My father is a Baptist pastor and my mother is a Baptist pastor's wife. I think, when most people hear the word "Baptist" they think Southern Baptist and imagine a lot of preaching about God's wrath and fire and hell and all of that jazz. I can't speak as to the accuracy of that perception, having never set foot in a Southern Baptist church (what with living in Ontario, Canada and all…). I can't even say if that's true of other Baptist denominations that are closer to home. What I can say is that I've never once heard my father stand in the pulpit and preach against any one particular kind of sin.
While my family belonged to a legalistic congregation when I was a baby - my sister often complains that she wasn't even allowed to watch Care Bears as a child because of all the magic - they eventually left that church and I have little to no memory of that time. My impression of church growing up was not that it was restrictive - only that it was old. (Actually, that perception has only just started to change for me). It seemed that my younger brother and I were always the youngest people in the church, so while my older siblings did have the "youth group" experience as teens, I did not. The congregations we were part of, were made up of mostly elderly believers. The music was fairy traditional and sung out of dusty hymnals. Church was conservative. But as I said before, there were no loud messages of discrimination being preached. So since I didn't have any contact with any gay people and wasn't hearing about it in the church, I did not understand the concept of "homosexuality". In fact, the first time I heard (or rather read) the words "gay" or "queer" was in The Chronicles of Narnia. As a child, I was (and still am) a huge fan of Narnia. The books were published in the 1950s. So as far as I knew, "gay" just meant happy and "queer" only meant strange. But as I did, start to understand the concept of someone being gay, I became more and more aware of little comments being made here and there about "those people" and "abominations" and "sinful natures". But that didn't bother me. I was told the evidence was in the Bible. That was good enough for me. And besides, it's not like it had anything to do with me.
I was a model teenager. Oh, I fought with my siblings and with my parents like any other teen, but every other area of my life was pretty tame. I was top of my class in school, I worked a part-time job after school to save up for university, and I had a stable group of friends who took school as seriously as I did. I didn't drink. I didn't smoke. I didn't go to parties. I didn't date. Actually, let's expand a bit on that last point. It's true, I didn't date. I always told myself that was because I was living in a small town and the guys in it just didn't interest me. I should probably also explain that I've always been overweight and had kind of intense self-esteem issues. So another reason why it didn't bother me that I had no interest in guys was that I never thought anyone could have any interest in me. But surely when I left for university, I'd become more interested in boys, right? Right? The thought that I could be gay occurred once in a while but was always quickly dismissed as being impossible.
I think - or at least hope - that most Christians remain blissfully unaware of the ugliness that can exist in the politics that go on behind the scenes in a church. But when you're a pastor's kid, you definitely start to notice it. There are always "troublemakers" - even if it's just a member or two. I have no problem with believers having differences of opinion within the church but when it turns to personal attacks and bullying, it's gone too far. And when you're the pastor's kid, it's like there's a giant spotlight on you whenever you're in the church because if a minister can't keep his own kids in the faith, how could he do the same with his congregation? Let alone bring new people in. So it was always in the back of my mind that the people who decide whether my dad keeps his job or not were watching me almost as much as they were watching him. It was a lot of pressure. While I was in high school, the church that my father was working at became a toxic environment. Good Christian families that were made up of people I genuinely liked were scared away to new, younger churches until eventually it felt like Dad was trying to keep afloat a sinking ship full of people who wanted it to sink. I was witnessing the death of a church. People who had once befriended me as the pastor's daughter, were now sending my father into a deep depression by making his job miserable. I felt manipulated. And lied to. And disillusioned. And hurt. And angry.
By the time I left for university, church wasn't mandatory anymore because it wasn't a healthy place for me or my siblings to be. I rarely went. After about a week away at school, I received a phone call from my mother saying that my father was taking an extended sick leave because of his depression. I mistook the church and self-proclaimed "Christians" for the love of Christ. I didn't just take a step back from the church, I took a step back from my faith. I still believed in God and would periodically catch myself praying (normally while I was anxiously waiting for an exam to start). But I definitely had some very serious doubts.
During my first year of university, I began seriously questioning my sexuality. But I quickly decided that at worst, I was bisexual, in which case I would just ignore "the gay side" and focus on any straight tendencies I might have. By the time second year rolled around, I realized that that plan wasn't going to work since there were no "straight tendencies" to exaggerate. And as I slowly came to terms with that, I started to feel like I was going to be struck by lightning any time I walked into a church (which at that point was only for Christmas and Easter). I decided that at some point I was just going to have to pick one or the other: Christian or gay? Gay or Christian?
My second year of university was a hard one for me. I was having problems with school (which is something I had never experienced before). I lost 20 pounds that year - the only time I've ever lost weight when I was upset. The entire winter semester I didn't go to class. I stayed in bed all day, everyday. And the more that I didn't go to school, the more I didn't want to. I felt completely lethargic and hated myself for it. I kept beating myself up for what I thought was just long-term laziness. I avoided talking to anyone: I hid in my room with the lights off whenever my housemates were home and dodged phone calls from my friends and family back home. My life became a giant cluster of tiny lies about what my typical day looked like. I was utterly and completely depressed. It was brought on mostly by school but the conflict I was feeling between my sexuality and my faith (and the possible repercussions when my family eventually found out) certainly didn't help. After one particularly painful visit home during which I watched my sister and parents get in an argument about other religions and lifestyles (the LGBT community was never mentioned, but every word spoken by parents felt like it was condemning me), I broke down and "came out" to my roommate. I use quotations because all I really said was "I'm not sure…" even though a week earlier, I was sure. During the same conversation, she told me that she's bisexual (something that I had been suspecting for months). And no, before you ask, there have never been any sort of romantic feelings between the two of us (other people I've come out to always end up thinking that).
Third year was pretty good for me. I got back on track with school. I had someone to talk to about my sexuality (but not my faith - she's a firm atheist. It's as much a religion to her as Christianity is to me). I was going to class. I was eating again (albeit unhealthily - I quickly gained back those 20 pounds). And I began to just not care whether or not my sexuality was a sin. I knew I was gay. I had very serious doubts about Christianity. And if I had to pick either Christianity or homosexuality, I was going to pick the one I was more sure about. By the end of that year, I had come out "officially" to my roommate and to my sister and my best friend back home.
Fourth year started off pretty well the same. In addition, my dad started working again (which was a huge relief). My siblings and I avoided any conversation with my parents about their faith and after a while they started to let us. But things quickly went downhill. I started struggling with school again. I slept all day and avoided contact with other people as much as possible. The only difference between this depression and my previous one was that this time I ate. Within four months, I gained another 20 pounds. I was wreck. There was no one part of myself that I was proud of. My academic career was in shambles. I was gay and therefore bound to be a disappointment to my parents. And my issues with my body were just… beyond anything I'd ever experienced before.
While all of my friends were graduating, I had to come home and confess to my parents that not only would I not be graduating as planned, I would have to take a mandatory year off and then apply for reconsideration to be let back into my program. I came clean about all of my emotional struggles with school (but didn't and still haven't breathed a word to them about being a lesbian).
I've been living at home since May. My parents were more supportive than I had even let myself imagine they could ever be. More than anything, they were disappointed that I hadn't come to them with my problems and sought out help. They were shocked by how much effort I'd been putting into lying about how school was going. And once I could stop lying about it, I began to realize how draining a process that had actually been. While I was in it, I thought everything was fine. I had no idea how wrong I was. They immediately got me a doctor's appointment and convinced me to join their gym and get a personal trainer. After having lost 50 pounds (only 15 to 20 left to go!), I truly believe that this time off has been the best possible thing that could have happened for me.
Even though I was home though, I still completely avoided any kind of conversation with my parents about Christianity. I don't attend church with them and I tune them out when they start talking about church.
So how did I get here?
At the end of January, I kind of got caught up watching homophobic videos on Youtube. You know how you can be watching one video and then all of a sudden you find yourself on a whole tangent that you weren't expecting and several hours have gone by? Yeah. That happened. And a kind of interesting thing happened: I got angry. I wasn't offended by their beliefs (I like to consider myself fairly open-minded. I have no problems with people who honestly believe that homosexuality is a sin. I do have issues with people who think that it's the worst sin aside from possibly murder and rape. I have issues with people who would use their beliefs as a means for excluding people from the church.) but I was just irritated by the way they were presenting them. Specifically what set me off was a line in a commercial that was said by a little girl: "Geez, Mom. Adam and Eve? That's so yesterday. What about Anna and Eve?" Two things immediately popped into my head: First was something along the lines of, "Oh come on! It's Adam and Steve! At least get the line right!" And the second thing was: "Allowing gay people the right to marry in the United States doesn't change a story that's thousands of years old! No one would say that!"
So I got angry and all of a sudden was experiencing an intense desire to fight back. And the only way that I knew to do that, was to first become more familiar with the material. I'll go ahead and skip the half hour when I couldn't find my Bible and jump straight to…
I scoured the internet for possible arguments against the six clobber verses. And honestly, I wasn't really a fan of much of what I found. It seemed to me that most people were a little too good at completely ripping them apart. And that didn't quite sit right with me. One of the biggest things that was drilled into my head as a child was that you can't pick and choose which parts of the Bible you want to agree with. So for me, watching people systematically rip apart 6 parts of the Bible made me wonder what they would do with the rest of it. And I knew that if it didn't sit right with me, there's no way it would fly with my parents (and let's be honest: I was researching it so that I could use it with my parents in the future). But then eventually I stumbled upon this (It was really helpful for me, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling with reconciling their sexuality with those "clobber passages".) And instead of being cold and historically based, it was more Biblically based: most of her counter-arguments are just references to other verses of the Bible.
The more that I read on the subject, the more that I wanted to read on the subject. Or rather hear. So I went on iTunes and started to look for a gay-affirming Christian podcast. There were several hit-and-misses (specifically one that took a gay-affirming sermon and then tried to discredit it point for point and claimed that celibacy was not a valid alternative for a homosexual - instead a homosexual should enter a heterosexual marriage. That one made me all kinds of irritated.) But eventually, instead of finding a good gay-affirming sermon, I found a good sermon (by a big church in New Jersey called Liquid that streams all of its services online) that preached about acceptance of everyone, even if you don't agree with them. Mostly, I loved the whole thing, until right at the end where it seemed to take a "it's okay if you're gay; just don't act on it" stance. And while I disagree with that particular opinion, I loved so much of the rest of his message about how our job is just to love one another and how God has no hierarchy of sins that says that homosexuality is the worst thing in the world. And honestly, it reminded me of a younger, more exciting, bigger, and slightly more liberal version of the kind of church that I grew up in. His preaching style is very similar to my father's (a style I've always described as being like English class - presenting a certain piece of Scripture and then analyzing it to see what we can learn from it). So I started "attending" that church. And slowly, but surely have found myself embracing my faith again.
I'm still pretty skeptical sometimes. Sometimes I think of the Bible as being just a giant collection of really interesting fairy tales (with a good moral too) but not as being real. Other times I'm more certain of the existence of God.
I've researched gay-affirming churches in my area, but I'm living in a small town where there are none. I've been keeping an eye on one near my university though, so I'm looking forward to checking it out in September. Right now though, I'm mostly content anonymously watching services on the internet and reading blogs by gay Christians. But I've started to want to be able to actually discuss some of these things with other people. I've mentioned these new developments in my spiritual life in e-mails to the roommate I mentioned before and while she listens and offers her own opinions, she's so atheist that she can't really understand.
So if there's anyone out there reading this (and congratulations on making it all the way to the end...) I'd love to hear your story.