Sunday, July 23, 2006

Why Are Some of the Cruelest People Found in the House of God?

For so many people going to church provides a safe haven from the outside world. It provides a peaceful place to connect with God without feeling judged. It is a place to feel loved and cherished in spite of human frailties. It is a place that offers forgiveness, serenity, and hope for redemption -- unless you are gay, then in a surprisingly huge number of churches, never mind, there is no redemption for abominations.

As the mother of a gay son, I had to come face to face with the beast. My own Church’s stand on homosexuality was probably the most devastating part of learning my son was gay. According to my Church, the Catholic Church, my son is objectively disordered and intrinsically evil.

In the beginning, my biggest worry was knowing that if my Church’s stand on homosexuality was causing this much gut-wrenching turmoil for me, what on God’s green earth was it doing to my son? Well, it was devastating him too, as I found out when I read an essay he wrote for a Catholic high school class assignment titled Hell Bound:

It was not until I reached high school that I learned that I was going to hell for a sin that I did not understand, for a sin that I did not want to commit, and for a sin that I could not control. Being fourteen years old and totally believing that God wanted me to go to hell was very hard. I could not fathom how being gay warranted an eternity of pain and torture, as if this “curse” was not already enough torture.

It is both scary and painful to write about this subject; however, I feel that I need to. This aspect of me that I have kept hidden for so long is just now starting to emerge. I am scared. Hell, I am more than scared. Even now I have the urge to stop and throw this paper away, to write about something else, to pretend and forget. But this “fake” identity that I have lived is no longer working.

The impact on gay adolescents is exponentially more horrific. It is so profound and soul shattering that I can only shake my head and wonder how these men and women of the cloth can live with themselves. And that they do it in the name of God just takes my breath away.

What got me thinking about this were two different articles appearing in the Advocate right now. Two different people are telling stories that highlight the misery that comes with not fitting their Church’s very narrow and rigid template for normal. Both stories painfully highlight the cruelty that our gay children are experiencing in their uphill quests to be good Christians:

Bully Pulpit

There’s an old hymn that says, “This little light of mine / I’m going to let it shine / Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!” I used to sing this song in church when I was a little boy armed with the belief that the light inside of me was one that was worth shining. My voice was my direct connection to God, and I sang proudly in my Pentecostal church choir every week with the unwavering impression that God was a loving God and that I was one of his children. I was taught that God’s love was unconditional and that anyone could be the recipient of it—as long as they “believed in their hearts and spoke with their mouths.”

As early as the age of 7 I remember the adults in my life engaging in conversations behind closed doors, whispering to my mother about how “my light” might be shining just a little too brightly. For you see, my light was not a small simple light, it was opalescent—a rainbow of effulgent light whose colors were synonymous with sin. I didn't know why I felt sinful at the time; I just knew somewhere deep inside that I was. I prayed for deliverance. I prayed for a healing. I prayed for my light to shine an appropriate and subtle white: “Dear Lord, whatever is inside of me that’s not pleasing to you—take it out.” Then puberty hit, and I realized what all the fuss was about. The whispering and private conversations even became personal attacks from the pulpit. It seemed like not a single service could go by without some passive-aggressive minister or evangelist brandishing Leviticus 18:22 in my face. It became so toxic that I stopped wanting even to go to church since every time I was there I was either being told that I was an abomination and a disgrace or that AIDS was punishment for my homosexual urges. Something I didn't even have control over was causing an international plague. My light was dimming.

Read the whole story, it is heartbreaking.

The second story is written by a gay Catholic teen who was preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Here is a snippet:

Confirmed as a Solitary Christian

Excommunication may be the most violent word in the intricate vocabulary of Catholicism.

Although the Catholic Church has specific doctrine for the process and analysis of excommunication, some petty diocesan priests have bestowed upon themselves the responsibility of performing the deed, something I have myself experienced.

He goes on to say:

I have a solid memory of being told—by a white-collared, black-clad priest of about 30 years—that I was not welcome in the church because of my position on homosexuality. He stood keenly over me, forcing me to cower in the corner on a stark wooden chair. “This church does not welcome you,” he repeated to me in as flamboyant a voice as he could muster.

I have such a dark memory of eighth grade. I had been studying since the beginning of the school year to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church. I was stoked. This would officially confirm me into the church as an adult ready to take on the responsibilities of a Christian life.

He continues his story by telling us that he was publicly outed by the administration of the school he was attending. He painfully details the cruel fallout from that disclosure and then the ultimate cruelty of all, being barred from receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation:

There was no need for a ceremony. I did not need a sealed letter from the Vatican detailing its accounting of the reasons I was excommunicated from the church. No process, no ceremony, and surely no ritual was needed to tell me I was not welcome in the church served by generations of my ancestors. I had been excommunicated without need of documentation.

I was confirmed into my life as a solitary Christian. I maintained my dignity amid incessant judgment and false accusations from the religious community where I went to school.

He finishes his essay:

I still have not been given a justified explanation as to why I need to rebuke the person God created in order to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Again, read the whole story, it too is heartbreaking.


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