Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Gay Vacation from Religion

Last week my brain was sent spinning with some research that suggests 51% of gay men walk away from Christianity when they come out of the closet.  Into the internet I flung the question “why do we change our minds?

Some interesting ideas have been presented in the comments, including the insight from “Sister Lacey UnderWhere” (whose name makes me giggle every time I think about it) that “44% of ALL males change their religious affiliations by the time they turn 24.”  I’m not sure of this stat’s original source, but I think most of us who grew up in the church would affirm that we watched many (44%?) of our fellow youth groupers walk away from church during early adulthood.  Other research suggests, however, that many of these young men and women who give up on God during college may return later in life.

Does the same hold true for LGBT men and women?  Do you think it’s common for LGBT folks who become disillusioned with God and/or the church during their coming out period to reconcile their sexuality with former spiritual beliefs later in life?

Obviously, the answers to these questions are as numerous and unique as the gay men and women to whom they apply.  Every LGBT man and woman has a unique story.  Each has their own reason for walking away from their faith.  But just as snowflakes are all different yet made of the same stuff, is there a theme each of these stories might share in common?

I’ve recently begun reading an insightful book by John McNeill, a very wise psychotherapist, priest, and gay man.  In “Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends,” McNeill says:

“For most of my clients the idea of God became so indentified with homophobic self-hatred that the only way they could deal with God was to take a vacation from religion while they dealt with the processes of coming out and accepting themselves.  Only after they had a secure, positive self-image were they able to make a critical return to the question of religious belief”  (McNeill, 1996, p.14).

According to McNeill, the common theme in these stories is that people believe both God and the church are homophobic.   It’s only after we step away and take a “vacation from religion” that we gain a bit of perspective and realize that God isn’t against us, and neither are all churches.

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Can Gay People Have God?

I just read some numbers that really bothered me. They might even keep me up tonight, wondering.

In a study of more than 500 gay men, a group of researchers in California found that 76% of they guys they interviewed claimed they grew up in Christian families, studying the Christian faith… as Christians.  Now adults, only 49% of these men say they stayed with it.  In other words, 142 guys decided they didn’t want to be Christians anymore.

Why did 51% of them change their minds?

Did they give up because every 30 seconds the average teenage boy thinks about sex… and every time the average closeted gay Christian teenage boy gets a closeted gay erection he wonders if God is going to send him to hell? That’s a lot to worry about every 30 seconds.

Did 51% of them turn away because they were tired of worrying?

Did they give up because every time they went to church – or every time their mother talked about religious things at the dinner table – a small voice inside their head neurotically whispered “I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay…. oh $hi+ what if I’m gay?!”  Even when the sermon or the conversation had nothing to do with homosexuality, did it make them whisper silent promises and beg to be forgiven for feelings they couldn’t control?

Did 51% of them get tired of the voices and give up?

  • Did they give up because they wanted to, or because they felt they had to?
  • Did the church hurt them so badly that they saw no option but to walk away?
  • Did they feel forced to choose between who they are and what they believe?
  • Was it easier for them to convince themselves that they didn’t love God than it was for them to convince themselves that they didn’t love other men?

These are hard questions with huge consequences.  Apparently, these men felt forced to choose to choose between two fundamental parts of who they are – their sexuality and their spirituality.  Of course, walking away from Christianity isn’t necessarily the same thing as walking away from God.  Deciding to abandon an organized religion isn’t the same thing as deciding to no longer live life as a spiritual person.

Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist (1875 – 1961), observed that gay men seem to be uniquely spiritual — a quality I see daily, even in men and women who don’t label themselves as Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.   Although many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people choose to nourish their spirits outside of organized religion, it still makes me sad that so many of us feel the need to walk away from our churches, mosques, and synagogues.

It makes me sad because I’m relatively certain God asks us to choose between sin and holiness, but I don’t think he asks us to choose between sex and spirit.  And I definitely don’t think he wants us to run away from home.

Reference

Kubicek, K., McDavitt, B., Carpineto, J., Weiss, G., Iverson, E. & Kipke, M. (2009). “God made me gay for a reason” Young men who have sex with men’s resilience in resolving internalized homophobia from religious sources. Journal of Adolescent Research, 24(5), 601-633.

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The Gay Life Cycle (how we get from the snail to the sheep)

I recently heard a fantastic episode of NPR’s “This American Life” that revealed the secret lives of parasites – those disgusting little bugs that sneak into our bodies, hide in our darkest corners, and eat away at our insides.

In the podcast, Carl Zimmer, author of “Parasite Rex,”  tells a fascinating story about the lancet fluke, a crafty little worm that lives in three separate hosts before it finds its final home.  If you’re not squeamish, I think you’ll enjoy the story.  Hopefully it’ll also speak to your experience as a LGBT person…

Act one:

According to Carl, the lancet fluke starts his life as a tiny egg resting peacefully in a pile of sheep poop with a few hundred other lancet fluke eggs.  As night falls, a hungry snail slowly passes the poop and decides she’s hungry. The snail isn’t picky.  She’ll eat anything.  During her midnight snack of sheep poop, the snail not only eats the fragrant, steaming excrement – she also accidentally gobbles up the lancet fluke eggs.  Days pass.  The eggs hatch.  Tiny lancet flukes start squirming around inside the snail.  The snail, not happy about hundreds of worms wiggling around inside her gut, gets a bellyache and spits the tiny worms out in a wad of sticky goo.  Classy.

Act two:

An ant marches through a field, following a tasty trail of the snail’s slime.  The sticky goo is one of the ant’s favorite treats on a hot day.  Imagine the ant’s delight when it finds a tasty wad of snail slime right in the middle of the trail!  The ant reasons that the snail must have left it there the night before.  The ant is so excited that it doesn’t even notice the tiny lancet fluke babies swimming in its supper.  It eats the goo, worms and all.

Act three:

The ant starts acting strangely. It’s not aware that one of the tiny lancet fluke babies it accidentally ate yesterday has worked their way through his body and is now clamped onto his nervous system.

From this strategic vantage point, the lancet fluke is able to control the ant like a puppet, telling it what to think and feel.

Inside the ant, the lancet fluke knows there are sheep in the field grazing on the tall grass nearby.  He also knows that he’s never going to get back inside one of those sheep if his host stays buried deep inside an ant hill.  And so, the lancet flute tells the ant it wants to climb.  Obeying the lancet fluke’s every command, the ant leaves its nest and climbs to the top of a tall blade of grass.

Sitting on top of the tall grass, the ant can see a herd of woolly sheep grazing in the distance.  One of the sheep wanders closer.  Before the ant can retreat, the sheep lowers its head, eats the grass, and chews the ant into small, mushy bits.

The lancet fluke survives both the chewing and the swallowing.  Finally free of the snail and the ant, the lancet fluke swims happily in the sheep’s stomach, ready to lay her eggs and restart the cycle.

The Point…

The lancet fluke lives in a pile of poop so he can endure the snail so he can find an ant who will eventually help him get back into a sheep.  He lives a complicated life.

Can you relate?

As LGBT people who believe (or are trying to believe) in God, many of us spend some time in the belly of the snail.  We go thorough so many stages – so many changes – during our journey.  It’s not easy to move from the snail to the sheep – to move from fear and doubt to self-acceptance and celebration.

We seek God.  We separate from God.  We question God.  We thank God. We rebel against God.  We doubt God.  We fear God.  We hate God. We cry out to God.  We worship God.

We live many different (and complicated) lives.  Our identity, ideas, and beliefs are constantly changing… growing to accommodate our experience… stretching according to our stage in life.

What I believed about my sexuality when I was a zealous Christian teenager was vastly different than what I believe now that I’ve gained a few years of faith.  What I once feared, I now embrace.  The snail has given way to the ant.

The upheaval I experienced when I “came out” cleared away some of my less-grounded and unexamined ideas about God.  The demolition was painful, but it also cleared space for more mature beliefs.  The ant is leading me to the sheep.

It’s comforting to know that this lancet fluke journey of ours is leading somewhere;  that every stage – no matter how frustrating, frightening, or confusing – is simply a stop on the twisted way back home.

Like the lancet fluke making his way through a complicated life cycle, it almost seems as if Christ is orchestrating something…  Bringing us back…  Reuniting us with God…  Moving us through the progressive system of salvation.

Sound familiar?

Through Christ God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

He’s reconciling everything to himself.

Even us.

He’s making peace with everything in heaven and on earth.

Even us.

This whole journey – even the crappy parts – is moving us toward redemption.

Kind’a makes the snail and the ant easier to endure, doesn’t it?

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Summer Camp for LGBT Christian Kids

I know it’s a little early (or a little late) for my regular Tuesday update, but…

I just read a fantastic article about Rev. Patty Fox, a minister who wanted the LGBT youth at her church to have a summer camp experience designed specifically for them.  Next week she’ll take a group of queer kids into the woods for four days of summer camp fun…

The church’s handful of gay teens wanted to have a summer camp of their own where they could identify with each other and help foster spirituality, Fox said.

“It was the first time I’d ever seen a Christian-based camp program geared to gay and lesbian teens,” the pastor said. “They asked, ‘Why can’t we do this?’ I decided there was not reason not to.”

As someone who’s spent literally thousands of hours playing, speaking, swimming, hiking, laughing, teaching, and worshiping with kids at camp, this makes me incredibly happy.

Pray for Patty and her kids as they get ready for camp next week…

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“I Preached Against Homosexuality, But I Was Wrong”

When you’re a gay Christian who has struggled… and studied… and worked to reconcile what he feels with what he believes and you see a link titled I Preached Against Homosexuality, But I Was Wrong… you click it.  (I did.  You should, too.)

After all, isn’t that short sentence – “I was wrong” – one of the biggest hurdles gay people of faith have to jump over?

  • I believed God was ashamed of me… but I was wrong.
  • I believed scripture condemned me… but I was wrong.
  • I believed hiding was my only option… but I was wrong.

(As you know, it takes a lot of faith to believe something new.  It takes a lot of courage to act on those beliefs – to allow yourself to become something different than you were before.)

And isn’t that same sentence – “I was wrong” – an equally high hurdle for many straight preachers and teachers as they redefine their views of how God feels about homosexuals?

  • I preached what I thought was truth… but I was wrong.
  • I believed I was building the church… but I was wrong.
  • I thought I understood so many things… but I was wrong.

(It also takes a lot of faith for these brothers and sisters to believe something new.  It takes a lot of courage for them to act on those beliefs – to allow themselves to become something different than they were before.)

Isn’t “I was wrong” the message of conversion our churches preach every week? (You can be something different than you were before.)  Isn’t this the faith our faith requires?  (Trust me, God says, I love you with an everlasting love.)  Isn’t this the discipleship our ministers demand? (Like a student who moves from addition to algebra, you should always be growing into new ideas.)

Murray Richmond was a Presbyterian minister who preached against homosexuality… until he changed his mind.  This article is the story of his conversion from condemning the gay community to… well, discipleship.

If you’re a Christian and you’re conflicted because you’re attracted to people with genitals like yours, this article is a must read.  “I was wrong” will give you hope.

If you’re a Christian and you’re trying to decide how to relate to gay people, this article is a must read.  “I was wrong” will give you perspective.

If you’re gay and you’re curious (or cynical or skeptical) about Christians and the ridiculous (or hurtful or hateful) things they sometimes say, this article is a must read.  “I was wrong” may help restore your faith.

Click here to read Murray Richmond’s article “I Preached Against Homosexuality, But I Was Wrong” here.

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