Thursday, May 6, 2010

Struggling in an ill-fitting suit

In response to my post yesterday about the conundrum many church people face over gays my friend and debate partner wrote:

My, this is hard work. Logic so intense, it makes my head hurt. I feel very sympathetic. Must the relationship with God always be such a struggle? Must one's religion always bind, like a horribly fit suit of clothes? Are you not as a gay man always fighting yourself in this context? Is it not fundamentally about changing things (the religions dictates of others) that you can never control?

Perhaps spiritual life should begin with a welcoming religious context, where the individual can experience his/her inherent human dignity. I see neither pride nor arrogance in that, only self-confidence and a commitment to survival. Perhaps one should want to be in contact with one's religion rather than tortured by it.

There was a period after I realized I am gay (which is now about a half a lifetime ago) I struggled with being gay v. being Christian. I don't remember it lasting all that long, with the conclusion that God still loves me and the church, at least on this issue, doesn't speak for God. It took a while to find books that supported my personal understanding. Those books usually explain the clobber verses, those seven tiny verses that supposedly "prove" God hates gays. The best of the lot is What the Bible Says -- and Doesn't Say -- about Homosexuality written by Mel White and distributed by Soulforce.

That issue was disposed of quickly for a number of reasons. First, I was not brought up in a fundamentalist denomination. The United Methodist Church has very little doctrine that it demands I believe. I am allowed to make up my own mind about a lot of issues (though the denomination certainly has a viewpoint it recommends).

Second, I had already decided that stories, such as Creation, that get Fundies all riled up are mighty fine allegories, but don't (and are not supposed to) explain what actually happened. To put it another way, I had already accepted the liberal viewpoint of the Bible, which I said yesterday included the people most likely to accept gays.

Third, while I was growing up (and pretty much since) homosexuality was not preached from the pulpit and not a topic of discussion in youth groups. While silence does taint the issue with a bit of shame, it is a lot better than shouted condemnation. However, it was that silence that kept me from figuring out I am gay until well after college.

All that means I had a head start on the conundrum compared to a lot of Christian gay kids. The conundrum of reconciling my faith and my orientation wasn't that much of a struggle. What has been the struggle is getting the rest of the denomination (and all of Christianity) to agree with me.

So, back you the questions posed above.

There are aspects of my being that should not struggle against my religion, my orientation being one of them. I agree that acceptance of me (or anyone) by the religious community should not be a struggle. Whoever walks through our church doors should, of course, be welcomed in a way that upholds their dignity. However, my religion teaches me to love others, even those far different from me, and it is a struggle to learn how to overcome where that conflicts with my personal comfort zone. I'm far better at that now than I was decades ago. My current struggle is to get the rest of my congregation to see that acceptance of others far different from themselves is an advantage for our church. That hasn't been going well.

So, no, my faith does not bind like an ill-fitting suit. I'm not caught in a fight between my orientation and my faith, I am not tortured by it. I do struggle with God, but not over being gay.

Alas, many gay people do struggle with a faith that binds them. My post yesterday is another step in understanding why that still happens.

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