I grew up in the church. My granddad was a minister and religion was a big part of our lives. That was, at least, until my parents got divorced and my mom moved in with her first girlfriend when I was 8 and my brother was 5.
That’s right. My granddad was a minister and my mom was a lesbian.
Family dinners were a bit awkward for a while there, as you might imagine. But my grandparents loved my mother, and they eventually found a way to accept her and her lifestyle. The rest of the church, however, wasn’t nearly as quick to open their arms.
I still remember the awful things said to my brother and I. This was the early 90s; things were changing, but not nearly as much as they have today. Tolerance was a rarity. The children were the worst, but the things they said were usually just repetitions of what they had heard their parents whispering. I was told that my brother and I were both going to get AIDS from our mom, despite the fact that she was not sick. That she was going to get a sex change and become a man, because that was what all lesbians really wanted. And that all of us were doomed to hell because of her decisions.
Friends I had known my entire life were forbidden to play with me – their parents deciding I couldn’t possibly be a good influence because of who my mother loved.
I was fiercely protective of my mother during that time. The only physical fights I’ve ever gotten into were in her honor. Truthfully, she didn’t totally deserve it. She kind of went off the rails during those years, and eventually my dad took full custody of me. After that, my mom wasn’t around. She didn’t see how much I struggled to stand up for something she had never bothered to fully explain to me.
My understanding of her sexuality revolved around a single conversation. One where I said, “Hey mom, the kids at school are saying you’re a lesbian.” And she said, “So what if I am?” before walking away and leaving me to stand all alone in the middle of a mall food court.
I was 9.
So no, she wasn’t a great mother. And she didn’t handle this hugely transitory period well at all. Further, she’s not a part of my life today, and as an adult, I don’t yearn for her to be. But I have sympathy for what she went through. For what it must have meant to grow up in a church that drilled into her head that homosexuality was wrong, while always knowing this was a piece of her. I can see how that could have broken someone. And it has always created a sour taste in my mouth regarding organized religion.
Still, I have faith. I believe. I have read the Bible cover to cover and explored my relationship with religion pretty deeply over the years. I talk to God. I plead with Him sometimes. And I hope to raise my daughter with the same faith I have always valued.
I just don’t know if I can do that in a church setting.
I’ve found various church parishes over the years, walking back through those doors like a chubby girl back at the gym after years spent on the couch. I always start back strong, infused by this spirit that seems to come with worshipping in public. I’m always glad to be there, always happy to be surrounded by other believers.
But inevitably, something always happens to push me away. Some form of judgment or intolerance that I just can’t stomach ignoring.
I have researched homosexuality and religion a lot since my youth. One of my favorite documentaries is For the Bible Tells Me So, an in-depth look at what the Bible actually says about homosexuality, and how those passages have been twisted over the years to serve the purposes of those who want to worship with hate in their hearts. I am confident at this point in my life that God does not make mistakes, that people are born with a spectrum of sexuality already determined for them, and that it is not anyone else’s place to judge or question.
Yet it remains an issue, for whatever reason, that many people of faith still think they should be able to admonish.
I look at my daughter now, and there are days when I really would like to raise her in the church. I would like her to be around other people of faith, to grow up with God in her heart, and to reap the benefits of feeling safe and welcomed within a church setting.
But I don’t want her to grow up around the judgment I have, conversely, always felt runs rampant throughout church settings.
I’ve come to the conclusion that faith is personal, and that people are fallible. You put that many people into one room and expect them to share the same interpretations of texts written centuries ago … things are bound to get convoluted.
Faith isn’t flawed. Religion is.
So much has changed in the last 20 years, but a lot hasn’t. The biggest outcries against homosexuality and gay marriage continue to be in the name of religion. For that matter, so are the origins of most of our wars. And there is always an underlying ignorance there – a need on behalf of these people to not only make homosexuality a sin, but to somehow make it a sin worthy of more attention than any of the others they commit on a daily basis. There are comparisons between homosexuality and beastiality, and allegations that homosexuals don’t repent – but repent for what? For who they are? For who they love?
I’d rather see these people making such outrageous claims for repentance start doing a little repenting themselves. For their judgment. For their hate. For their own hypocrisy.
You may be starting to see why I may not always be the best person to have in a church setting.
I struggle, because I have some good memories as well. Church retreats. Church camps. Talking about Jesus in the corner with a boy I liked in 7th grade. Even more recently, I have found a kinship with certain people within the church parishes I have visited. People with similar views, or more importantly, with a desire to simply preach with love instead of hate.
The problem is, again, that people are fallible. And no matter how great a parish is, there will always be a few bad apples spreading their intolerance among the pews.
So do I protect my daughter from that, keeping her away from the church setting and monitoring her religious upbringing myself instead? Do I whisper in her ear every time an ignorant relative or acquaintance says something off color in the name of religion, to remind her that they don’t really know what true faith is about? Or do I accept the good with the bad, exposing her to all of it, and teach her that faith isn’t necessarily about what others tell you to believe?
I wish there was a way to expose my girl to the amazing benefits of organized religion without allowing the judgment and hate to corrupt her.
Yet I know that it is never so simple. That I will always be battling against the tides, hoping to raise her with faith, yet somehow away from the intolerance that organized religion tends to walk hand and hand with.More On