As the holiday season swings into full gear, I am often left trying to reconcile my love of Christmas with my lack of belief in God.
It feels slightly disingenuous to enjoy the holiday season so much, while at the same time essentially ignoring the religious basis of the holiday. This is not to say I have no belief system whatsoever, but rather my spiritual side is an untapped resource, one I hope to unearth one day.
Within the GLBTI community, it seems as though there is a lot of disbelief that a person can be both openly gay and actively religious. Connecting with a higher power, while continuing to embrace your GLBTI identity, can seem like an insurmountable task. Why should we want to reconnect with God when so many organised religions are constantly spreading the message that being gay is a sin? Conversely, how can churches presume to tell society that homosexuality is a sin while so many church leaders are being caught in clandestine gay acts and illegal activity?
By-and-large, our community seems unaccepting of our religious brothers and sisters as if they are somehow traitors to the GLBTI movement. Many would argue that organised religion has held our community back. The church has tormented us. It has persecuted us. It wants to deny us our God-given rights and freedoms. We are perceived as sinners and are told we must repent if we want to walk with God.
I would argue that our community must stand together, no matter what our differences may be, and find strength in all of our diversity. Our community is amazing in that we span the complete spectrum of human life. We are a complete reflection of God’s diversity on Earth. Every race, gender, religious background and physical and intellectual ability can be found within the GLBTI spectrum. We must honour the choices of those in our community when they relate to religious affiliation.
We need to recognise that GLBTI people of faith are forging a difficult and brave path. They are ostracised by many churches and the hierarchy who run them. They are also shunned by members of their own community for daring to believe in something greater than themselves. If our sexuality is not a choice, why must our religious beliefs be seen as a choice? Many among us have been raised in the church when we were young. It is all some people know. Those who are new to the church have found solace in religious beliefs for a very personal reason and why should anyone judge someone on that?
I was forced by my mother to go to church when I was a child and to be quite honest I didn’t mind going much. It was actually kind of fun. I liked the singing, the stories and the tradition. I most likely stopped going to church because my mother wasn’t religious herself. She sent us to church mainly so she could sleep in on Sunday mornings because she worked at the hospital late on Saturday nights. Thus, it was not an ingrained tradition in my family and I didn’t feel compelled to continue.
Occasionally I have found myself wishing that I wasn’t so estranged from organised religion. Whilst travelling in Asia I found myself drawn towards Buddhism, but my interest proved fleeting when I realised just how much theory and practice is involved in Buddhism. My husband is Hindu, but he also has found his faith wavering the older he gets. It is a revelation, therefore, to watch his mother perform her daily prayers and I am moved by her strict adherence to her religion.
I am not sure if being gay is the biggest obstacle to me finding God. Indeed, maybe I am just too lazy to be religious. It requires commitment, study and a certain degree of willingness to live in a specified manner.
The GLBTI community and organised religion may never be successful in coming to terms with each other and they may have to agree to disagree on some basic issues. The texts are just too open to interpretation and there will always be those who can warp the words into angry statements of condemnation. What is important is that we must stand up and support GLBTI religious freedom. I think it is easy to be scared of things we don’t understand. It is easy to cover our ears and say it’s wrong to believe in God and scripture and still want to engage in a little hot boy-on-boy or girl-on-girl action. I believe our community has built into a strong and vital part of society on the basis of demanding acceptance and equality, so why can’t we allow the faithful of our community the right to worship without criticism? It is time that we embrace the possibility that one day we may also find the need for a higher power in our own lives and we will be glad that we didn’t ridicule or deny others their right to enjoy the same right to worship. Happy Holidays!
Mark Garrison emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 and is thrilled to be writing for express and the GLBTI community of New Zealand. Mark would like to acknowledge Dr Stuart Edser and Jordan Thompson for their contributions toward this piece.