In my first post on this blog, I alluded to my "fraying around the edges" faith, but didn't really explain it. My transition from Born-Again Christian to Person Who Believes in a Divine Entity But Who Rejects Jesus as the Only Way to Salvation took quite a while and happened in small, incremental steps.
My early troubles with Christians (not with God, mind you) started while I was in high school. My dad had a part-time pastorate, a small, country church where multi-generational families worshipped together: grandparents, cousins, second cousins, kids. But more than one family had at least one family member who wasn’t speaking to another family member. I don’t mean that for one Sunday they simmered over a spat they’d had earlier in the week. I mean that for all the years I attended there (5th grade until I graduated college and moved away), Mrs. Bricker did not utter a word to her mother. Not on Mother’s Day, not on Christmas, not ever. Neither one would stop worshipping Jesus or attending that church, but they did not speak. And that wasn’t the only blood feud in that little church.
Then there were the little old ladies who brought my dad pies every week and profusely thanked my dad for his sermons, then grabbed his hand and proceeded to gossip or flat out rail against another church member. Even worse, at least to me, the gossip was usually masked as a prayer request. Every bone in my body screamed “Hypocrite,” but when you’re raised in the belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and when you make an adult decision (I was 13, but I felt all grown up) to accept Christ as your personal savior and then are baptized by full immersion, dunked three times in front of the church to symbolize the death and resurrection of Christ, you blame Satan for their sins and you pray for them. I did, but I carried the realization with me that church is full of people who need to forgive and forget and leave the judging to God.
Another trouble began when one of my closest friends came out to me. After years of dating men, she was ready to admit that she was a lesbian and had found a wonderful partner. I’d been raised to “love the sinner, hate the sin” and being gay was a huge, huge sin.
Now, divorce was a sin, but we’d allow divorced people to remarry and sit in church with us. But we weren’t going to allow gay folks to have sex and we surely weren’t going to allow them to marry. Nope, our remedy for being gay was to first try to pray away the gay. If that didn’t work, then all sexual tendencies should be suppressed and celibacy was required. Sin can be forgiven, but not on-going, premeditated sin.
My good friend was raised the same way, so she was in an enormous quandary. She could reject the teachings of our church on homosexuality and be happy (temporarily and earthly happy—forsaking eternal life, the church fathers would say), or she could deny what she believed to be her true self, be miserable now, and have eternal life. She compromised. She’s true to herself, and she’s found a church with a more liberal theology that welcomes her and her partner (who she’s still with—while I’ve divorced and remarried. No irony there, eh?).
Over the years, I have more and more gay friends and they’re all pretty different: some love sports, some hate sports, some read, some prefer movies, some eat McDonald’s as a choice, some are gourmands. Some even vote for the GOP, but they all believe that being gay isn’t a choice. It’s just the way that they were born and if it weren’t for the Christianist obsession about homosexuality, they’d think not much more of it than straight people think about being straight. It's just one small part of their entire being. It's the James Dobsons and Focus On The Family that make it an issue they can't ignore.
By the time I was in my mid-30’s I’d made a personal decision to reject the church’s (and my father’s, if I’m being fully honest here) teachings on homosexuality. I still believed that Jesus died for my sins and that Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life and that one couldn’t have eternal life without that belief. In fact, I still talked about it vociferously and frequently with my agnostic friends, but I’d taken that first step away from Biblical Inerrancy. It wasn't the last.