At the Parliament of the World's Religions I surveyed the constellation of religious leaders from around the world. Hand in hand with the man of my dreams and my favorite brown bag over my shoulder, I remembered just how exhausting it is to schlep around diversity.
As a bisexual Christian psychotherapist and LGBTQ advocate I noticed the religious reacting to my version of love and manhood.
Some cheerfully smiled a message of affirmation while others starred with disdain painted on their brows. In the religious incubator where all faiths tried to foster a common spirit of equality there were wolves among the sheep.
Some of the religious failed to recognize that the very love they work so hard to disseminate were thwarted by their very own internalized discomforts and, for some, hatred.
I had the chance to interview the lovely Marianne Williamson while attending the parliament. I asked her about the homophobia I noticed. With an assertive overtone she claimed that those who can neither see love nor appreciate love in all forms are not, in fact, religious. She was very short and to the point.
As a young bisexual man, I have compassion for those who promote homophobia because they think they're protecting spirituality.
The fundamentalist environment within which I grew taught me to do the same: protect doctrine by hating sin. I was rattled and perplexed when I saw two men kissing for the first time. As a fervent Christian boy, gay affection was actually disgusting to watch.
But disgust has to be learned. Within the normalized rhetoric of the North American language we commonly say, "You made me angry." As a therapist, however, I know that this reaction inappropriately displaces blame onto another. No one can make me angry. Rather, I choose to respond with anger.
In our adulthood, the same is true for emotional behaviors like disgust and confusion. Adults have a choice when choosing a response to a young couple holding hands. For many reasons, I had to rehearse this line of thought as I walked among religious leaders from around the world.
Even though we can advocate for love and unity with the most impressive religious practices, thought provoking speeches, and spiritual insight, when we cannot see the full expanse of love- the totality of its diversity- do we limit our ability to offer its spectacularly to those around us. In other words, when we cannot appreciate the love of another we cannot fully appreciate its power within our own experiences and vice versa.
As a sexual minority I am fully aware of the depths of depression and the pangs of disappointing others. I am the son of a conservative pastor, for crying out loud. I have spent several years wondering if my version of love is fundamentally disordered. I continuously asked the Divine Spirit for healing as a boy.
What I've come to realize is that underneath the trappings of our physical bodies and below the surface of our cultural context we are all emotionally beings who innocently crave for acceptance, belonging, and love. We all feel the desire to feel valuable. We all yearn to be known and remain safe. We all want to know true security. We're all desperate for our wrongdoings to be covered by the emotional posture that only grace can provide. And in learning these spiritual lessons firsthand I can no longer cower. I can no longer sustain the comfort of another by hiding my demonstrations of love.
So as I walked around the Salt Palace learning about religious thought practiced in places afar, my offering was demonstrating a valid yet minority version of love.
Love is deep and wide. Love portrays the diversity of the Divine. Some still have yet to learn, so I'll be the teacher.
Love is love, no matter who it unites. Soon the religious who preach the message of love will know this truth. Maybe then we can live in unity.