from your local church is an all too common occurrence.
"I make light of it. It's scary sometimes, but I believe that God has called me to this so, thats what i'm going to do."
'You get to choose - you can either be a lesbian, or you can be a christian.'
Jackie works with all members of her local community, due to so much violence in our current society and so many threats against this particular faith community, The Table of Hope Metropolitan Church has many people who don't identify with the LGBT community, the church is a safe place for people to come, no matter what their story is, it's a place where people can go and feel loved by God again. Jackie grew up in a Baptist Church. As she grew up it became more and more apparent to her and the people around her that she was a lesbian. "I was very good at volleyball." She laughs. "The church asked me one day, wether I wanted to remain in the church or be a lesbian. my pastor said to me, 'You get to choose - you can either be a lesbian, or you can be a christian.' I told him that I didn't know how to change who I was, and they escorted me to the door of the church and told me to never come back.
"For too many years, LGBT people, especially the youth have been abused by faith. People have chosen to say, 'God hates ____' and fill in that blank with whatever they hate at that moment. The truth of the matter is that God is love, that God created all people. I can't imagine that God would create something only to condemn it. I have seen people that have been victims to very conservative, literal interpretations of scripture, these people being GLBT or any other reason you can think of to exclude someone. I have seen them come away from that hurt and abused to to the point where they won't go to church anymore, or they don't even want to have anything to do with people of faith anymore. I believe that is one of the greatest sins that we can ever preach. God created you this way, and you have been created beautifully and magnificently. If we could get all of our young people to believe that this is exactly how God created them to be, that God loves them, I don't think we would have to struggle with nearly as many issues regarding this topic. I wouldn't have kids calling me saying 'I can't call you at night when i'm at home so i'm going to call you during the day from the school landline so that nobody knows i'm calling you.' or 'I watch your service at the library because I can't risk my parent knowing I watch it at home.'
Right after the violence first broke out at this church, when we had window after window after window being broken, a mother called me from a small town in Western Kansas. She was weeping. She told me her gay son had died, that he had killed himself last night.
Jackie paused and took a deep breath, having to wipe tears from underneath her fogging eyeglasses.
"She told me that she needed to know if her son was going to be in heaven."
"Sorry, it's hard to talk about."
"She told me that she needed to know if her son was going to be in heaven. At that very moment I knew, I knew why God put me Wichita, Kansas at this point in my life. Because in the 80's I had held AIDS patients in my arms as they died because there was no one who would affirm their love, or even their ability to be human. I was able to assure his mother, as much as anyone can in this life I suppose. I was able to articulate to her my understanding of God. God brought all of me together so that I would be able to speak to the truth as I know it and as God has revealed it to me. She has a funny sense of humor sometimes this God of ours."