A Bowmanville woman has been thrust into the role of gay rights advocate after she came out to her Oshawa church and was kicked out of the membership.
“It’s clear that something needs to change,” said Kimberley Mills. “I feel that God designed me the way I am and He’s going to love me the way I am.”
Mills had been a member of the Calvary Baptist Church for almost four years before the church earlier this month sent a letter telling her she would be removed from membership because she was living in “disobedience to the Scriptures.”
She says the response she’s received since she went public on Facebook about her experience and the hurt she feels has been overwhelming.
“People who are also believers, who don’t feel this is God’s love,” Mills said. “Pastors are reaching out to me. People are saying ‘God loves you just the way you are.’”
Mills, who was raised in Durham, first attended a service at Calvary Baptist Church after moving back to the area. She became a member and got actively involved as a youth leader.
“I just loved the people, and going there. It’s such a big church. There’s lots of opportunities to meet new people. I loved the kids, not just as a youth leader,” said Mills.
Mills said she started to be concerned about coming out at the church when a sermon took a strong stand against homosexuality. She felt like she wasn’t able to be true to herself while at church.
In her Bible study group, Mills told a few women who were close to her age that she had been together with her partner, Meghan Fowler, for four years now.
“Coming out was kind of a process … It was not accepted,” said Mills. “It never felt right being judged for being gay. It didn’t feel right.”
After disclosing her relationship, Mills said she had several conversations with church leaders and members. They wanted her to repent her sexual orientation, to be “restored” to the Bible’s teaching.
“And they told you, you needed to change,” said Fowler. “I started questioning, how she could spend so much time devoted to a place that can’t accept all of her?”
Then, in early November, she received a registered letter telling her she was being removed from the membership of the Cavalry Baptist Church because of her relationship.
“It is a very serious matter to remove a member for discipline as you will note in the 1 Corinthians 5:5 text, and our hearts are broken over it,” said the letter signed by Dr. Tim Wagner, deacon chair.
Representatives from the church released a followup statement to say that everyone is welcome to attend Sunday services, regardless of whether they are members. However, the church does have the option to remove someone from membership — a “voluntary association of like-minded individuals.”
“We love and care for everyone since we are all made in the Image of God,” said the Calvary Baptist Church statement. “Those who choose to become members of Calvary Baptist Church share our theological and doctrinal beliefs and agree to live in accordance with those beliefs. When an individual ceases to hold those beliefs or live in accordance with them, as has recently happened, that individual may be removed from membership but always remains welcome to attend our services and other programs.”
Mills said she if she did return to the Calvary Baptist Church after coming out, she would be treated differently and couldn’t be involved in the church community the way she was before.
She doesn’t intend to return to the church, but she plans to continue speaking about her experience. She wants to use her story to support other gay people who are scared of being excluded from their faith groups.
“The voice right now is for other people, really at the end of the day it’s all about love,” said Mills. “I was afraid and (Fowler) was afraid to come to the church. With some of the sermons I would share, she would feel we couldn’t be there as a couple.”
Oshawa community advocate Mac Moreau has launched a letter-writing campaign asking the Canada Revenue Agency to review the charitable status of Calvary Baptist Church. As a registered charity, churches receive significant tax breaks from the provincial and federal government — with the requirement that churches devote all of their resources to charity.
“The church has allowed its resources to be used for activities that promote hate and intolerance,” said Moreau. “If you are going to promote hate and intolerance, you shouldn’t receive benefits from the Canadian government that all Canadians contribute to.”
Moreau said the letter — and potentially ensuing CRA assessment — isn’t meant to close the Calvary Baptist Church. The aim is to support other gay parishioners who are feeling pushed out of their churches, and to hopefully serve as a warning to all churches that preach intolerance.
“This isn’t meant to destroy a church family,” said Moreau, who attended the Calvary Baptist Church as a child and said he later left over concerns about the messages of obedience and intolerance. “This is simply to say in this day-and-age, when you’re receiving benefits from the public purse, this is not acceptable.”
Jennifer O’Meara is a reporter for Metroland Media Group’s Durham Region Division. She can be reached email@example.com