Sunday, January 2, 2011

When I was a child I thought as a child.

As most of you know I was raised in a very conservative Christian household. And as most of you know I chose to leave the church when I was 18 and didn't look back. I've talked a little here and there about my reasons for leaving. How the church's view on homosexuality figured large in that decision. How the stories in the Bible, though great moral tales, really didn't ring true to me as "this actually happened this way!" stories. Basically I didn't take the Gospel as gospel. And once I started questioning the religious leaders in my faith and the only answer they had for me was that I just needed more faith I was on my way out the door. But for the majority of my childhood I had the faith of a child. That blind belief that the adults in their life were telling them nothing but the truth. That our God was the true and only God. That our book, our rules, our beliefs were the only right ones. This story takes place during that time...

When I was a freshman I was part of the youth group of a different church than my family attended on Sunday mornings. We had been members of RCC off and on for years, but as we moved around town we would attend sister congregations, FCC, VCC and the like. There was at the time I was growing up 5 congregations in the Albuquerque area that were part of the same "Restoration Movement Non-Denominational Church". We all shared the same belief system, sermons were the same in each church, we all attended the same summer camps along with a group of churches throughout New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.

Restoration Movement in churches is pretty much the same as the Constitutional Party in politics. Basically, the only beliefs are the ones written in the Bible, the extra bells and whistles added by say, oh I don't know, the Catholics aren't believed. In fact the Catholic church is treated as a "not real" church led by the Pope instead of by Christ. Don't get me started on what my church thought about the LDS church. Non-denominational means we weren't Presbyterian or Episcopalian or Baptist we were just Christian. Really super judgmental Christian, but just Christian.

Different churches have different beliefs and it took me well in to my 20s to be able to understand that not all Christian churches were like the one I was raised in. That not all people who called themselves Christians lived a life professing Love while harboring what seemed to me like a lot of Hate. There are even churches out there that are able to see the biblical passages that supposedly condemn homosexuality could be interpreted in other ways. So when I speak of churches and the church please understand that I am speaking of the church I was in at the time and don't believe that everyone that attends church is horrible. My family still believes this way and they have received great comfort from the church in horrible times and their faith calms and strengthens them. It's just not my faith, my belief or my choice anymore.

Okay, back to freshman year. I attended a different youth group than what my main church was. This meant that on Wednesday and Sunday nights I went to a church across town from where we lived. I wanted to to be part of the performing group that RCC had that VCC did not. The youth minister/music minister and his wife handled the program for the teens. We sang, danced (show choir type dancing), did puppet shows and my freshman year put on a musical play. My sister's years through the program they just sang and did puppet work. But the real deal was every summer you got to go on tour and perform at churches across the country. You got to go away. For weeks at a shot. I was not missing this so even though my family moved to the south valley the end of my 8th grade year I stayed with the youth group at RCC.

This was not something that normally would have been allowed but my family was part of the fabric of RCC. My parents were part of the first congregation that set up RCC. And my family also had a special relationship with the youth minister. He was a big part of my sister's recovery from drug abuse. He counseled her and helped her kick the habit. He and his wife spent hours and hours working with her and helped her when no one thought that there was help. So he was a hero to our family and we were very close with him, his wife and their adopted son.

So one Saturday my Uncle (not really blood relation, his wife and he are my parent's best friends so they are family) called and said that we needed to come to RCC for services Sunday morning instead of VCC and to plan on having dinner with them before his younger son and I went to youth group that night. This was a church family and family family meeting. So we went to RCC and at the end of the service one of the elders of the church stood up and thanked everyone for attending but asked that anyone who wasn't a member of the church leave as there was some private church business that needed to be attended to. This was NEVER done. The end of a church service everyone would leave and shake hands with the minister as they were leaving and stand around and talk but to ask some people to leave while others stayed? My family got up to leave as we were members of VCC at the time but my Uncle told us to sit back down as this had to deal with us as well.

Then the elder stood in front of the church and read a resignation letter from our youth minister. He was resigning effective immediately because he had committed the sin of homosexuality. And the bottom fell out of the world. Now you all know me and you know my reaction to this now, but when you are 13 and you really and truly believe that being gay is a sin and your MINISTER is gay? What in the heck are you supposed to do with that? That day passed in a blur. My Uncle filled us in on the details at lunch. The YM's wife had been up at a women's retreat at camp and had come home early. When she and another member of our congregation got to their house they surprised him while he was entertaining a young man, and as my uncle put it, They weren't playing Parcheesi. Because it wasn't just his wife there but his wife and another member of our church there was no way for them to hush this up, though it seems as though this wasn't the first time this sort of thing had happened.

The minister had been called, the elders convened and he was fired and forced out of the church. Now my church didn't do excommunications like the Catholics or the Mormons, but he was to never ever step foot in our church or any of our sister churches again, so it was pretty much the same thing. God might forgive him but the church wasn't going to. Seems as though he had a history of this back in college. Our minister went to school with him and knew about it, but believed him when he said that he had been "cured" and no longer had these unnatural urges. Our minister came very close to losing his job as well since he had failed to mention this to the elders when recommending the youth minister for the job. But the elders were faced with a very real dilemma on that one, if the YM says God has healed him do you not believe that or do you take it on faith that it is possible? So the minister got to keep his job.

My sister, my aunt and uncle's two boys and I headed over to the my oldest "cousin's" apartment where we proceeded to get wasted. The two boys and my sister passed around a joint or two while I had a rum and coke and got a contact high from the smoke as well. I believe this is the first time my sister used since she had gotten clean the previous year. Three things stick out from that afternoon. One is my sister telling me how proud she was of me and how amazed she was at my strength for saying no to the joint when it was passed to me, two is sitting in youth group that night and Caryn saying over and over again...what is that smell? Do you guys smell something? Knowing full well it was the pot and booze coming off of Todd and I. And three coming down off of the high in the middle of that meeting and bursting out into tears that I could not stop.

It was decided that the show would go on! We were only a few weeks out from touring at that point and we would still do it. A new youth minister was brought in (a seminary student between his junior and senior years who had no idea what he was walking into)and the process of healing was to begin.

Now this is where it got really complicated. This was the early 80s and the AIDS scare was at its height. And there were a large group of Christians who truly believed that it was God's judgment on the gay male community. Being gay was equal to being a child molester, in other words all gay men were interested in having sex with young boys. Being gay was just about the worst thing you could be. Because it was a conscience choice you were making. A choice to sin against God in the most unnatural of ways. And our YM had made this choice, all the while telling us how to be good Christians and lead exemplary lives. And for some of us it was even more complicated than that. My family still loved him very much. He had literally saved my sister's life. What do you do with those feelings? And with the conflict of forgiveness? And he who is without sin? And judge not?

And we were encouraged to either not speak of him anymore or to only speak poorly of him. When one of my friends and her boyfriend refused to play that part they were brought into the new YM office with him and the minister and told of some really horrible things that had happened. These were teenagers. They shouldn't have been put in that position. And they didn't believe the stories they were told so all it did was drive a wedge between them and the church and the new youth minister that took a lot of time to heal.

My mother took a very pragmatic approach that reconciled her faith and her feelings. You hear it a lot among the religious. Hate the sin, love the sinner. My family owed a lot to him and his wife and we would continue to love them, but we would hate the sin he committed. Hate that he was too weak to overcome his unnatural urges. And we would pray for him. My sister chose to not be married in the church for her first wedding so his wife and he could attend and play at the service, though he played the piano from behind a screen so no one would see him.

I wrote a lot of really bad poetry during that time and I found it years after I had healed and reconciled my feelings. The main theme was of loss. Loss of faith in someone and something for the first time. It was like a death. And so when I hear about a minister that is found to be performing an act that he preaches against I feel anger towards them. Anger because I know that behind that preacher is a congregation that is struggling with having their faith shattered. Now the church will tell you that is what happens when you put your faith in men instead of in God. Men are weak, God is strong, men are ever changing, God is a rock. But I will tell you that none of that matters when your heart is breaking and you feel as though everything you have been taught is a lie.

A few years later when I had turned the corner on my beliefs about homosexuality I forgave him. I realized that it was the church that was asking him to live a life that he could not reasonably be asked to live. Imagine for just a second if the tables were turned, if you as a heterosexual to gain acceptance among your peer group were asked to live a homosexual life? To take a same sex partner and live with them. To never ever touch or be touched by an opposite sex partner? Could you do it? Would you? Probably not. But that is what the church demands of it's gay parishioners.

And then came the second blow. It seems as though his sin wasn't homosexuality it was pedophilia. The young man he was caught with by his wife was a teenage boy. He had used the church as his hunting grounds for years abusing numerous teen boys in a variety of ways. I know the stories of three of these boys, now men who had to grow up and deal with so much more than just a loss of faith. Not only were they abused but then the church chose to protect itself instead of them. He should not have been kicked out of the church for having sexual urges for men, he should have been prosecuted and jailed for abusing boys. I confronted my mother about it (I learned the truth as an adult) and asked her if she knew the real truth not the story that was given out and she and my father both had known. But they did not separate out homosexuality from pedophilia. It was one and the same. Now years later still, she knows there is a difference, but the church taught that all gay men were predators and so they believed it to be true.

There are still churches out there teaching this. There are still people who insist on believing that lie, even though studies show there is a higher incidence of pedophilia among straight males than gay males, but they are sure being a gay man means wanting to sleep with young boys. So when stories break in the news about abusive Priests being moved from parish to parish to protect the church instead of the children it makes me angry. It makes me angry because they are hurting children and hurting their congregations. Destroying lives and tearing faith from the faithful. And though I choose not to believe, I know what it means to believe and what it feels like have that taken from you.

So the next time you are tempted to be a little joyful at some hypocrite taking a fall remember there are people who believed in him or her that are now hurting, questioning, doubting. And know that those that have lived it are reliving it each time something like that happens. So have a little compassion, maybe not for the person taking the fall but for those that can't catch them anymore.

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