By Hope Rutgens, IGRC Summer Intern
Summer Merge, or SumMerge as we’ve been calling it, started out as a way to keep students connected to one another over the summer. A handful of students stay in town every summer, and we wanted to give them a chance to get together a couple of times a month to have a worship service together. When Lauren Knicl and I started thinking of things to do a worship series on, Roxy (our Mentor/Pastor/Boss at Merge) told us that whatever we did, it had to be something we were passionate about, because if we didn’t care about it, nobody would.
We ultimately decided to talk about passages in the bible that are highly debated/argued over. I know, it was a little ambitious of us, wasn’t it? But it was something we’re passionate about, and Merge is always working hard to have conversations about faith surrounding things we care about. So our first service was about the Clobber Passages (Verses used to harm LGBTQ+ people).
Lauren and I did extensive research, or as much research as you can do in two weeks. We looked at both sides of the argument, but ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what we decided at the end of our research. Doing the research itself was what mattered. No matter where we started or where we ended on the sides of the argument, the knowledge we gained along the way was what was most important. And so when we got to Wednesday for the SumMerge service, we had an honest conversation with the people in attendance, and we gave them all of the passages that people used to hurt LGBTQ+ people. And then we let them decide what they wanted to believe. And that’s all we can really do, is give them the information and then have conversations surrounding the scripture.
That night, I was actually really surprised to hear from everyone in the group about the different ways they’ve been affected by the Clobber Passages. One person started sharing about how they had done their own research when they first came out because they had to argue against their parents, and then it was a free-for-all with everyone sharing their own experiences. I won’t list their stories here, because they were personal to those individual people and to our group. But it was amazing to see people that I never expected to talk in a small group, share such intimate details about their struggles and their journey in discovering what they actually believe. People talked about having to undo all of the damage and bad theology they had been taught growing up, not always by the Church, but by family and friends, and people who said that they “loved them” but hated their sins.
We talked as a group for a long time about struggling with having a faith, when so many people have tried to use their faith to hurt us. Reconciling the God we know and love, with the one whose name people throw around like a weapon, is a hard thing to cope with, and it's hard to go through everything you were taught as a kid and decide for yourself what exactly you believe. But gaining that knowledge, making those decisions, and taking that journey are all things we’re trying to do here at SumMerge.
What started out as a small worship service meant to bring us all together for some light conversation has quickly turned into a deeper discussion about shared trauma, different traditions, faith, and how God is calling us to spread knowledge, love, and acceptance to all people.
After we finished on Wednesday, we all travelled up to Chicago for the Pride Parade on the 30th. We danced, sang, and cried together as the different floats and groups marched by. One person from our group told me afterwards that the thing that affected them the most was seeing how much support there was from other people. There were parents going by constantly with signs saying things as simple as “I love my gay son,” or “I love my Trans daughter,” and they all made us cry with happiness. But the best part, in my opinion, was the group of churches. Not on the side of the parade like a lot of churches have been doing, yelling and cursing about a love that they don’t understand. There were churches in the Parade. At least 50 of them, all carrying signs stating their name and denomination, and with other people dispersed throughout holding signs saying “God Loves You.”