Hey…sorry for being so quiet over here. There’s kind of a gridlock of thoughts and emotions in my head, making it hard to get any of them out.
I’ve run into a problem with the next installment in the identity series. See, it’s supposed to be about how my gay identity got in the way of my embracing and integrating myself into the church, the Christian community. I spent years feeling super-isolated, like a stranger in a strange land, a dyke among fundies, and it was mostly my fault. I was always judging them, looking down on them, assuming they were bigots even when they weren’t, interpreting every little thing they said or did as uncharitably as possible–because I couldn’t/wouldn’t stop thinking about my gayness vs. their straightness. And my Christian walk became so much richer when I started seeing myself as one of them, and started seeing them as my brothers and sisters, embracing them, opening up to them, trusting them, loving them, etc. Realizing that straight conservative evangelicals are not the devil changed my life.
So I was writing about that. But Ron helped me realize there’s a huge problem here. I am confident that what I describe above is an accurate analysis of my own situation. But the fact is that a lot of gay/ssa people DO get thoroughly burned by the straight church, and it ISN’T their fault. Rejection, ignorance, hatred, fear, etc. So there are plenty of people out there who would be entirely within their rights to think me a Pollyanna, or an insensitive jerk, or both, if I just said “I think we all need to open up to the straight church and love them.” Sure it might have panned out well for me, but it backfires, a lot!
I feel I shouldn’t worry about it too much, because I’m clearly just telling my own story here. But at the same time, I’m no solipsist. If I say something here on this blog, it’s because I think it might meaningfully connect with someone else’s situation, however indirectly.
What makes it harder is that I don’t know the relative numbers of different kinds of churches. How unusual is my positive experience of the church? How common is the negative experience? How many ssa Christians are getting burned by trusting the straight church, and how many are hardening their hearts and closing themselves off from the church unnecessarily because of an assumption that the people around them are evil homophobes even when they’re not?
People sometimes tell me “Well you just got lucky in finding a good church.” Okay, except I’ve attended four churches since becoming a believer (because of moving, not because of church-hopping), so I’ve gotten lucky four times in a row. Granted, three of those churches were in the Northeast: New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. But I live in the Midwest now, so you can’t use the “enlightened liberal northeastern folk” excuse anymore. So you have to understand that from my perspective, I feel like I’ve been selling the straight church short all these years. Every time a Christian was nice to me, I was always like, “Oh, I guess they’re just an exception to the rule.” But here I am, almost nine years into my Christian life, and I have never been homophobically mistreated in real life by an evangelical Christian. (Of course on the internet all bets are off!) I have encountered some ignorance in the church, to be sure, but it wasn’t ill-intentioned, and when I took the ignorant ones aside and explained things to them, they responded fairly well. And I have never heard a homophobic sermon in an evangelical church that I attended. I have heard one sermon on homosexuality–in Massachusetts in the midst of the furor over impending gay marriage–but it was astonishingly irenic, and the pastor spoke powerfully about the importance of supporting/defending gay people’s ability to provide for and protect their families.
(In the interest of being fully honest about my church experience, I should note that I heard several homophobic sermons in the Catholic Church growing up. In my teens, even though I was an avowed atheist, I often went to Sunday Mass with my mom, to keep her company and also to tease her about the superstitious folly of religion and the backwardness of the church. And wow, this one priest did NOT like gays. His fiercest vitriol was saved for Sundays before St. Patrick’s Day, to accompany the annual kerfuffle over gay groups wanting to be part of the parade. Once he went off on the “sodomites” and “perverts” with such venom that my mom (who was no PFLAGer!) whispered to me, “Do you think we should get up and walk out?” I said no, even though I was touched that she was willing to sin mortally and defiantly to defend my honor, because it was so amusing to watch that sorry little man foaming at the mouth over my existence. It made me feel powerful.)
Anyhow, that’s the conundrum. How do I talk about my own experience in a way that doesn’t insult others? And what can I say to other homo-attracted Christians about embracing and loving the church (which I believe we are called to do!) that would be helpful and not likely to blow up in their faces? And what are they supposed to do if the straight church screws them over and treats them like dirt? What does brotherly love (on our part) look like then?