This article first appeared in The Good Men Project March 22, 2015
A former evangelical minister turned LGBT advocate comes clean about his motives.
This week I was accused of having it out for Christians. In fact the person said that all she seems to find from me is “judgment, criticism, no respect for the Fundamentalist’s beliefs and constant bombardment of article upon article of how ‘Christians’ are wrong.”
This is true. And here’s why.
I spent over 25 years of my life as a fundamentalist Christian. I grew up in church and then became a minister. I spoke out against homosexuality and, by default, homosexuals themselves. When my accusers called me homophobic, I flat out denied it. After all, opposing sin isn’t homophobic, it’s heroic in a culture that seems to worship idolatry and human beings over God. I stood firmly against the tide, with God on my side. Besides, I protested, the Bible is very clear on the issue.
And then I came out.
I was a gay man trapped inside a minister’s body. I tried to believe, do and say all the right things. I prayed and memorized books of the Bible. I was a worship leader, leading hundreds and sometimes thousands of people into the throne room of heaven. I had a relationship with Jesus that, at times, felt like it moved mountains.
|After decades of this, I mentally cracked under the strain. It forced me to rethink what I believed and it violently pushed me into reality.|
The problem is that I had become so accustomed to deceiving myself about the fact that I was attracted to the same sex, I made sure others believed it, too. I pushed it down, prayed, confessed, cried, and pushed it down some more. After decades of this, I mentally cracked under the strain. It forced me to rethink what I believed and it violently pushed me into reality.
Up until then, ideology and dogma ruled my life like a tyrannical dictator. And, in the name of God, that’s exactly how I treated people who disagreed with me. Compassion, I discovered, was impossible to find for others when I had none for myself. I could no longer avoid the fact that what I believed was a lie.
Then there’s something that happens to a person when he gets honest with himself. With the judgment gone, I started listening to other people’s stories in a way I had never listened, nor could I listen, before. And the stories I heard…
From across the country and around the globe came stories of other Christian men and women who had been thrown out of their churches, lost their jobs, families, and life-long friends all while simply trying to “do the right thing.” Some eventually committed suicide, believing that the problem was with them. They received and believed the message that they were better off dead and in heaven, then gay and in hell.
My friend Amy, from Memphis, Tennessee shared with me this week that her partner’s brother, a fundamentalist Christian, told his ten-year-old daughter that she could no longer follow his sister on social media. It was one more sign of rejection for Amy’s long-time partner.
At 17, her Christian family put her on Zoloft because she was gay. When that didn’t change her, she was kicked out of the family, ignored, berated and shamed. They removed her from family functions and refused to have anything to do with her. Only after a young cousin died did her mother finally realize that she didn’t want to lose her daughter completely without some kind of relationship. Still, the bonds are strained.
|The cold hard reality is that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT. In the Bible belt those numbers go up significantly, as high as 80%.|
The cold hard reality is that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT. In the Bible belt those numbers go up significantly, as high as 80%. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Highly rejected LGBT youth [by their families] are MORE THAN 8 TIMES as likely to have attempted suicide and 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.” They are also 3 times more likely to use illegal drugs compared with young people from families with little or no rejection.
Unfortunately, many from the fundamentalist Christian community will brush those statistics off thinking, if not saying, “Those people get what they deserve.” After all, the Bible clearly says the wages of sin is death. And the most important thing a Christian can do, in the mind of many fundamentalists, is follow the Bible.
But here’s the deal. Christian fundamentalism is relatively new. In fact, historians pinpoint it to around 1920, at a time when science and faith in America began to collide. It caused a split between what became Christian modernists, or the more liberal segment of the faith, and fundamentalists who believed the Bible must be taken literally.
As I began to study the roots of Christianity itself, I discovered that the Bible, as we know it, came into existence some 500 years after Christ lived. Homosexuality, a word not coined until the late 1800s and not added to the Bible until 1946, was virtually ignored, until around 1,200 AD.
Since the inception of Christianity there have been disagreements about what books should be included in the Bible and, in fact, there are several Bibles, all under the “Christian faith” umbrella. Additionally, there are over 33,000 sects of Christianity. Evangelical Christianity is purely an American phenomenon, which began in the 1730s, evolving into a brand of Christianity that is oddly synonymous with the American Dream.
|Christians in the United States, particularly evangelical fundamentalist Christians, often represent their faith with a sense of entitlement.|
Christians in the United States, particularly evangelical fundamentalist Christians, often represent their faith with a sense of entitlement. Many feel they should not have to offer the same hospitality to the LGBT community as they do the rest of humanity. It is similar to what the black community experienced during the civil rights movement, much with an attitude also grounded in the fundamentalist Christian faith.
Fundamentalists talk about a clash of rights, as though granting equal human rights to the LGBT community will somehow nullify their own. However, to my knowledge, no fundamentalist has ever been denied services because he or she self-identifies as a Christian, which is a chosen behavior and belief system. No fundamentalist has ever been tracked down and killed in the streets for simply existing. No fundamentalist has been denied the right to marry the person he loves. No fundamentalist has been told she is mentally ill because of her feelings. No fundamentalist has been separated from a dying partner because he was the “wrong” gender. No fundamentalist has ever committed suicide because she couldn’t stop being a fundamentalist. No fundamentalist has ever been made to feel he was a second-class citizen just because he was born.
So, yes, I have an agenda. It’s to challenge the fundamentalist Christian community that their dogma and beliefs, based on highly suspect beginnings, are little more than thinly disguised discrimination. It’s to force them to look at the damage decades of mental, and sometimes physical abuse have caused families, for no purpose other than blind obedience to a belief system. It’s to challenge a view that God is more concerned with sheer obedience than inhumane behavior. It’s to give the self-righteous pause about looking down their noses at those who disagree with them. It’s to offer a valid, scientific explanation that all people are created equally, with natural variations, including gender and sexual orientation.
So when I write an article, post a controversial meme on social media, or speak out against religious dogma and discrimination, what I’m trying to say is look at the world from another point of view. Put down your Bible for a minute. Set aside what you think God is about. If God loved the entire world so much that He sent His only son to die for it, is He really more concerned about people perfectly understanding a book that no one has ever been able to agree on, more than simply loving people and treating them kindness, decency and dignity? That’s my agenda. I’m fairly confident that is His, too.
Photo – Abel Perez
Just yesterday, a friend pointed me to another person who had reached the limit in her own struggle to come to grips with her life and fundamentalist upbringing. I found it poignant and wanted to share it here.
I am Angry, by Dena Lynn
I am finding myself so, so, so very enraged tonight. I am angry … just seething with rage at the rape of my soul.
The system of religion (in my case, Christianity), that claimed to be the foundation of ALL Truth (& the ONLY Truth), told me that everything about me that makes me human is also that which makes me aberrant, evil, and unworthy … despised by the very Creator who made me.
That my body is sinful, and that’s why it must die; that my mind is corrupt, and that’s why I must. not. think; that my emotions are untrustworthy, and that’s why I must. not. feel; that my heart is deceitfully wicked, and that’s why I must never-ever, not ever, trust myself; that my motives are impure, and that’s why I must never make my own decisions; that my desires are evil, and that’s why I must never want anything, and if I get what I want, it MUST be sacrificed and taken away; that my personality is prideful, and that’s why I must repent of anything that makes me unique; that my talents and gifts are worthless, unless they’re being used in service to God, and with God getting all the credit; that everything about me is evil, and must be denounced, despised and confessed as utter worthlessness; that everything about me is wretched, and that is why I, like everyone else, had to be cast away from God, separated from the Source of All Life. Don’t bother trying to fathom how that would even be possible, just accept that I’m uber-evil, to my very core, period. It marinated me in shame.
BUT, that if I accept my depravity, and confess it (before God and man), and face that God “loves me so much,” that even though He hates me the way He made me, and even though somebody’s gotta shed some blood in order to pay for this … God chose to kill God to appease God …Jesus dying on the cross, to pay the price that all us evil humans deserve to pay for being the way we’re made, by God. And that’s the “good news.”
Oh, and there’s a catch. See, God loves me SO much, wants to be with me forever SO badly, that he gave me this gift … annnnnd … if I don’t accept this gift, if I don’t admit that I’m evil, and receive this offer of salvation/connection-back-to-god; if I don’t “love him back” that way, then he has no choice but to send me to hell, where I’ll be consciously tormented and tortured forever and ever, without end.
That, I was told, is “unconditional love.”
Oh really? If I were courted by a man who said, “I love you with all my heart, and I want to be with you forever, and I’ll give you everything, but if you don’t love me back, and accept my gifts, then I have no choice but to stalk you and hunt you down, and torture you and kill you,” I might acquiesce, but it would be out of fear. I couldn’t actually love under those conditions.
I bought into it. I did all that because the fear of the consequences was too strong and because everyone in my life who I loved, trusted, and was told I had to obey, wanted me to do so. And I didn’t want to risk their rejection…as well as God’s. Did I have a choice? Does a dependent child ever really have a choice? Does the adult whose entire tribe is comprised of those who – loudly, staunchly, adamantly – believe that, really have a choice? When it’s “acquiesce or be banished” is that really a choice?
It turns out that I had a choice. And it turns out that banishment was indeed the price to be paid. Eleven years ago, following a life changing experience – and experience trumps doctrine … but only every time – I asked for “truth at all cost.” Truth mattered that much to me. I knew it was the only thing that would give me the security I so desperately needed. I was willing to risk everything I once believed, for the sake of truth. It cost me plenty. I lost nearly everything.
Truth came in like a slow-motion avalanche, toppling sacred cows like dominoes: hell; judgement day, and the whole second-coming of Jesus; original sin;sin, period; the origins of Christianity; the “inerrancy” of the Bible, and that it’s “God’s Word to be obeyed and followed”; and finally, once I “real-eyes’d” that nothing can be “separated” from the Source of All Life and live, the very foundation of Christianity itself.
And so, without any sort of decision, I noticed that I shed it, like a garment that could no longer fit me. The concept of God got far larger, kinder, vaster, more loving, less male, more inclusive, less exclusive, less separated, more innate, less “out there” and more “in here,” less human-hating, and more human-integrating. So that even the word “God” no longer fit, being far too limiting for All That Is.
Sounds good, right? Sounds like I was let out of prison, and catapulted into wide-expansive freedom, right?
Here’s the deal. The very painful, very discouraging, very enraging deal. It’s one thing to get the girl out of religion. It’s another thing entirely to get the religion out of the girl.
Conditioning is tough to overcome. No question. It’s part of life for all of us. But when the conditioning is stamped and sealed with “This Is The Absolute Truth of The Very Being Who Created You,” when that conditioning goes to the core of who you ARE as a human, when that conditioning carries the Extreme Authority of God Almighty, that conditioning goes deep, and digs in its talons, and keeps showing up, no matter WHAT I now know and believe; no matter how much proof I’ve evidenced, no matter HOW many books, seminars, healing sessions, ayahuasca ceremonies, hypnotherapy sessions, mantra-recitations, affirmation-repeatings I’ve experienced. That conditioning acts as though it has the legal right to BE there – as if I signed a contract that I can’t find – and to reduce my life to a mere shadow of what I KNOW it’s meant to be!
I do not know ANYthing as insidiously damaging to the soul, than Christianity. Period. And if you didn’t experience it, if you were spared it, then celebrate it. But make no mistake, you don’t get it.
NO, I do NOT see the good in Christianity. I know and love many Christians, but I despise the system of Christianity. Just as I can love a slave, but utterly despise the system of Slavery. What makes Christianity even more insidious is that it claims to be the highest good; that it claims to be the ONLY truth.
I despise ANYthing that enslaves anyone and I am infuriated that no matter what I do – and I don’t know of anyone who has tried to get free any harder than I have – this thing keeps its grip on me. This thing continues to hold me in slavery AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO TO GET FREE!
I am angry!!!!!! SO angry!!! And, dammit, I will remain angry, I will feel this anger until it passes. And then I shall feel whatever comes next.
Please share your thoughts below.