I was born a Protestant Christian. I'm not one today, by most considerations. But I don't consider myself an authority on the subject; my distrust of religion runs deep.
I was baptized in a Presbyterian church. My parents were married by a Baptist preacher (and divorced by lawyers -- Baptist too?). I spent most of my childhood and adolescence worshipping in a Methodist church, so I speak with three liturgical heads, like a confused Cerberus, or a Targaryen dragon from A Game of Thrones.
I wish that I could rant and rail about how oppressive these religious environments were for me as a gay kid in the South. But the real truth of it is, they weren't. At least, not as long as I stayed in the closet.
There are many, many gay men who discard religion outright, who lambast the evils of organized religion throughout the ages. These men -- perhaps the majority -- will argue that, on the whole, historically, religion is wrong. It brings more suffering than charity, more shame than selflessness, and more arrogance than humility.
I am not one of these people. Not because I believe that organized religion is a force for good -- I think that's a tough argument to make if you look at the Vatican or the "prosperity" gospel mega-churches. But I remember back to when I wanted be a preacher, not a teacher. When I first decided to dedicate myself to helping others, and how the church instilled this value in me. When I knew that the commercialism offered by America writ large was ultimately unfulfilling and deeply dissatisfying.
I'm reminded of this materialism part just now. I just shattered my iPad screen. It was one of those slow-motion action sequences -- me trying to write, shifting my laptop, the cord catching the iPad, the brittle, brittle glass screen crashing to the hard floor at just the worst angle. Spiderwebs of broken glass skittering across my Christmas present from my partner, who is sitting there, watching it happen.
Damaging something expensive -- an iPad -- reminded me that all of our gains -- material and political, individual and collective -- are ultimately, infinitely fragile. If this sounds overblown to you, wait until you break your expensive thingamabob or scratch your new car. You'll understand what I mean. And perhaps I have a slight tendency to dramatize.
But fragility -- of things, of relationships, of life -- always leads me back to religion. If we are all breathtakingly breakable, how do we keep ourselves intact? And more importantly, how can we change for the better?
When I came out during my freshman year of college in 2004, I watched as one religious friend after another turned their backs on me. I had spent my whole lives with these people, and I was now a pariah preening in Banana Republic (I showed up to UNC in jean shorts and an oversized tee -- the wardrobe was the first thing to go).
So I turned my back on evangelism, all while maintaining a strong sense of moral righteousness. It was hard to shake. I judged the gay men I met who were living "the gay lifestyle." I wanted normalcy, not advocacy -- I wanted a marriage, children, a house and a car. At times, I was no better than those who shunned me, failing to realize how we were all struggling to learn how to live as gay men.
I tried to hang on to church. I went to some progressive churches but no longer felt home in those bittersweet sanctuaries. I had this intense feeling of physical discomfort, as if everyone were watching me, as if everyone knew. Surely I wasn't welcome there, no matter what anyone said.
It would be neat and tidy if my religious journey sojourn ended with me back in the arms of some nondenominational Boston church with a rainbow flag out front. But it hasn't. I still don't go to church (I used to go twice a week, praying to be "cured"). If I'm honest with myself, I anticipate certain life events might lead me back -- death, for example. But that would only be for the comforting memory of the familiar.
Yet while I may have hardened, become more cynical and skeptical, those friends who shunned me? They've changed too. They went to conservative colleges and seminaries and got married and had children. They preach, they evangelize, and they teach. But they fought against the anti-gay Amendment One in North Carolina. They see bigotry against our community, and they call it like they see it: Homophobia. Injustice. Fear. Hate. They are reclaiming their faiths, divorcing it from those who use religion as a tool for spreading hate.
These changes seemed impossible even a few years ago. So although I may not be a proper Christian anymore, and I may have overreacted to the desecration of my altar to consumerism, I'm trying to keep an open mind. If my devout friends can support and nourish the GLBTQ community, I should be able to feel a little less hostile towards religion. I should be able to change, again.