Too many times people hold up their "Christianity" as a reason to discriminate against and promote prejudice toward LGBT people, rather than as a call to extend greater understanding, compassion, empathy, generosity and LOVE toward others. It gets blurred with Fox News-style headlines like "Persecuted just for being a Christian!" when the reality is that someone who's been using their Christianity as justification to persecute others has been justifiably reprimanded for it.
Which brings me to the church I grew up in. I was lucky enough to be raised in the United Church of Canada. Why lucky? Well, let me put it this way: I came out to my congregation when I was still in high school. The only true change that resulted from that was that it put who I am in proper context to the people who'd known me since I was a toddler. I learned how to speak in public by reading as a lector on Sundays, starting at age 9. I'd go to the front of the church, read passages from the bible, and that was how I first became comfortable with speaking in public. It's something that's ended up serving me rather well in life. My congregation in that church helped build me up to be the man I am today, with tremendous love.
They've asked about my boyfriends over the years, and many of those wonderful people keep encouraging me to "Find a nice man to marry so that they can dance at my wedding." Many members of the church have joined my family and I in Pride celebrations, marching in the parade, and attending PFLAG and LGBT benefits. They've become advocates. A few of them have had children and even grandchildren Come Out to them. That alone is remarkable. My peers, the kids I spent those mornings in Sunday School with? We've gone out into the world - and embraced diversity in all its glory. Many of us have married "outside of the faith", a great number of us have seen our beliefs change, and evolve. Many embrace atheism and agnosticism, while still expressing a positivity for what our church has given us, and others. These people are Friends and allies to LGBT people, those of different cultures and religions and walks of life. You see, we weren't taught to fear others, or to think them as lesser beings.
It's difficult for some people to realize how a tightly-knit church community can be a bad thing; if you're not a part of the knit, it can feel exclusionary and not inclusive. When you realize that the only way to keep a place in that community, and "on the good side" of the people who've thus far been kind to you is to maintain a lie about who you really are, it negates the worth of such a "close-knit" group.
My church community has always been a positive part of my life. We are truly there for each other through the highs and lows of life. We share our joys, we comfort others in times of crisis and pain. We celebrate the births and we mourn the losses together. Every year for twenty years we hosted a large Christas Eve dinner at our family home with a number other families from our church. They've become more than friends, they are my family. When you remove dogmatic prejudice from your religious ideology, you foster an environment where people truly support each other, and truly love each other. There is no greater poison than putting bigotry and ignorance into your holy waters.
My friend Shannon recently wrote a tremendous piece that touched on this, which you can find here:
I am one of the very few people I know who had a truly, 100%, positive experience growing up within a Christian Church. The approach to faith is rooted in understandings of historical context, and the messages are of love, courage and hope. I never once heard any mention of "Hell", in any moment I ever spent in that church. I cannot recall a single sermon in my entire time attending this church where the talk was of HELLFIRE! and SIN! and DAMNATION! and ABOMINATIONS! and how we're all just awful human beings and if we don't REPENT! we're DOOOMED TOO HELL FOR ETERRRRRNITY! JEEEESUS!
Never happened. Sermons were, and remain, rooted in how we can let go of pain and fear. How you can use your faith to find comfort, and the strength to make things better for yourself and others. It promotes the call love each other more, and recharge ourselves to be the best people we can be.
Nearly all of my gay friends had the exact opposite experience in the churches they were brought up in. Even a great number of my straight friends, most of whom are now parents, choose to no longer attend the churches in which they were raised, and certainly will not be raising their own children in similarly closed-minded institutions. With all you learn in life, it's very hard to bring yourself to be a part of an institution or organization that continues to promote not just backward views on LGBT people, and women, but also looks down on cultural diversity: that "non-believers" are lesser, or sinners, or that there's only One True Path in life. Ideologies that Separate rather than Unite.
More than a decade ago, my church voted to marry gay couples. Marriage Equality has been legal across Canada for more than a decade, and it's been left up to each individual church to decide whether or not they'll be providing marriages for gay couples. There was a long process of discussion and conversations were had that we all benefitted by. The church voted in favour of Equality. After all, it's the Christian thing to do. At least in our church.
As for myself, my struggles with being gay as a child were never at any point religious. Cultural, for sure, as I was indeed bullied at school as a kid for being "gay" - the fear was what other people may say or do, but never "what God thinks of me." I never was taught to think that being gay was a sinful thing, and so going to church on Sundays was never the exercise in terror and secrecy that it has been for far too many LGBT people, and their families.
When I've talked about my church online I've often received messages from people in conservative denominations who rant on and on about how my church is false and I'm a sinner and I'm damned to hell, and it's a sin to be gay, and Anne Frank shares a spot in Hell with Gandhi because they didn't accept Christ as their Personal Savior and the One True Son of God (whatever the heck any of that even means...), and generally encourage me to repent.
Belonging to that kind of church won't make you straight, no more than belonging to a type of church like mine (if any) will make a person gay. What my church helped enable was for me to live in this world as a well-adjusted openly-gay-and-loving-it man. There are terrified children all over the world, and even here in Toronto, whose families are told by the heads of their church or religious group that LGBT people are evil, sinful, broken, damaged, sick, possessed and worthless people.
People don't seem to realize that being anti-gay, or harbouring anti-gay religious beliefs, does not mean that your own children will all be straight. Parents need to truly consider what messages they are imprinting on their children. Raising a child in an anti-gay church environment simply increases your chances of seeing your own child get carried down the aisle in a casket, rather than walking down the aisle to marry the person they love. You cannot make you gay child straight, but being anti-gay is a great way to make your child hate themselves. Do a google search for "gay teen suicides" to see what the results of that can be.
Often when people think of religiously-fueled bigotry they think of the Westboro Baptist Church - whose official slogan seems to be "God Hates Fags." As gallingly hateful as they are, the shocking reality is that the Westboro's, with their out-there-extremist hatred are actually not the most harmful religious entity to LGBT people; "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin", has driven more people to suicide and torn apart more families than "God Hates Fags" ever has, or ever will.
Often they will say "you're discriminating against me because of my Christian beliefs!" Which is utterly untrue. We're calling out the specifics you are promoting that are discriminatory, bigoted, and harmful. If your Christian beliefs revolve around being intolerant and prejudicial toward LGBT people, or those of other faiths or walks of life, I'd encourage you to rethink what it means to be a "Christian."
We get churches that demand celibacy from their gay congregants, likening physical expressions of love and intimacy to murder and "other sins", which results in deeply troubled gay men like Matt Moore ( a "Christian" homosexual blogger) ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/matt-moore-ex-gay/ ) who occasionally get caught having gay sex, only to return to the internet Blogosphere with long-winded excuses about "giving into Satan's temptations" - or worse, lying and saying that they're not gay anymore because after much prayer God changed them. You know, because God can't cure cancers or end famine or wars because He's too busy making a self-hating gay boy in Louisiana develop a taste for the ladies..... Demanding celibacy under the threat of "your immortal soul" is not that different from neutering a dog: you're easier for them to control when you have your balls removed.
The selectivity with which people choose to claim "biblical fidelity" is a never-ending dance of evasion, hypocrisy and mistruths. What people need to question is Why they choose to cling to such harmful beliefs. Many people who've been raised to believe that "all those Others are Sinners" have managed to break free from that destructive way of thinking. Some lose their religion entirely, others find it has changed into something that makes them a better person, a happier person, and a person who actively cares about others.
I'm not asking anyone to give up a faith that brings them comfort and joy. I'm asking people to consider the impact that specific messages, delivered by specific religious denominations, are having on their children. And themselves.
It encourages me greatly to know that any young person growing up in the church I grew up in will not be forced or pressured into a life of lies and deceit and ignorance.
I've attached the program from the Affirmation Sunday for you all to see.