Churches, Community, and Family

On Saturday night I entered a church for the first time in years. I did so to attend a service of the Congregation Bet Haverim, a reconstructionist jewish congregation which Chris’s friend Rabbi Josh Lesser presides over.1 The service was a bit different than usual, as it was concert as well as a mini-service. The occasion was the celebration of the Jew’s escape from Egypt.2

I stopped attending church two or so years ago back in Denver during the passing of Proposition 8 in California. The trifecta of the Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon organizations banding together to fund the pro-Prop 8, along with the lies they were propagating to do so, made it clear to me that I wanted no part of anything remotely associated with them. Being back in a church service (primarily in a building that resembled the churches of my youth) really hit me hard.

We arrived an hour before the concert started and Chris was visiting with old friends while we were sitting in the pews. I sat there deep in thought, no doubt looking like I went into full introvert wall-flower mode to Chris, processing the flood of emotions about being in a place so familiar and yet so frustratingly repulsive to me. The net of the experience was the evaluation and comparison between community and family.

In-large, white people have no natural community. Unlike latinos, whose primary community consists of tightly-knit families (I had the joy of being part of one while I was with Benjamin), white people often seek community in their churches. Far from being a place where they are just spoonfed what to believe, churches provide a place where larger families are forged. People to lean on and call when life gets hard, like when someone is sick, in the hospital, or dies. Churches are surrogate families and a place to meet people when moving to new towns.

Churches are also professionals when it comes to running gays out of that community.3 But gays have something to fall back on for community: each other. In fact, we even have a name for other gays: family.4 Much like a church community or biological family, gays form their own families, colloquially known as family-by-choice, as so many of us have been hurt by other communities, like churches or families-by-birth. When moving to a new town, getting a foot in the door of the gay community is the best way to go to meet new people and get plugged in. Like a family we support and help each other. Like a family (and most churches) we are dysfunctional to some degree too. But for the most part we band together. Unlike churches, the gay family is highly inclusive: gays, bisexuals, straight allies — anyone who supports us is implicitly, if not explicitly, included.

Despite being a white guy, I have a strong community of people without the trappings of church. I’m extremely thankful for my family-by-choice, ironically I’m a member because of something I had no choice over. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

1 Interestingly, the congregation meets in a Presbyterian church.

2 Being forced to attend Sunday School in both the Methodist and Baptist churches all throughout my youth, I am well versed in the bible stories of both the old and new testament — including the escape from Egypt, Joseph’s coat of many colors, and the search for the promised land which were both mentioned in the service. It didn’t occur to me until that night that old testament is the bulk of the Jewish beliefs (very roughly speaking), and my cursory familiarity with it is a great basis for understanding what was going on in the service.

3 Not all churches. Some, like Congregation Bet Haverim or Metropolitan Community Church in Denver are very welcoming. I’ve my own share of experiences in other churches, however.

4 It’s not at all unusual for gays to refer to one another as ‘family’ out in public, eg: Oh, that’s John, he’s family.