I am a Christian. You Are Something Else.

We both go to church. We both believe in Jesus. I am a Christian. You are something else.

Such is the message I often hear from organized religion, and as a gay man and ex-fundamentalist, I find it divisive and presumptuous. Just recently, I read the following post on Facebook:

"My family and I are Christians. My sister is a Jehovah's Witness. We all gathered to pray over our food, but my JW sibling did not participate. Why not?"

I grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, and questions of this sort definitely hit home. My reply to the person who posted this question was, "Funny that you refer to yourself as "Christian" and your sis as something else. Your sister would use that same language. In her mind, she is the Christian and you are something else. Jehovah's Witnesses don't recognize any level of righteousness on the part of non-Witness religions. They don't recognize your faith as being from God, so there is no point in participating in your prayer. Your prayer doesn't mean anything to her, just as her prayer would not mean anything to you."

Just as this self-proclaimed Christian has identified Jehovah's Witnesses as being non-Christian, she would likely have the same view of me. Gay people can't possibly be Christian, in the minds of many religious people today. There is a large, visible and vocal element of Christianity in this country that has this message for people like me: We are Christian. You are something else.

I no longer believe in God or religion. I am an atheist. But even if I were to belong to one of the Christian faiths who welcomes the LGBT population, many other religious denominations would deny my inclusion into their realm. I can't ever be a Christian and be gay, they preach.

Several decades ago, I once had a telephone conversation with an ex-girlfriend about my homosexuality. The conversation was prompted by my mistaken belief that honesty was long overdue and would be appreciated. It was an excruciatingly long conversation, well over an hour, when I explained that recognition and acceptance of my homosexuality was the reason why I had ended our relationship a few years prior. We talked about my childhood as a Jehovah's Witness and my countless years of praying to God, asking Him to cure me. We talked about her conviction in the superiority of the Baptist faith, and their inability to accept homosexuality as an acceptable way of life. I reminded her that I had spent most of my adolescence fervently praying to God, asking for help, a fact that she dismissed as irrelevant. I had not been praying properly, or to the correct form of God, she informed me. Praying to God as a Jehovah's Witness didn't count, she insisted. Only if I had been a Baptist, and in her words, "accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior" would my prayers have had any remote chance at validity. She also assured me that, should I follow her instructions, as given by her Baptist faith, God would help me refrain from what she referred to as the homosexual lifestyle. I only needed to join her faith in order to receive that help. The God of certain religions seems to be very selective that way.

Since then, I've had other conversations, similar in tone, with people of other religious preferences. Catholics, Mormons, Evangelicals. All declared my years of prayer as a Jehovah's Witness to have been meaningless. I've even switched things up a bit in those conversations and claimed to have been a member of a faith I had never belonged to. Okay, sure, that means I lied a couple of times. For example, in a conversation with a Mormon, I claimed to have been Catholic when I prayed to God to cure me of what I viewed at the time to be sexual deviance. Those prayers were futile, I was informed by the Mormon, simply because they were given while I was Catholic. Mormons don't really respect Catholics, I discovered. In conversations with the Evangelicals, I once claimed to have been a Mormon when I sent countless prayers to heaven. It didn't take long to learn that the Evangelicals don't care much for the Mormon faith. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are both cults, as far as the Evangelicals are concerned, and once again I learned that my prayers, purportedly given while a Mormon, weren't valid in the eyes of Evangelicals.

Today, the world is a more welcoming place for young people who are struggling to determine who they are. Thankfully, for those who wish to believe in God, there are religious denominations who embrace, rather than condemn, differences in sexuality, but that wasn't true when I was growing up under the thumb of the Jehovah's Witness ideology.

Sadly, many religions today still claim ownership of Christianity, and use such ownership to condemn people like me who don't conform to their interpretation of biblical law. Those that fall into this lifestyle of delusional self-superiority have the most difficult time with people like me who have embraced our sexual identity and abandoned organized religion. Even more disconcerting to them is the recognition that some Christian faiths accept the LGBT population with open arms. Certain mainstream religions don't know what to do with the gay and lesbian population, or the transgender or bisexual community, other than offer their proprietary religious dogma as a cure for what they think ails us. Delusions of self-superiority such as that can't be reasoned with. It can't be refuted by logic, or facts, or kindness or graciousness. Only a humble acceptance of diversity in the human existence can lead people to tolerance. Sadly, many religions have not yet found this sense of humility. I believe there are some biblical passages which could cure them of this problem, should they care to read them. Of course, I no longer remember specifically where those passages are in the Bible, given that I am now "something else" and no longer read it.