When my faith clashed with my reality (Gay Edition Part I)

In addition to exploring intellectual issues I have with Christianity – whether Jesus claimed to be God, reliability of biblical sources, etc., I want to explore the events in my life that made me question my faith. Among these are LGBTQ people in my life, marriage and parenthood, sex and purity culture, and feelings/emotions in regards to religious experiences. This post is in regards to a couple of my gay friends – I’ll post more in the future about how LGBTQ people deeply impacted my faith given how big of a role it played.

James Davison Hunter, in his now classic Culture Wars,  notes of the American cultural conflicts:

The divisions of political consequence today are not theological and ecclesiastical in character but the result of differing worldviews. That is to say, they no longer revolve around specific doctrinal issues or style of practice and organization but around our most fundamental and cherished assumptions about how to order our lives–our own lives and our lives together in this society.

[…] It is the commitment to different and opposing bases of moral authority and the world views that derive from them that creates the deep cleavages between antagonists in the contemporary culture war. As we will see, this cleavage is so deep that it cuts across the old lines of conflict, making the distinctions that long divided Americans–those between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews–virtually irrelevant.

When I converted from (conservative) Evangelicalism to (conservative) Catholicism, there were very little cultural differences. Mind you, I realize that is an uniquely American experience that cannot be projected as the universal experience, but it was my experience nonetheless. But, what made my transition from Evangelical theology to Catholic doctrine so easy was that how we address the “issues” we face in our day-to-day lives in society is (within conservative America) the same. So, while my Sunday worship, prayer styles, religious aesthetics, etc. changed, I was still supposed to oppose abortion, egalitarian gender roles, and homosexuality. In sum, while my religious affiliation changed, I didn’t see it as functionally different.

All of this to say that both as an Evangelical and as a Catholic, gender and sexuality was always something I struggled to reconcile. Growing up Evangelical, I was taught the standard conservative Evangelical social dogmas on homosexuality – homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, many homosexuals have psychological issues stemming from a traumatic experience that causes them to feel gay, and gay marriage is a threat against societal stability. While I accepted these teachings by default, I never really thought about LGBTQ issues. I met LGBTQ people in passing here and there, and never thought one way or the other about them. Then, when I was around 16, one of my close friends from childhood came out to me. I was really surprised because he was a devout attendee of a Southern Baptist church, he hadn’t been sexually abused, he had girlfriends in the past, and all of the other things that surprise sheltered Evangelical children. But, he was my close friend and I knew him to be a good person, and I accepted him. I didn’t accept him in spite of his gayness, I accepted him as gay. A couple years later, my (then-Mormon) best friend came out to me, but this time I wasn’t shocked and just accepted it off the bat. My close relationship with my best friend was really hard for me to reconcile with my faith for years.

I continued to oppose same-sex marriage for quite a while. After converting to Catholicism, I was told that opposition to same-sex marriage is not negotiable and that voting for same-sex marriage is grounds for denial of communion. In spite of this, I felt that Catholicism was generally less homophobic than Evangelicalism given that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, although insisting that same-sex genital acts are necessarily disordered and sinful, states that same-sex attraction is natural and not inherently sinful. Although, I’ve had some pretty homophobic experiences with some of my fellow Catholics.

As LGBTQ issues became more and more prominent in society, I saw conservative Christians either softening their stance or doubling-down. As much as I wanted to avoid the subject completely, it was becoming a defining issue of our time. At the same time, my best friend began accepting his gayness after years of trying out denial, reform, and celibacy. And, I accepted him, not only as gay, but as living his life true to who he is. Although, at the same time I still “officially” held that it’s okay to be gay but not to have gay sex.

Then, in November 2012, I received my ballot and same-sex marriage was on the ballot. Of course, I heard what I was supposed to do about this on the Sundays leading up to the election. But, I had an “ah-ha” moment. I was agonizing over supporting my best friend, a real person, or an abstract idea. There was a real face to the LGBTQ community, and it was the face of my best friend, a person I know and love – a person who shares in the same human condition as me; wanting to love and be loved, navigating the difficult intricacies of this thing called life. Not to mention that my best friend has been there for me — he’s cried with me at my lowest lows and rejoiced with me at my highest highs. No theory or writing or teaching has ever done that for me. I could choose to continue to love him and fully accept him, real flesh and blood, for who he is, or continue to assert my fears and prejudices for the sake of an abstract principle. I couldn’t do both anymore.

Voting for same-sex marriage in my state was a turning point in my life. It was a day I chose love. I finally fully listened to and accepted my LGBTQ loved ones for who they are. And, this forced me to identify other areas of my life where fear and prejudice overrode love, a process that I’m only in the beginning stages of addressing. This is why homophobia is slowly eroding – as more and more people come out to their friends and family, more and more friends and family are faced with the reality that LGBTQ people are their children, siblings, friends, neighbors, etc – human beings who they know and love.

But, this opened up Pandora’s box – now all the tensions between my faith and my experiences and intellect were up for grabs.

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