28 November 2009
Being Christian and Queer-Revisited
I’ve examined in some of my posts how I’ve missed my church since my whole debacle began. As I’ve alluded to, two of my biggest stumbling blocks to returning is (a) being around a group of people [thanks to my borderline personality disorder-BPD] and (b) how to explain my continued absence since being involuntarily committed due to my suicide attempt seven weeks ago.
When I attended a previous church, also an Assemblies of God, it was inherently homophobic because it preached, as they say, the full gospel—meaning that the Bible is the word of God chapter and verse. I was new to my relationship with God, and under the pastor’s teaching (at this point I had not been hit with those legendary homophobic clobber verses) I watched my relation with God grow immeasurably: it was close and personal—something I had never experienced before. My heart and spirit was full. Having been raised as a Roman Catholic when I was a child and teenager, I never got this.
I am not a theologian, but as I began to read the Bible, when I got to Leviticus 20, I continued to read all those laws set forth by God. So many of these “laws” had since been dismissed as we migrated to modern times [e.g., verse 10: “If a man commits adultery with his neighbour’s wife, both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death.” (NLT)]. I read that with a grain of salt as today adulterers are merely given a pass for a divorce. So, when I got to verse 13 “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.” (NLT) I took this verse equally with a grain of salt. I am a lesbian and did not feel compelled to fall upon my sword, as it were.
Then this particular preacher, one Sunday, spent his whole sermon on why homosexuality was the worst sin in the bible. I was truly taken aback by his statement. Aside from quoting the verse in Leviticus, he did not proffer any specific verses that backed up what he said. I was enraged. After the service, I challenged him. I asked him to refer to the specific scripture that said that (because I never read that despite reading through various translations). He wanted to avoid this conversation with me totally, but I countered with reminding him that he always said that the Bible would prove its own truth. Again, I challenged him to point out where in the Bible was that specifically quoted and he hemmed and hawed. I told him, according to the Bible in Revelations 21:8 “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (NKJV). Nowhere did it say that only the homosexuals would burn in this lake of fire, and even pointed out that the sexually immoral were not even listed first! He could not respond and just walked away and greeted other members.
Well, my identity as a lesbian was then outed and I was essentially shown the door unless I repented of my sins and turned from my evil ways—translation: become celibate. That only harkened back memories of the nightmares I had read on reparative therapy where there were retreats gays and lesbians could attend to be “cured” of their homosexuality (Exodus International comes to mind). Being a lesbian is who I am, not what I chose to be. I did not have something from which to be “cured.” I was incensed that there was this organisation whose primary focus was to brainwash these unsuspecting attendees.
As a result, I left this church. I also remember being angry with God for allowing His word to be selectively be taken out of context on this one particular verse. If the other verses throughout Leviticus had for the most part been dismissed as being a product of the times (e.g., not mixing clothes of mixed fabric and all of the dietary laws), why was this solitary verse being held accountable? As the times progressed and gay rights became the new poison pill upon which many political platforms were based (the new litmus test as abortion rights were before then), I saw how the war against gay rights was being funded and waged by so called Christian fundamentalists. Gay rights (or the lack thereof) were being slammed left and right from statehood amendments on same-sex marriages, employment discrimination (there are 29 states where it is legal to fire someone who is gay), to housing statutes, and economic parity through health insurance, not to even begin to mention how partners are treated when one of them is in the hospital and are denied visitation rights or not allowed to carry out the final wishes.
I became an ardent political activist lending my voice where it counted to fight these so-called arbitrary arguments. I live in the buckle of the Bible belt where churches are like gas stations—there is one on every corner. I had plenty of opportunities and venues to lend my voice to counter these fundamentalists. I still remember how I was treated in a discount chain store while wearing my equal rights t-shirt on the banner of the rainbow flag. I was bible-thumped from quite a few people (“shame on you,” “your kind will burn in hell,” etc.). I would not be reduced to their fanaticism and merely walked away from most of them. I was, however, trapped while standing in the cashier’s lane. The couple behind me started preaching to me to repent of my evil ways as all eyes were on me. You could hear a pin drop. At first I was not going to say anything (anything I could have said would only fall on deaf ears anyway), but the cashier smiled at me and said, “You aren’t going to let them get away with that crap, are you?” So I looked at this couple and calmly said that, while I respected that they had a right to their own opinion, this was one area that that we would have to agree to disagree—no rhetoric on my part. However, that did silence them.
During this intervening time, I met my then partner and I continued to wage my war. I was quite surprised to learn that she went to church. I asked her where could she possibly go without encountering what I had experienced and she told me all about the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) that primarily caters to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered persons (LGBT). Sorely missing my connection to God and the community of fellowship, I eagerly started attending with her. However, my spirit was not fed here. It was static and ritualistic and there didn’t seem to be any room for the Spirit to move. I continued to go with her for the duration of our partnership, but when that ended, I no longer attended.
I moved to a different area of town and laughingly I noticed there was a church right across the street from me. Being new to the neighbourhood, one of my neighbours left a beautiful potted plant on my front porch with a nice note welcoming me to the neighbourhood. This level of hospitality, I thought, had all gone the way of other pleasant Southern ways with everyone too busy with their jobs and lives. I walked over to thank her and we had a nice conversation. There was no doubt that I was a lesbian when we met from the bumper stickers on my car to the t-shirt I was wearing, but that did not seem to phase her. Then she cordially asked me if I attended a church (my warning signals were piqued at this point) and told her no and recounted my experience with my first pastor. She thought that story was horrible and invited me to attend their church’s fall picnic. When I reminder her that I was a lesbian, she didn’t care, said that her pastor was open-minded, and that I would not be judged. Therefore, I told her I would attend with full expectation to talk to the pastor at the outset and inform him that I was a lesbian. He didn’t seem to bat an eyelash and told me that I would be welcome at his church, but he did say this one thing, that he did preach the whole Bible and said that he did think homosexuality was a sin. But I was welcomed just the same as in “Whosoever….” We agreed to disagree and he told me that his congregation wouldn’t judge me.
At this point, I had missed my relationship with God, not because I had walked away in the intervening years, but I had missed hearing God’s word being preached and the fellowship of other believers. Being the butch that I am, when I dressed up for church I wore a coat and tie even amidst those that wore blue jeans and t-shirts. I liked his style of preaching and everything he said resonated deeply within me. I felt for the first time that I had found a church home. There were times after the services where the pastor and I would get involved in conversations about my homosexuality and he just smiled and told me that he always appreciated my honesty, and felt that I had contributed to his knowledge base as he had never had the chance to really get to know someone who was gay, and thought that our conversations were refreshing for him—a chance to learn something new. I respected him greatly and considered him a friend, a friendship that continued to grow over the three years that I have been attending.
Then something happened to me. While I was reading the Bible, I came across an important passage that became the cornerstone upon which I wanted to live my life. It was Romans 12:1-2: “(1) And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. (2) Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (NLT).
I thought long and hard what these verses meant to me. I came to the conclusion that I wanted my close personal relationship with God more than I needed my identity as a lesbian (however skewed that logic may seem to you). I felt by choosing to be celibate was my living sacrifice, and that turning my back on the gay community would be no longer conforming to customs of the world. This was a decision that did not come easily as it was fought with much prayer. Nevertheless, it was a decision that I felt at peace with at the time. I never denied that I was a lesbian, but like an ambassador without papers. I lived my life from that perspective for two years.
Well, politics raised its ugly head with what was up for grabs both in Congress and at the statewide level during this year. My hackles were raised again and my anger towards this massive inequality subjugating all LGBT persons to second-class citizens put me on fire. I became politically active again renewing my passion to see true justice served. I was truly saddened to see how forthright and mean-spirited the Christian fundamentalists had become since the previous elections, not to mention the incredible amounts of money they raised to fund their own political agenda (what ever happened to the separation of church and state?).
Unforeseen by me, my personal life became a disaster as my bipolar and borderline personality disorders (BP and BPD) reared their ugly head pushing me into a downward spiral that led me to my aforementioned attempted suicide. There was so much conflict swirling within me. When I was discharged from the hospital after 11 days, I couldn’t face going back to my church having done what I had. After my continued absence, what would have I told everyone, “Oh yeah, by the way, I tried to commit suicide.” I didn’t think that would go over well. I had a long talk with my pastor and told him of my renewed passion to fight for LGBT equality. In one post to this blog, where I bemoaned how miserable my life had become, someone commented “Even though you have turned away from Him - He still loves you and wants you back. Your dilemma is trying to hold on to both worlds. It's not possible. God wants you to choose to lay down your old life and allow Him to make you totally new. He has a peace waiting for you that you've never known (but are desperately seeking)- You've never known this peace because you've never fully turned your life over to Him.”
I couldn’t believe what I read. For the first time I was being judged, and I was accused that I had never fully turned my life over to God when that couldn’t have been further from the truth considered the sacrificial decision I had made only two years before. I was torn. Knowing what I did now, could I ever be welcomed back into that church under the circumstances of how I was living my life as a queer political activist. I was hurt because this church and its people meant so very much to me. I was filled with the Spirit at this church as I had never known before; the pastor’s teaching had always deeply affected me. A subsequent conversation with this person helped me understand the spirit it which the comment was made--not to judge, but wanting to reach out so desperately to me. Can I return and just let the chips fall where they may, or do I want to search for another church that is gay-affirming, not knowing if I would be filled and fed in the same way? My heart wants to return to this little church, but at what expense.©2009