Just when I was starting to think that well, maybe religion gets a bad rap, I was jolted back into reality by reading three recent books on the theme of religion written by queer writers.
The moniker "queer" embraces LGBT (what a friend calls the alphabet people) -- which stands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender." One thing we all have in common is that we are different -- from each other and from the rest of society. This fits with the original definition of the word "queer" which meant strange or odd -- "unusually different."
An article in the Baptist News Global cites Pew Research Center's findings that 62 percent now say "homosexuality should be accepted by society ... 12 points higher than when the same question was asked in 2007, when acceptance of homosexuality stood at 50 percent."
That religion is changing -- and so rapidly -- is a good thing.
But imagine for a moment that you are a parent and the church you are in -- and probably were raised in -- tends to still be in the non-accepting 38 percent. Then imagine that your teenage child comes out as gay or lesbian. Or that your young child insists that he or she is the opposite gender.
Suddenly, your world is upside down. And the people in your congregation -- the ones you would ordinarily trust in a crisis -- have a good chance of being non accepting. You have the choice of leaving, of course. Or you could stay and help the people around you become more open minded -- but this might possible hurt your child.
This may be part of the reason that young people -- who tend to be more open minded about sexuality -- are leaving religion in droves. According to The Christian Post, "a third of young adults in America say that they don't belong to any religion."
The reason that I thought that religion might be getting a bad rap is that I've been having a good experience as a Unitarian Universalist (and as one of the lay ministers) for the past four years.
But my secular upbringing undoubtedly made me more open to exploring religion and I found a "Welcoming Congregation" which means acceptance of all its members, including those in the queer community. In the case of the congregation that I joined, most of the congregants are straight and they are genuinely non-homophobic. But the fact is that we're all different (and this is a good thing) so I would say that everyone is a little bit queer. And since, people are leaving religion in droves, perhaps religion itself is in danger of becoming queer in the original sense of the word.
Yet, we're all spiritual people and religion does have something to offer. It can use its power to heal rather than to hurt.
The first book I read was To Drink from the Silver Cup: From Faith Through Exile and Beyond (Terra Nova Books) by Anna Redsand. As an adult, Redsand explored many of the same alternative spiritual traditions that have fueled me such as yoga and the Gnostic Gospels. But since she was raised fundamentalist (and encountered discrimination early on) she eventually found a Christian congregation that embraced her whole self. Redsand, who was raised by missionary parents in the Navajo Nation, is particularly insightful in her analysis of oppression.
Redsand writes movingly about the alternative reality that many, especially those from religious backgrounds, experience:
"Twenty-one when Stonewall happened [in 1969], I was then grieving the end of a guilt-ridden, clandestine affair with one of the nurses at the mission hospital."
In Straight Face (Green Bridge Press) author Brandon Wallace writes eloquently about the reality of living a dual existence as a gay person who had entered the ministry of a fundamentalist religion that denounced gays. He shows us how this is extremely unhealthy. But he also explores how he felt called to come out of the closet, become his authentic self, and help others. This came after he read about a gay teen who had died by suicide:
"While I was reading, all of my past came screaming back at me. I thought about my own suicide attempts, and all the nights I Iay in bed and thought about doing the same thing."
A Faithful Son is a novel by Michael Scott Garvin that explores the life of a young man growing up gay and fundamentalist in a small town in the South. "Boys like me grow up crooked..." he writes, and tells us the story of how and why the narrator had to leave the small town and move to Los Angeles. The narrator is devoted to his mother and writes movingly about her final days. Ultimately, he writes not about finding faith in the end -- but about the narrator finding himself -- and maybe in some ways that is the same thing
These three books are a testament to difference. These three author may all have come from fundamentalist backgrounds, but their stories are all different.
What they all have in common was that all three authors were raised in a strong faith that gave them something, but to preserve themselves, they had to leave.
To learn about Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters by Janet Mason (Bella Books), click here.