My sister once told me that when choosing a church, I should find one that forces me out of my comfort zone. To be honest, I've never felt comfortable in a church.
When I was younger, it was for various reasons. Sitting on the wooden pews made me feel as though I was paralyzed from the waist down. I also didn't understand whom I needed to impress by dressing up in my finest yet constricting Sunday outfits. And although it was the weekend, it just felt like another class, the preacher's sermon piercing the vast silence.
I can't remember the last time I was in a church. Today it seems about as foreign to me as Russia. I don't know whether to expect a warm welcome or rejection. Considering the lengths that some have gone to in the name of religious intolerance, I guess these would be the best-case scenarios.
Some find the duality of being a gay Christian unfathomable. I don't care to debate whether or not homosexuality is a sin or even if it's a choice. But I assume these questions deter a majority of the Christian community from practicing the acceptance they preach.
I recently made the acquaintance of Todd Allen, a very interesting member of the LGBTQ community in Jackson, Mississippi. It was over a decade ago that he finally came to terms with the fact that he is gay. Because he was a husband, father and ordained Baptist minister at the time, this self-realization was a pretty big deal. He divorced his wife, and the Baptist church divorced him.
"I spent the last 11 years really trying to find myself, trying to find my sense of calling," he said. His voice carried the same confident wisdom I remember hearing on Sunday mornings as a child.
But it was a lack of wisdom that originally led Allen to embrace his religion. As a teenager he began to question his sexuality and looked at Christianity as if it were a cure for some fatal disease. Society made him believe that being gay was shameful.
"I thought that was wrong and sinful," Allen said. "So at 15 I had what was like a radical conversion to Christianity."
As a gay Christian, I have only faced true discrimination for one of these identities. Here's a hint: It's not Christianity. When I tell someone I'm Christian, they don't come up with a series of offensive questions and remarks. I have never felt threatened or in danger when praying or practicing my Christian beliefs. Christianity is not an oppressed identity.
Don't get me wrong: Judgment can come from both communities. When Christianity has been used to justify so much hate and discrimination, it's easy to be confused as to why a member of the LGBTQ community would still belong to such a religion. I have a few friends who've embraced atheism because of such confusion, and I would be lying if I said I don't often consider it myself. But Mississippi is a place where those who have faced such adversity still hold out hope and stand firm in their beliefs.
Since rediscovering himself, Allen has found that he doesn't need a middleman's interpretation to feel connected to God. He finds comfort where his sexuality and religious beliefs are both accepted. He credits Safe Harbor Family Church with providing the solace he needed.
"They're a rather strong congregation of lesbian, gay and transgender people," Allen said.
Local businesses and individuals have taken a headfirst plunge into the equal-rights movement that is so inevitable for Mississippi. Although it's not as popular a trend yet, I believe churches will make the right choice and follow their lead.
I'm not well versed in foreign affairs, but I've heard that believing the Westboro Baptist Church represents all of Christianity is like believing the Taliban represents all of Islam. I guess that's why I give Christians and Christianity the benefit of the doubt.