Stained: My Relationship With Religion
A note: since religion is a very sensitive topic, I want to make it clear to the reader that this post is entirely about me and my experiences. I am not claiming to speak for the entire LGBTQ community, nor am I condemning the entire religious community. This is my journey.
My surroundings are objectively beautiful: the carpet is a deep, muted red. It runs the length of the room, bisecting the orderly rows of light wood pews that are lined up like sentries on either side of it. The walls are a cold stone. The windows are made of kaleidoscopic stained glass, which transforms the sunlight into green and blue puddles that shimmer on my hands when I rifle through the program I am holding.
I am at church, but it feels like a closet.
I don’t mean the closet in your bedroom - the one filled with clothes you haven’t worn in years but can’t make yourself get rid of. I mean the metaphorical closet - the place where queer people hide to keep ourselves safe from a world that often seeks to harm us.
Churches are not inherently dangerous places. In fact, for many, churches feel like the safest place they could be. It’s a place for worship, for community, for love. It’s a place that feels like home.
But I have never been to a church that feels like home.
I was raised as a passive member of the religious community. My parents weren’t diehard believers, but they took us to church more Sundays than not. I went to Vacation Bible School during the summers and youth group during the week. I even took the classes required to be “confirmed” as an adult member of the church at the end of 8th grade.
But I was playing a part. I wasn’t a believer, no matter how badly I wanted to be.
As a kid, both religion and sexuality are topics too vast to understand. You grasp bits and pieces of both, but you are never able to see the full picture.
That’s what church was like for me: a puzzle with many missing pieces. I didn’t understand how God was supposedly this kind man in the sky who would take care of us if we just believed in him, yet people who believed in him died every single day, sometimes too young and sometimes too violently. I didn’t understand how my God could exist at the same time as so many other people’s Gods, when their Gods were different than mine and supposedly just as real as mine was. I didn’t understand how the magical events in the Bible were able to trump the laws of science and nature I was learning in school.
And, most importantly, I didn’t understand how people who preach love and acceptance were capable of so much hate.
Just like religion, my sexuality was a puzzle I couldn't solve. I didn’t know what being gay was in my younger years, but I began to realize I was different. I felt things for boys that I was constantly told I was only supposed to feel for girls. No one ever told me I had another option, so this left me feeling broken.
This brokeness was exaggerated at church. Every story, every illustration, every book and sermon and lesson showed only men who loved women or women who loved men. I was told that God made me perfect in his image, but my image was nowhere to be found. I didn’t see myself in anything. I began to believe that my existence was a mistake - that God messed up the recipe on me and regretted not throwing me out.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that the lack of acceptance I felt surrounding my queerness was intentional.
Religion has certainly evolved. There are many churches that accept LGBTQ people, and even some churches created specifically by and for our community. Faith is important to some in our community, and I respect that.
But organized religion, as a whole, is the root of the hatred directed toward members of the LGBTQ community. It is religion that teaches marriage between man and woman. It is religion that teaches the sin of same-sex attraction. It is religion that teaches man being man and woman being woman, with no room for anything in between.
Sure, people might be able to learn this type of hate on their own. But I have rarely - if ever - seen someone who is homophobic or transphobic who was not driven by a religious belief that they were right and the victim’s existence was wrong.
Here is how that manifests: all the laws that seek to strip LGBTQ people of our rights have religious motivations. In the 1980s, the AIDS virus was praised by the President of the United States as an act of God that was wiping away the sinners who lied with the same sex, leading to a lack of research and treatment and infinitely more LGBTQ deaths than was necessary. We can be fired from our jobs or refused service in our communities because of a religious belief that our existence isn’t moral.
Religion seeks to keep the powerful in power and quench anyone who doesn't fit the mold.
Individual people who believe in a higher power can be loving, accepting, and good. But I cannot move past the fact that organized religion is the root of all the hatred I have experienced regarding my sexuality, and the hatred I have learned about in history or read about in the news toward others.
It is hard - nearly impossible - for me to put that aside in order to sit in a pew and go through the motions of worship. Now, when the glimmering, multi-colored pools of sunlight filtering through stained glass dance on my fingertips, I am simply reminded by how stained the LGBTQ community has been by organized religion.
There was a time when I went through the motions, either because I was too young to have a choice, or later because I wanted to make my family happy. But I can’t do it anymore.
I can no longer put my queerness in a box and tuck it high on a shelf for 90 minutes in order to feign polite belief in a religion that has bred so much pain and difficulty for the LGBTQ community. I can no longer put my identity aside so as not to offend any members of the congregation who might be uncomfortable if I show my queerness too strongly in their house of worship.
And I can no longer lie to myself.
I embarked on a long journey to get to the point I have reached today. It was very difficult for me to accept myself, and the workings of the church made that process infinitely harder. It is triggering for me to sit through a church service because it reminds me of a long period of time in which I hated myself because of what I was taught.
So, to my friends and family who still talk to me about religion and try to get me to attend services: please respect my journey, just as I respect yours. I would never ask you to stop being religious for me, so please do not ask me to be religious for you.
Religion is complicated, and I wouldn’t rule it out for myself in the future. But, for now, I do not see it ever becoming part of me again - if it ever truly was.
Instead, I try to live my life while leading with kindness. I try to spread love. I try to accept others for who they are. I am slowly allowing myself to let love in, but also to take no shit. I don’t tolerate racism, homophobia, transphobia, or any other hatred directed toward the way someone is born, but otherwise? You do you.
And I hope you will let me be me.
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