When Melissa officially announced her surrogacy to the congregation of the Hugoton Baptist Church in Hugoton, Kansas, where her husband Shane was the pastor, a woman stood up to interrupt: “So, you are really going to go through with this? You are giving this church and Jesus a bad name.” There were murmurs of support in the pews. Only one week prior, members of Melissa’s Bible study group had praised her altruism when she told them she planned to carry a child for a couple who couldn’t conceive. But news of the pregnancy had spread on Facebook, along with information about her surrogacy agency: Growing Generations helps gay couples have children. Melissa was clear she would only carry a child for a straight couple, but the mere association was enough to spark a protest.
“A month later, the whole town was on that side,” Melissa says. The fit, pretty 31-year-old is speaking only to me, but tells the story as though she is speaking in front of a camera. Shane, her soft-spoken 34-year-old husband, explains that the church hosted a townhall-style meeting about his wife's surrogacy. “They were convinced we were carrying for a same-sex couple or that we were LGBT supporters," Melissa says. "It felt surreal, like a witch hunt." Two days later, Melissa, Shane, and their three young children packed a truck and moved to Texas, cast out of their church and 3900-person town. Pastor Bob Rich, who replaced Shane at the Hugoton Baptist Church, describes the events as “pretty typical of rural America.” He adds, “When Melissa made the statement that it was her body, not anyone else’s business, most felt she stepped over the line.”