Allergic to religion

I grew up in a small Texas town where there were more churches – 23 to be exact – than banks and restaurants combined. We attended church as a family every Sunday morning for Sunday school and service, not to mention youth choir, youth group, Wednesday night service and more. There I learned sex before marriage was wrong, good girls dressed demurely, wives were subservient to their husbands, hate the sin & love the sinner, and that all gays were going to hell.

The last bit was more than a little inconvenient when I figured out that I was gay around the age of 12. I then spent the next 9 years praying to god to take away my feelings and make me straight. Eternal damnation can be a pretty strong motivator. I had almost a decade of self-loathing, self-hating, and depression before deciding that literally the only way I was going to survive was believing that god made me gay. I was fortunate that I was able to turn that corner. Many LGBT youth do not.

When I was 22 during my first job after college I struggled to reconcile being gay and Christian. I approached the youth minister at the Baptist church I was attending for help. He counseled me that being celibate in both mind and body was the only way to be gay and also live in god’s grace. We formed a friendship and played racquetball at the local Y after work. At least until this Baptist youth minister with a wife and kids hit on me in the locker room after a match. I guess celibacy only applies to non-closeted homos.

I found another church in Austin that appeared to accept me. “Come as you are” was their slogan. Early on I met with the teaching pastor at a coffee shop and we discussed my apprehension about attending the church given my prior experiences. He assured me that I was welcome – and I was for a while. I was an ASL interpreter almost every Sunday for 4 years until they decided that no one who was gay could be a “spiritual leader” in the church. They then proceeded to debate if interpreting the sermon counted as being a spiritual leader. If so, I would be asked to step down. I was just a few months away from moving to Denver so I bypassed the charades altogether and stopped attending the church.

Despite that betrayal I sought out and attended a church regularly after moving to Denver. Like a domestic violence survivor, I kept going back.

Then came California’s Prop-8. Nothing brings good Christians together like hate.

Catholics, Mormons, Evangelicals, and other religious groups all banded together to force their belief of “traditional marriage” on others using lies and deception. All to revoke the rights of loving couples to obtain a civil marriage — a purely civil and non-religious contract that provides many important legal rights that cannot be obtained by other means. The final day of the Prop-8 trial was the day I decided that I wanted nothing to do with religion of any kind. God and his followers could go screw themselves. I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. To quote my blog entry at the time: forget the bathwater, the baby’s dead.

Since that day I have a very strong allergic reaction to religion of any kind. I get defensive. I get sad. I get angry. I lash out. I do whatever is necessary to protect myself from the feeling of deep betrayal and memories of self-loathing and self-hatred. Religious-themed Christmas music triggers it. Attending a function in a religious building triggers it. Knowing how many pious Evangelicals voted for Trump despite his bigotry, misogyny, and racism continues to set me off daily.

The damage to me is done and I want no part of it. I have been abused by religion enough and I am fortunate to have escaped with my life. The day I turned my back on religion was a turning point in my life. Since then I have become a healthier, happier, more caring, more compassionate, more empathetic, and more loving person.

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.

Romney and the Religious Right

The Religious Right, specifically the Evangelicals, are in a tizzy. Their worst fear is that Romney will get the Republican nomination and they’ll be left with two unpalatable choices: a Democrat who is a Christian1 or a Republican who is a cultist2.

Lest you think I’m joking, let me reassure you that I know from first-hand experience. I was raised in a small town in the Texas panhandle. I attended church in that town from when I was born until I left for college at 16. About 12 years or so of that was at the Methodist church and the other half was at the First Baptist church (part of the Southern Baptist Convention). And despite the greater Methodist church being more accepting and liberal – Methodist churches in small towns are as conservative as you can get. So I can speak with authority what conservative small town evangelicals are taught and, presumably, believe.

Both churches taught that Mormons3 weren’t Christians but were, in fact, a cult. These churches only begrudgingly conceded that Catholics are Christian if pressed4. But Mormons? They’re in the same bucket as Jehovah Witnesses, wiccans, and satan worshipers.

So that brings us back to Romney. A group of evangelical leaders met this past weekend to decide which non-Romney candidate they’ll support. Note that it wasn’t which Republican candidate, but which non-Romney candidate. Their choice? Rick Santorum. Keep in mind that Santorum is Catholic, not Protestant. They’re that desperate to keep Romney out of the White House. Their only non-Mormon, non-Catholic choices were Rick Perry and Ron Paul, neither of which are serious competitors to Romney. So why Santorum instead of Gingrich, who is also Catholic? My guess is that the twice-divorced, cheated-on-two-wives Gingrich isn’t the “family values” candidate they were looking for.

What does this mean for those of us not falling off the right side of sanity? Grab some popcorn, throw a couple of bucks Romney’s way before the primary, and watch the evangelicals squirm from now through November.

Update: And just in case you don’t believe me.

1 Assuming they really believe he’s a Christian as he professes to be. Many of them still believe he’s a Muslim. Sadly I’m not joking.

2 I don’t believe this. Or rather I believe that most all religious groups are cults. Either way, I hold that Mormons are no worse off than anyone else.

3 Anyone seen the new Mormon ad campaign? The buses around here have large, 3-panel ads with a person in each panel with the phrase “I’m a Mormon” in them. Sadly. Every time I see one my mind parses it as “I’m a moron”. Mormons aren’t morons, and I don’t think they are. But pure #FAIL on the ad campaign.

4 If cornered they usually say something like “As long as [the Catholic] accepted Jesus as their savior, then they’re a Christian. If they haven’t and are just listening to the pope, they’re not”.

Evidence Christians used lies during Prop 8

Today finished out the testimony phase of “Perry v. Schwarzenegger”, also known as the Prop 8 Trial. I’ve been following the trial via live-blogging site courtesy of the Courage Campaign Institute. The testimony has been very revealing — particularly the part where the Proposition 8 proponents blatently lied to the public during the campaign about what gay marriage would mean (see Liveblogging Day 10 Daily Summary near 9:42):

“Polygamists are waiting in the wings! If we have same sex marriage, we’ll have polygamy next.”

Despite no one anywhere advocating anything about polygamy. And:

“Let’s just say that sexual attraction is definition. Pedophiles would have to be allowed to marry. Mothers and sons. Man who wanted to marry horse. Any combination would have to be allowed.”

Aside: I certainly don’t condone pedophilia but it’s pretty obvious that pedophiles are already allowed to marry another adult of the opposite sex.

Those are just two small examples – there are many more in other parts of the testimony. It was obvious at the time, and even moreso now, that the entire campaign was run on lies and fear. It’s clear throughout the testimony presented by expert witness on both sides that there is no “better for society” reason, no “children will be better off” reason, no “it’ll destroy traditional marriage” reason to prevent gays and lesbians from getting married. What’s the real reason our right to marry was taken away in CA? Because it goes against some people’s religious views. Last time I checked it was the power of the state government, not any church, that allowed couples to marry.

And just who were these “Prop 8 proponents” casting out these lies? The quotes above were from a video that, the defendants, financed during the campaign. And who financed Also from a video that created (see Liveblogging Day 10 Daily Summary near 10:06):

“We know that today we must win. That’s why we are so grateful that 2,500 pastors have come out on consistent basis every month. If someone is going to vote no, we flip them to show that kids will be taught this in schools. We have spent thousands of dollars on polling. Continue to do so. In 1999, LDS got involved in Hawaii. With capital S, they were significantly involved. No different this time. Campaign will cost minimum of $25 million and LDS across this state deeply involved. Catholic Bishop in SD, three evangelical ministers from SD all got involved. Asked Focus on the Family for money. They sent us $50,000 that allowed us to get petitions printed. Thanks to you, we are here, we will win.” (emphasis mine).

And just in case you thought “three evangelical ministers isn’t so bad – must be a Mormon and Catholic thing”, here’s an email admitted into evidence that was sent to listing who was involved (see Liveblogging Day 10 Daily Summary near 10:23):

Evangelicals—400,000 signatures; 3,00 pastors
Orthodox Jews
(emphasis mine)

Maybe God and I will work out our conflicts, but Christianity can go screw itself. Take your “hate the sin love the sinner” and “think of the children” mantras and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. Using John’s logical conclusion to a metaphor in a related blog entry: forget the bathwater, the baby’s dead – throw it out.

Ian McKellan echos my own thoughts about organized religion

Ian McKellan sums up my own thoughts about organized religion quite nicely (via the LA Times):

“I increasingly see organized religion as actually my enemy. They treat me as their enemy,” said the British actor, who came out 20 years ago. “Not all Christians, of course. Not all Jews, not all Muslims. But the leaders. . . . Why should I take the judgment of a declared celibate about my sexual needs? He’s basing his judgment on laws that would fit life in the Bronze Age. So if I’m lost to God, organized religion is to blame.”

Unfortunately, religion, not just organized religion, has begun to leave a very bad taste in my mouth. I removed the Christian station from my radio dial over a year ago. We stopped regularly attending church several months ago. Up until this month I was still interpreting at the church, but I’ve asked for a break until at least the end of the year if not indefinitely.

You might argue that I’m throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and perhaps I am. But right now religion only raises my blood pressure and reminds me about my second-class citizenship.

unChristian faith & Christianists

Ask any gay man or woman who grew up in a Christian church and they’ll likely be able to tell you about the time in their life when they dealt with self-hatred and shame. Self-hatred that you felt something that the church was adamantly telling you was sinful and wrong. Shame that you couldn’t stop feeling the way you did.

Luckily some people get past that — I did. Some people even get past that without leaving behind their religious beliefs — I did. I, however, seemed to have gone to the extreme and began to be ashamed of being a Christian. In the gay community the only thing worse than a gay Christian is a gay Republican.

I mean, look around – you have God Hates Fags, the “Gays caused 911” Jerry Falwall, and James Dobson’s anti-gay “Focus on the Family” organization — all of whom purport to be Christians. Throw in all of the Christians who are adamantly against gay marriage (Prop 8 anyone?) and it isn’t at all surprising to see how being labeled a Christian isn’t something one wants advertised. Even some atheist/agnostic blogs see the massive disconnect between the Christian beliefs (love your neighbor, God loves everyone, God’s grace covers all sin, don’t judge, nobody’s perfect) and the flat out anti-Christian behavior and have given them a new label: Christianists.

Some Christians see the disconnect too and have tried to publicly distance themselves from some of these extremist persons and organizations. Two individuals, David Kinnaman and Gave Lyons, have written a book that discusses the current image problem Christians have: unChristian, What a new generation really thinks about Christianity … and why it matters. I read the book and couldn’t help but nod through the whole thing — these guys get it. Now if only the rest of the Christianists would step up and pay attention.

The authors, one of whom works for the Barna Group – a Christian organization who does statistical research and polling, summarize and explore the extensive poll results gathered by the Fermi Project. The book is broken down into 6 big areas:

  • Hypocritical
  • Get Saved!
  • Antihomosexual
  • Sheltered
  • Too Political
  • Judgmental

Each chapter delves into one topic and explores why Christians are seen in these lights. What I liked about the book is that they are up-front and honest that the perceptions are real, real because of how Christians behave. Christians really are seen as anti-homosexual, judgmental and too political. Many times they use such verbiage as “you may not like being labeled as judgmental but our research shows that if you tell someone that you are a Christian x% of people will paint you with that brush”. One excellent line that sticks with me:

We [Christians] have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.

The book offers suggestions and thoughts on how to change these perceptions by being less unChristian, and more like Christ — more, well, Christian. All along the way he emphasizes why fixing the perception is important: without a change in perception Christianity will become irrelevant. The new generations, Mosaics and Busters (currently folks between ages 17 and 30), are leaving Christianity in droves — who wants to be a member of an organization seen with the attributes listed above?

The good news, at least in my mind, is that we really can take back the label Christian and I can eventually stop being ashamed of the label myself. There is most certainly a need for an organization that serves the poor, welcomes all into the church to worship, feeds the hungry, provides shelter for the homeless, treats all people with respect and dignity, and recognizes that no one is perfect but that we’re all trying to help each other along. That organization should be the Christian church as those things like up perfectly with what Jesus did.

I started reading the book with an “us vs them” mentality – “us” being mostly gays and “them” being Christianists. And part of me still feels that way (see aforementioned anti-homosexual reference) but I’m working to internalize that I too exhibit unChristian behavior (judgmental and hypocritical at the very least), behavior that I need to work on. That said, I still want to buy a dozen copies and send them out to a few select people :)

Flatirons steps up – gays welcome to serve

Today I had a meeting with Jim Burgen, the head pastor at Flatirons Community Church. The meeting was to discuss and answer the question: Are gay individuals allowed to serve at Flatirons?

The answer, in short, is yes.

The answer, in greater length, is still yes :) Flatirons is committed to being a welcoming church to everyone who is searching for God’s will for their lives. Note that it isn’t a “we’re welcoming until we find out who you are” church, but a “come as you are, together we’ll search for God’s will for our lives” church. While Jim and I disagree with some what the Bible says about homosexuality, that doesn’t prevent us from worshiping and learning together. Moreover, the important factor is that Flatirons “isn’t going to cherry pick the ‘top 5 sins’ and use those as a guide on who can serve and who can’t”, to paraphrase a segment of the conversation. Jim’s message last week (MP3 of message) is particularly relevant as well – I’m sorry I missed it in person.

Here’s a to-the-point FAQ regarding gays at Flatirons based on my conversation with Jim:

  • Are gay people welcome in the church? Yes.
  • Are gay people free to be themselves in the church? Yes.
  • Can I be open about my partner/husband/significant other at church? Yes.
  • You mean I’m free to introduce my partner/husband/significant other as such to individuals in the church? Yes.
  • Am I allowed to serve? Yes, if you are otherwise qualified. (eg: no luddites in the sound booth, interpreters must be able to interpret, etc)
  • Does Flatirons support the “gay lifestyle” and gay marriage? No, and probably not.
  • Is Flatirons gay friendly? By my definition, yes.
  • Is Flatirons gay affirming? By my definition, no. (and I’m perfectly OK with that )

Overall I felt very good about the conversation and the outcome. It was everything that I had hoped for. The fact that Jim took time out of his crazy schedule to meet with me conveys to me how important it was to him that Flatirons be a welcoming, inclusive church.

I look forward to getting involved with the Deaf ministry, barring transportation issues, and continuing to meet and get to know other Flatironers.