I regularly find myself in conversation with people who feel deeply conflicted about how to love and respond to LGBT people: conservative minsters whose hearts have softened towards LGBT people, but whose theology has not; college chaplains who are suddenly finding themselves flummoxed by trans, queer, and gay students sitting in their office, struggling with faith and sexuality; parents, friends, siblings of gay people who see the damage done by the church and don’t know how to stop perpetuating that damage.Continue reading “The 4 Steps of Standing in Solidarity with LGBT People”
Last night before going to bed, I found myself praying the Evening Office from the Book of Common Prayer. I love the book of Common Prayer — I love the poetry and the guiding, inner choreography of the liturgy. As I prayed last night I felt that warmth, presence, and silent awe I’ve felt my whole life when I enter sacred spaces — many would call it the presence of God. Sometime, when praying, I find myself speaking in tongues, a torrent of syllables pouring from me unbidden. It feels warm in my mouth, and it feels like something outside of myself speaking through me. I also still attend church (when I can), and I experience the love and presence of an external, invisible force.Continue reading “On Not Believing in God But Experiencing Him Anyway”
When I was in college, I had a harrowing experience: a friend of mine became demon possessed, and subsequently went through an exorcism officiated by a local minister. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, and reinforced my lifelong Christian belief in the supernatural.
Now, many years later, I have questions. What actually happened to my friend? Supernaturalist explanations now seem overly simplistic – was she mentally ill instead? And what about the rest of us who believed that she was possessed? Were we helping her, or abusing her? And what purpose does possession serve in human societies?
Joseph Laycock, an expert in the experience of spirit possession, new religious movements, and fringe spirituality, sits down with me to explore the history and causes of demon possession.
I don’t believe in God.
Nothing sends off fireworks in the brain for religious people quite like an admission of atheism. It’s scary, in my beloved religious community, to admit that I don’t believe in God. I’ve had some unexpectedly unpleasant conversations with friends — conversations that suddenly dipped into ferocious defensiveness, in which they assumed a lot about what I believe and don’t believe.
So, allow me to explain what I mean when I say I don’t believe in God.Continue reading “This is What I mean When I Say I Don’t Believe in God”
I hear it all the time: this protective need for some of my fellow Christians to “speak the truth in love” to their gay friends and family. In other words, while they say that they should “love and accept” those who are gay, they still feel a need to state that they think homosexuality is inherently sinful, and that gay people must commit themselves to chastity, denying homosexual sin.
I want to caution all Christians from doing this, because it has the potential to break vulnerable LGBT people. That might sound dramatic, overly policing, and hand-wringingly protective. After all, as one prominent religious pedant likes to say, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” If you believe that homosexuality is a sin, isn’t it your duty to let the world know? Regardless of how this “fact” makes others feel?
If you value the conversation and friendship of LGBT people you love; if you desire their best and want to see them flourish, unsolicited “speaking the truth in love” is dangerous.
I speak from my experience. When I was in college, the Truth in Love from my fellow Christians did indeed break me. To understand this, you must understand everything going on beneath the surface – everything weighing down on an LGBT person coming to terms with their lived experience. Here’s everything that was burdening me when I was in a small Christian college, and it certainly isn’t an exhaustive list:
- Almost every song, movie, and cultural reference deals with heterosexual experience in some way: sex, romance, marriage, hooking up, dating, etc. From my earlier memories I could never relate to any of the romantic narratives in our culture, good or bad, positive or negative. This enforced a deep, subtle current of feeling completely alien in this world. It reinforced the deep intuition that I was some kind of freak.
- More than that, my religion spoke in exclusively heterosexual terms. Adam and Eve, the image of man and woman as the union between Christ and the church. Straight people might be able to relate to all that, but I couldn’t. I therefore felt like an outsider to my beloved religion.
- The pressure to not have sex is already crushing for young people in the church. For gay people, it is doubly so. The hormonal rage to hookup and experiment made me feel like I was caught between two crushing walls – one being my sex drive, the other being the possibility that if I do have sex, I will be committing a grave, abominable sin that reflects the deep brokenness of our world.
- And if you retort that, “we are all equally broken, gay or straight,” it’s likely that they gay person in your life won’t buy it. I didn’t. In practice, gay people are more broken, more outside, more excluded, because the theology makes it so. When the Bible and Christian traditions speaks to your orientation only in terms of sin and disorder (unlike heterosexuality) the claim that “all are equally sinful” becomes a sort of gaslighting. Straight people have an out, gay people do not.
- When you are a young twenty-something, the prospect that you have three choices in life, each one depressing or damning, becomes a constant source of anxiety. 1. You can live a celibate life, which, when you are twenty, can be a terrifying thing to commit yourself to. This has less to do with sex, and more to do with the world of partnered intimacy sex is attached to. Looking into a life without partnered intimacy can be absolutely debilitating. 2. You can get married to someone of the opposite sex, which can frankly feel unfair to your partner, impossible, or miserable. Or, 3. You can be sexually active, in which case you must live with the cognitive dissonance that you are not living the way God desires you to live. That is incredibly debilitating for a young mind.
- When struggling with with one’s sexual or gender identity, your loving community and family can suddenly feel deeply unsafe. If you come to the “wrong” conclusion, does that mean they will reject you? If you have a sexual encounter and they find out will they berate you, sermonize you, tell you how sinful you are, or disapprove? And maybe you aren’t sure you have the emotional resources to be able to handle that rejection when it comes. This can also create a crippling anxiety for LGBT people.
- The destruction all the above anxieties have on other areas of life can create a downward spiral of more despair and anxiety. When I was in college I failed six classes and it took me 8 years to finally graduate. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to succeed, to get a job, to be productive and healthy. Every moment of the day was spent trying to resolve my sexual orientation. This left me feeling helpless, afraid for my future, and like a total fuckup.
Add on top of this a friend saying that, while they love you, they still think you are sinning and need to repent. For me, it was just too much to carry.
And yes, I did want to kill myself. I went to sleep every night fantasizing about shooting myself in the college chapel. When friends would try to lovingly tell me that they think homosexuality is sinful, I would cut myself horribly. My arms are still a latticework of scars. This wasn’t because I was unreasonably fragile, but because I was carrying so many invisible things already, and my friends, pastors, and mentors not giving me the margin to question and journey simply broke me.
The friends who saved my life were the ones who gave me space: who withheld their own opinions, except when asked, and chose to walk with me through the dark places. They told me again and again that God has the grace and space for me to question and work this all out for as long as I need to. They told me that no matter what conclusion I come to I am still loved by them and by God, that they respect the journey I’m on, and that they still see me as part of the Kingdom of God. These friends were the ones who sustained me, and might be the reason I’m still alive.
Please, withhold your truth. Give space to those who are struggling, and understand that Job’s friends were helpful only when they said nothing. We need spacious love, not claustrophobic condemnation.
I’ve been fairly vocal about my journey into nontheistic religion, and the response from fellow Christians has been a tremendous amount of anxiety. I’ve found myself in twitter disputes over faith, and I’ve had more awkward coffee dates with concerned Christians than I’d prefer.Continue reading “Nontheism and Anxiety”
My faith is evolving from a religion of revealed truth to a religion of language and symbol. The faith of my childhood and young adulthood – taking for granted that a personal God is real, that scripture is God breathed, and that there is an after life – is now effectively dead. I question all of that, now. I don’t know what happens after I die, but I think “nothing happens” is the most likely answer. My understanding of God has expanding into something so abstract and impersonal that I can hardly call it God at all, and the personal God of my old faith is long gone.
For the past year or so now, I’ve been caught in the strange, lonely, interstitial space of no longer believing in the existence of a personal God but still deeply valuing the role of religion in my life.
Looking back, I realize that I’ve been quietly grieving for my faith in a literal, personal God for most of my twenties, and that it was only in 2017 that I finally accepted the death of my personal God. It took a long time to grieve, to even to build up the courage to pull the covers back and peak into a world without God. God felt more fundamental than my skin, breath, and blood. To lose Him felt like the loss of everything.
Growing up gay in the conservative church, I believed I was barred from ever having a gay relationship and that, unless something truly miraculous happened which allowed me to marry a woman, I would spend the rest of my life celibate. This wasn’t because my Christian community overtly hated gay people – though many did. It wasn’t even because of the “clobber passages” – the handful of passages that allegedly directly mention homosexuality.
No. I and my Christian community believed I was barred from a gay relationship, first and foremost, because of gender complementarianism: the belief that the union of male and female within the covenant of marriage creates a morally exclusive spiritual state, and that such a state is the only valid and virtuous “container” for sexual activity.