What Acceptance Means

Toward the end of March, I checked my email on my phone after work. I knew I was going to be hearing from Oxford sometime soon, but I wasn’t expecting anything great. I’d already started applying for jobs in Minneapolis, hoping to get a full time position up there for the fall, making that city my new home.

And yet, there was the email. The subject line was simple: “Application for admission to graduate studies at the University of Oxford.” And amidst all the academic jargon and university-speak I’ve come to learn how to translate, there were the words, “We very much look forward to being able to welcome you to Oxford.”

I was in. I got in. I’d been dreaming of this for a decade. And I was in.

I called my dad, crying, and had to repeat “I GOT IN I GOT IN TO OXFORD” several times for him to understand me. My roommate was home when I got to our apartment, and started screaming as soon as she knew what I meant. My status announcing that I’d gotten in to my graduate program at Oxford garnered over 100 likes within the first twenty four hours.

I was accepted. These people had looked at my work, had looked at me, and said, “Yes. We’ll take her.”

I’ve lived through this up and down of application and acceptance and worry for most of my adult life. When I was 17, I found out I got a massive scholarship to my alma mater, the University of Sioux Falls, and was so excited that I screamed in the debate practice room. When I was 20, I got accepted and funded for my semester at Oxford, and ran downstairs to the lounge to tell my friends, jumping up and down and shouting, “I’m going to England!!!!” Just over a year later, I found myself in Waco, TX, in my brother’s apartment, hugging his wife as I told her that the department head said I was accepted and it was merely a matter of choosing what kind of assistantship I wanted to do. Full tuition remission and everything.

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my academic career, though I will say my hard work probably had some influence. But this legacy of knowing and understanding what it feels like when someone – an institution – says, “We want you” has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth when it comes to the church and its waffling definitions of what it means to accept someone.

I’m going somewhere with this, trust me.

You see, after years of cheers and excitement at being told, “You’re in!” from different places, I don’t really have a lot of patience for conditional acceptance. “You’re in” only if you change your sexuality. “You’re in” only if you decide to submit to the men around you. “You’re in,” only if you behave quietly and correctly.

This isn’t to say that my acceptances at universities were without conditions. I obviously needed to perform and do the work required of me as a member of the university. I still worked my butt off to honor that university’s reputation and to follow their rules while I was there. It didn’t mean that I came out the same person I was when I went in. But essential parts of who I am did not change. The fundamental “me” was challenged and pushed and changed, but I could still call myself “me” at the end of the day.

This analogy has its problems – the church is not academia, and the church does not have a standard ending point as degree programs do.

But, the church all too often acts like you have to apply and be a certain kind of person before you can even walk in the door. You have to pass the qualifiers just to hear, “You’re in.” And those of us on the outside know and recognize what it means the church tells us we’re not in, or when we’re only in if we change everything about who we are as creatures of God. We recognize these conditional forms of acceptance, and no amount of explaining that “no this really is love” “no this is really what acceptance looks like” will remove that sting.

We know what it looks to be accepted, to be loved, and so we can tell when the church is lying to us about doing either. We know the feast and so we won’t take your offering of crumbs.