Derek Penwell wrote an interesting column the other day for the Huffington Post on what it would be like for gay kids if they had a friendly church to go to. The headline was to the point: “What if gay kids had a church that loved them?”
Extremely good question.
I can’t speak to what such a church would be like.
I can, however, speak to what it was like as a youngster to know that my church thought I was a perverted abomination. The official line of the Catholic Church is that homosexuals are “intrinsically disordered,” a polite way of saying gay people are abnormal, weird, unnatural, disordered like alcoholics or crack addicts or serial killers.
When I was 14, I looked up the word “homosexual” in the dictionary (since I didn’t dare ask anyone around me for more information on the topic). The dictionary categorized homosexuality as a sexual perversion “akin to pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia, which see.” I looked up pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia and was horrified to learn that I was no better than someone who wanted to have sex with a dead horse.
There were no words to express the disgust I felt with my sexuality, the absolute rejection of it, the fear of it, the shame of being so helplessly “disordered” in God’s eyes. Every time I turned around, I was being tempted by the homosexual demon, whom I could not escape. Girls did nothing for me in the slightest, only boys. But try as I might, I could not stop myself from thinking of them, and wondering what it would be like …
The Catholic Church also taught me that hell was very real, and that homosexuals go to hell, no questions asked. This was based on the quote from St. Paul about how the “effeminate” will not go to heaven. I knew, somehow, that “effeminate” meant gay. Gay like me.
I believed in hell. I was terrified of hell. The thought of utter, complete eternal, a never-ending life of misery and anguished suffering that would never end, God’s complete abhorrence and rejection of me — such thoughts left me completely neurotic.
Like many good Catholics, I did my best to deny the truth, to pretend that homosexuality was just a temptation that I had to resist, that the church was right to condemn me, that there was indeed something wrong with me. I believed the church when it said these temptations would go away if I only prayed hard enough, or believed enough, or trusted God enough. I even got married and had a child.
Yet … it never went away.
What DID go away was me. I left the church. How could I do otherwise? Why would I continue to go to a church that despised me?
As I grew older and learned that homosexuality is not a temptation, but a sexual orientation that is quite natural and occurs in a steady percentage of any given population, I realized that the Catholic Church was completely wrong. And if it could be wrong on such a fundamental question, what else was it wrong about? How could I possibly believe that this church was infallible and could never err in matters of faith or morals?
The Catholic Church’s official position is that it’s not “wrong” to be homosexual, but to act on homosexual tendencies is sinful. The church tells its pastors to be “compassionate” with their homosexual members. The question I always had was this: How could it be wrong to love someone? I could understand that promiscuity was sinful, but how could a committed relationship with another gay person be dismissed out of hand? Why wasn’t I allowed to love someone? Why was I being told that I had to go through life lonely and alone with no hope of ever meeting a special someone? What sort of message is that? Whose needs are being served? Certainly not mine.
The effect of the church’s teaching has been to render itself irrelevant to my life. It has nothing to offer me. I do not consult church doctrine when I need to make a moral decision because I know, from experience, that the church can be wrong. I have formed my own conscience and made my own decisions, which I will quite happily defend on the day of judgement, if need be.
Had the church not rejected me and attempted to shame me into silence, I would still be Catholic. I would participate. I would attend mass weekly and put my donations in the box. By not believing in me, the church left me no choice but to not believe in it. It has not only lost my support but driven me away altogether.
The choice it offers is not a genuine choice. You cannot ask certain members of the congregation to not love another person in a way that’s natural to them. You cannot ask them to forgo love and affection. You cannot tell them they have to go through life alone, bravely battling the homosexual demon on the off-chance that it might indeed be displeasing to God. The only needs being served by this are the needs of homophobic clergymen afraid of sex and sexuality, starting with St. Paul. Any gay people that would willingly endure this torment is to be pitied, not commended. God does not ask us to hate ourselves.
Perhaps churches will learn from my experience, and the experience of so many others. By rejecting gay kids, they are simply making themselves irrelevant. They are denying such kids a safe place to learn about loving, committed relationships. They are denying them a place to learn about matters of the heart and the soul. They are denying them a place in the community. And they are doing this, not because it’s right or because it’s what God wants, but only to satisfy the homophobes and bigots among them who are terrified of sex and sexuality.
Someday churches will understand gay kids are just like all the other kids, with the same needs and desires and hopes for the future.