When I first heard about the NALT ("Not All Like That") Christians Project, which features videos by Christians who are not anti-LGBT haters, I was very skeptical. In fact, I was so skeptical that I ignored it. But I had this niggling curiosity; I thought the chapter in Dan Savage's latest book about his mother and their ties to the Catholic Church was one of the best things he's ever written. In fact, it touched something inside me that I have not been quite able to shake. Then Upworthy sucked me in with a short video about the Lord family, so I visited the NALT site to check it out. I put the videos on continous play and listened as I went about my work.
These videos are being shared daily by all sorts of people among my Facebook "friends" whom I would never expect to do that. And it really freaks me out to hear so much "Jesus talk" attached to affirming messages. My body literally goes into a defensive crouch when the phrases "evangelical Christian" and "I love Jesus" are in the air. I can feel it: My shoulders hunch, my spine stiffens, etc. Obviously I have internalized the damage a lot more than I'd thought.
I was raised in the Catholic Church in a Pittsburgh suburb. All was pretty routine until the diocese sent Father John to shepherd us. He was creepy as all get out, and it turned out that he was a child molester and a drug dealer and did some incredible damage to my friends and schoolmates, including more than one who committed suicide. To replace him they they sent Father Dan, who seemed terrific, but then again, I was in college by that point and only encountered him on holidays. Recently it was disclosed that Father Dan was exchanging inappropriate Facebook messages with a minor. I don't know what "inappropriate" means in this case, but I'm sure it is not good. And it hurts a lot to think that the diocese sent two such men to our parish, to my parish. Sadly, that is not my only exposure to child predators, and it simply reinforced my perception that there was no such thing as a safe space.
Eventually I left the Catholic Church. I tried a few other denominations, but I gradually stopped going. Then I came out of the closet and knew that I would not be welcomed back into the Catholic Church. For the past decade I have listened to story after story of rejection, hate, ignorance and more. I thought I was simply an eye roller who felt empathy for those rejected by their churches and anger over the systemic abuse of the national discourse by religious folks. In fact, one Pittsburgh pastor definitely disinvited me for being skeptical.
That changed when I listened to these NALT Christians' videos, these genuine expressions of remorse over what their fellow Christians have done, these apologies, these warm and welcoming words. I had not thought with any real depth about what the impact of my own experience of organized Christianity had been. I just thought I did not like it. I had not realized how much the negative messages and the verbal abuse had hurt me, or how deep those wounds run.
I do not wish to mock people for believing. I envy them. I miss being part of a church community, but I honestly do not think I could ever feel at home anywhere but the Catholic Church. It's part of my being. And the Catholic LGBT groups don't touch it for me. I want the real thing. And I can't have it. And that hurts.
If you invite me to your church, I won't believe you when you say that "it's different," because I'm surrounded by messages that say otherwise. And I will compare. I will find faults. I will reject it. Because years of messages of rejection have wired me this way. The closest thing I found to a church home was a local Unitarian-Universalist church, but the concept of a congregational church is disconcerting to me; I felt like it might be a group of wounded people determined not to be controlled in their faith. I like it, but I want a pastor preaching weekly, not alternative church experiences, so I skip the weeks when the pastor does not preach, and I end up skipping a lot. It is just a nice place for me to visit.
So I keep listening to these videos, resetting those tapes in my head, and hoping that maybe NALT can help me find my way to the place where I want to be.
A version of this post was originally published on Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, where I have written extensively about the impact of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church (and beyond).