Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Turning From My Faith: Homosexuality, Normalized

During my most devout years as a young adult – married, with young kids – I was active in LiveJournal which is a journaling/blogging community. I had a personal journal that “friends” could read & comment on (basically a password-protected blog) and I was also active in some LJ communities that were like blogs where everyone could post entries along a specific topic. For a few years, I was very active in the main, largest Christianity community there. I became friends with all types of Christians as well as some non-Christians, through that community.

One of my friends was a man I’m going to call Daniel. He had a gentle personality and would write long entries in the community about the love of God, questions he had. As time went on, he got more and more unorthodox in his entries and began referring to God as a woman or as gender neutral. His theology was clearly not in line with the theology of those of us in the “biblical inerrancy” club. I was “friends” with Daniel via our personal journals and in his entries he slowly began to reveal that he was transgender and working toward a lifestyle transition from man to woman. He’d been married for something like 20 years, had children that were nearly grown. The changes he made were devastating to his marriage, family and career. He began referring to himself with a woman’s name – I’ll use Maria.

There was a lot of division in our online Christianity community that centered around Daniel and his theology, his choices. He wasn’t the only person that promoted unorthodox beliefs in the community, but he seemed to be a magnet for those of us who believed otherwise. It was incredibly frustrating to see him say things that we considered heretical, and to see others lap it up. We felt he was leading those who were immature in their faith in the wrong direction. Additionally, when those on my side of the fence would post something in the community, we’d often have to go through a ton of debate about whether scripture could be trusted before we could get to the topic of the original post. After a while, a group of us decided to form our own community that laid the ground rules: “You gotta believe what we believe, foundationally at least, if you want to participate. No more arguing over the authority of scripture – people here believe in it, now let’s get down to some real issues.” We didn’t abandon the other community (well, not all of us) but many of us did spend less time there . . . and less time with Daniel. Daniel knew not to ask to join our special club.

I had a lot of frustration with Daniel about the way he interacted in the main community, at times it seemed he was intentionally poking at us, stirring up contention. I think that some of that frustration bled into my views of what he was going through with his gender issues. At some point, we stopped being “friends”. I remember trying to find out what was going on with him later, wondering if he was ok. I thought about how lonely and scared he was. I thought about everything that he gave up. He lived in a small, conservative community. He was willing to give up his reputation, his marriage, his children.

As the years have passed, I’ve thought about Daniel/Maria and I regret how unloving I was. How unforgiving and hard-hearted I was. I regret that I decided it was too difficult to watch someone being SO UNHOLY that I felt I had to cut off my relationship with them.

I now live and work in a much more liberal city. I work in a very liberal graduate school where Christians, especially those with ANY conservative beliefs, are the minority. I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to so many people across the LGBT spectrum. I’ve attended “difficult dialogues” where we discuss various issues related to those who identify as LGBT. I’ve listened to faculty and guest speakers talk about their clinical work with LGBT clients. I know of some of the non-profit organizations in Chicago that work with the LGBT community. I have regular, normal friendships with quite a few people who are LGBT. My online world has also expanded greatly in this respect. I’m in a degree program at a small, private, liberal arts school founded by a service & social justice-oriented Christian denomination. Through class, I’ve become friends with a married lesbian who is active in her church, a straight woman who advocates on behalf of LGBT individuals for reconciliation with the church and a gay man who left the church without ever looking back because of how he was mistreated. I know gay and lesbian pastors and ministers. I know of many Christian congregations that are “open and affirming.” I have gay friends in real life and online, who talk about their experiences and also talk about the same things as me: family, jobs, kids, celebrity crushes, health, etc.

Homosexuality has been normalized for me. For the first time in my life, when I meet a person who identifies as LGBT, that isn’t the biggest thing that stands out to me. It is a part of them, but who they are as a person is more evident. That wasn’t the case before. Even when I was friends with gay people in the past, we didn't talk about that part of their life much. I have to wonder - were they afraid to bring it up because they knew of my Christian beliefs?

Since moving to Chicago and becoming more exposed to homosexuals in all walks of life, I’ve been more honest about my beliefs and my struggles to reconcile how I feel vs. what I’ve been taught to believe. For the longest time I have advocated getting to know people who are unlike you in some way because separation is what allows you to see them as less human, as deserving of poor treatment. I mostly talk about this in terms of race, though. I've had to admit that my lack of relationships with homosexuals, especially as an adult, has greatly impacted my compassion, empathy and overall understanding of what they have experienced.

And you know what? Everyone has been so kind to me. The people who have spent however many years being judged treated me with care, even though I very likely offended them and certainly represented people who have hurt them.

Next: Racism, interracial marriage and homosexuality.


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