Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Homosexuality and Religion

Just before Chris and I moved to _____, I read a book called "Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America," edited by Mitchell Gold. Gold asked well-known and not-so-well-known Americans to write brief essays about either their experiences growing up gay or raising children who are gay.

For me, the book was compelling because, one, I'm gay myself and have a vested interest in the subject, and two, because it described in vivid, and usually heartbreaking, detail what human beings, like you and me, went through just because they are gay or because they raised gay children.

A common theme throughout "Crisis" was the role religion played in discrimination often leveled at gays and lesbians. None of us is unfamiliar with the impact religion has had in our world over the centuries as the source of many conflicts that resulted in untold deaths.

But I was stunned to learn the extent to which religion is used as a form of judgement against people who are gay. For many religious people, being gay is a moral issue--what's right and what's wrong--based on what they believe their religion dictates. Hence, there are plenty of instances where parents have disowned their children and thrown them out of the house, never wanting to see them again, simply because their children identified themselves as gay or lesbian. In extreme cases, gay boys and lesbian girls have attempted suicide, some of them succeeding, because they knew their families would never accept them for religious reasons, or because they were led to believe they were immoral because of their religious upbringing.

I was raised a Catholic. Until I was well into my twenties, I attended mass every week, and on special religious occasions, such as Easter and Christmas. Back then, I would have described myself as a religious person, who believed in the teachings of the church and who had a strong relationship with God.

But, toward my mid-twenties, by which time I'd come to terms with myself as a gay man and needed, more than anything else, to come out so I could live my life more fully, including finding another young man with whom to share my life, my relationship with the church had begun to crumble.

I was well aware of the Catholic church's unbending position on such issues as abortion, and contraception, and homosexuality, and, increasingly, I could no longer reconcile who I was with how the church felt about me. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" no longer worked in my mind, because I didn't consider myself a sinner as a gay man (although, unconsciously, I refrained from engaging in gay sex until I was twenty-six, because I still wanted the church to look on me favorably). Thereafter, I stopped going to church, even on special occasions, and I now define myself as a spiritual, not a religious, person.

I don't know how the matter of homosexuality is so cut and dried for so many religious people, especially where their own children--the human beings they gave birth to and raised for twenty or so years--are concerned. How can a strongly religious father or mother disown and throw out his or her gay son simply because of his or her religious convictions? How does that happen?

To me, in the end that means the parent has chosen the possibility of an afterlife with God over loving and taking care of their own flesh and blood on earth. Will God not stand in judgement of them for being so cruel and heartless to their own children? Will they not sabotage their efforts to join God in the afterlife because they rejected their children, turning off their love and compassion?

I guess for many parents, homosexuality is a matter of their son or daughter making the wrong lifestyle choice. They believe that people choose their sexuality, who they connect with emotionally, intellectually, mentally, and, yes, physically.

Were they ever faced with the decision to chose their sexuality? Did someone approach them one day and say, "Today, you must choose to be straight or gay. Make your choice and live the rest of your life with the consequences of your decision."

I know I was never given that choice. From the very first moment I was attracted to someone, I was a little boy, well under ten years of age, and I was interested in other males. I didn't understand the interest, and my connection to them made no sense to me, but my confusion become clearer as I grew older. I was just interested in other males. End of story. No choice there. I was hardwired that way.

So if there is no choice involved, how can it be said I wasn't born that way? That God didn't make me that way? And that, if God made me that way, I am not perfect in his image?

Of course, I could have submitted to the expectations of others, including the Catholic church. I could have chosen to turn my back on my homosexuality altogether. I could have chosen not to be who I fundamentally am by denying it totally and completely; by telling myself I was attracted to girls and women; by meeting the "right" young woman, falling in love; getting married, and having children. I could have succumbed to society's expectations of me, just to make everyone else and the church happy.

Plenty of people have done this. Plenty of people have played the role expected of them, only to discover they are utterly miserable, not at all the people they were born to be, and maybe even suicidal because they are not true to themselves. And, in the process, they've involved other innocent human beings, including spouses and children, because, as some would say, they didn't have the courage to be who they were in the first place.

I don't pretend to write anything different here from what hasn't already gone around and around ad nauseam. The point is that religion is not about judging other people, and thinking you're better than anyone else because you follow the strict edicts of the church, and discriminating against other people because they aren't like you. Religion should be about God and love and compassion and acceptance.

I don't miss the Catholic church. In many ways, I'm closer to God now than I was when I attended church every week. Then, I followed what my parents wanted me to do, and I didn't consciously know what I was doing. Now, I, as a fully realized human being, who happens to be gay, think for myself, have a relationship with God because I want and need one, and know He loves me just the way I am.

1 comment:

  1. Rick, I responded to this post via Facebook.