When I left the Roman Catholic church, I felt lost. I knew I wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian. I have friends who have become Buddhists, and while I admire them, it wasn’t for me. I heard an interview with Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight Schrute on “The Office,” and who’s an adherent of the Baha’i faith. It sounds fascinating, but again — it just isn’t for me.
I have other friends who are spiritual with no particular belief in a monotheistic god, or who have successfully melded elements from Western and Eastern traditions. It works for them, but it just didn’t call me.
Maybe I’m lazy, but I needed structure.
The church that strongly spoke to me was the Episcopal Church — the American equivalent to the Church of England, or Anglican church. For a Catholic, the rituals are familiar, but their acceptance of women priests and the LGBTQ community made me feel welcome.
In fact, it seemed to meld the parts I liked about being Catholic (mostly the service) with the Protestant tradition of local governance — of allowing local churches and dioceses to decide (within reason) what’s best for them, rather than waiting for a pope or bishop to dictate policy.
And the writings of liberal Episcopal and Anglican theologians such as retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong — their quiet logic, their decency and their respect for different opinions — called strongly to me.
In fact, I think it was Borg or Spong — I can’t remember which one — whose writings finally helped me reconcile belief in God with being trans*.
Fundamentalist Christians will often say, “God doesn’t make mistakes.” According to the story of creation in Genesis, God made man and woman different, and saying you’re transgender is like saying God made a mistake. Same thing with being gay — they’ll tell you God made men to be attracted to women, and vice-versa, so same-sex attraction is calling God a liar. It’s just not done.
Let’s set aside whether you believe the creation story should be taken literally. (I don’t.) If there’s a God, God is perfect. He (or She) never makes mistakes. If there’s a God, and all things come from God, and all people are made by God, then God must have made some people gay, bisexual and transgender.
And if God is loving, why would She (or He) create gay, bisexual and transgender people just so He (or She) could send them to Hell? It would be like an architect building a skyscraper just for the thrill of destroying it.
Whoa. Like I said, I was reading Spong or Borg when this dawned on me. It was heavy stuff. If they’re Episcopalians, I thought, then I want to be an Episcopalian, too.
But there was a problem. Just as I was feeling drawn toward the Episcopal Church, Episcopalians in Pittsburgh were being torn apart by former bishop Robert Duncan. Duncan, incensed over the national Episcopal Church’s ordination of gay Bishop Gene Robinson, and over its discussion of performing same-sex marriages, led more than half of Pittsburgh’s Episcopalians out of the local diocese into a new “Anglican” diocese linked to a group of strongly anti-gay (and some would argue anti-woman) conservative “traditionalists.”
(Duncan and his adherents, like most people who form schisms — whether in churches or in political parties — claim they didn’t leave the Episcopal Church, it left them.)
I was reluctant to join an Episcopal Church if it wasn’t going to be Episcopal for much longer — or if it wound up being more Catholic than the Roman Catholic Church and more anti-LGBTQ than the fundamentalists.) Happily, the church that I joined stayed in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.
We now have a new bishop — Dorsey W.M. McConnell — and early signs are encouraging that he wants to steer us back toward the mainstream of the Episcopal and Anglican traditions. Last week, McConnell announced plans to confront the elephant in the room — to start what he called a “diocesan-wide conversation concerning human sexuality.”
I’m hoping our diocese and my church will “come out” (pun intended) strongly for full equality for all people. I’m not out to my pastor (yet) though he knows my feelings on LGBTQ rights. In our church meetings, I’ve urged him and our congregation to stop being “tolerant” of LGBTQ people and start being “encouraging.” Being “tolerant” of someone, after all, implies a certain “hold-your-nose” patronizing attitude.
(I’m a little turned off, too, by people who say they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” If being gay is a sin, why would it be a larger sin than gluttony or greed? When we see a wealthy person, we don’t say, “I hate the fact that you’re wealthy, but I tolerate you.”)
Survey after survey, poll after poll, indicates that a majority of Americans under the age of 40 want LGBTQ people to have the same rights and protections as everyone else. At the same time, there are surveys indicating that church attendance is declining, especially among young, educated people.
From a practical standpoint, any denomination that doesn’t speak up and say “we embrace diversity” is committing suicide.
More importantly, some churches and supposedly faithful Christians have gone out of their way to do great harm to LGBTQ people — especially young people. It seems to me that other Christians have an obligation to stop remaining silent and help heal that damage.