Lately, I've been thinking about leaving the church I've belonged to since I was a teenager, the church where I became a religious brother (until I was asked to leave when I admitted to being gay), the church whose rituals, whose smells and bells, have been the one constant over the course of an often difficult life.
It's not that I want to. It just feels too much like sleeping with the enemy. Each time I drop a donation in the collection plate, I feel like I'm supporting an organization that treats me abusively, that does not value me the way it does its straight members.
Just today, I stumbled across a story from late 2014 about Cardinal Raymond Burke, who advised parents not to invite gay couples to family gatherings when children are around.
‘If homosexual relationships are intrinsically disordered, which indeed they are … then what would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living [in] a disordered relationship with another person?
‘If it were another kind of relationship – something that was profoundly disordered and harmful – we wouldn’t expose our children to that relationship, to the direct experience of it.
‘And neither should we do it in the context of a family member who not only suffers from same-sex attraction, but who has chosen to live out that attraction, to act upon it, committing acts which are always and everywhere wrong, evil.’
Burke has put his finger on the pulse of my problem: Many members of my church feel that "practicing homosexuals" are committing acts that are "always and everywhere wrong, evil."
Yet he has nothing to say about young couples "living together in sin" (once upon a time this was known as fornication and is mentioned in the Bible rather frequently), or couples who have been divorced and remarried. He does not warn parents to keep their children away from masturbators and pursuers of pornogtraphy. No, his scorn, his contempt, is reserved only for homosexuals.
He is careful to distinguish between "practicing homosexuals" and those not involved in sexual relationships, but few make this distinction. The effect of his words is to tar all gay folks with the same brush. So when Mom and Dad sit down to plan Christmas dinner, they are advised by the cardinal to make sure to exclude a son or daughter who might be homosexual because ... well, that is the question, isn't it?
Recently there was a story about a Catholic priest who was fired from his ministry at a college in New Jersey for supporting the No H8 Campaign. Is that the message my church wants to send, that a priest who stands shoulder to shoulder with the "least of these" will lose his job?
These are not isolated events. Such stories appear every day.
While there are indeed many Catholics in the church who support its LGBT sons and daughters, sadly, there are many in the hierarchy who do not.
Consequently, like many LGBT Catholics, I find myself thinking it's time to leave, that, for my own spiritual well being, I really ought to leave.
I attend Sunday mass at a small church in a rural town. Never once have I been made to feel uncomfortable. No one has ever said a word about my sexuality. I am treated decently and compassionately.
And yet, there is something wrong.
Some folks go to church to have their "batteries" recharged; I come away feeling that mine have been drained. I do not feel lifted up, or spiritually refreshed. Rather, I am left with the curious feeling that the "good news" of the Gospel was meant for others - parents with their kids, older couples, grandfathers and grandmothers, not people like me. Not people who are "intrinsically disordered" as I am. Not people of questionable morals.
Some folks enjoy the social aspect, the meet and greet; I avoid these occasions because I've learned the hard way that there is something about me that is deeply troubling, perhaps even distasteful to some people. So I keep to myself and always feel like I've crashed a party that I wasn't invited to.
I am very much aware that the folks in the pews around me are there to further their own spiritual lives. But what about my spiritual life? Am I not entitled to one? Are the "same-sex attractions" I experience the only thing about me worth noting? Do I not have a soul too? Do I not deserve the spiritual encouragement and uplifting that is offered so freely to parents, to children, to the elderly?
I often wonder what it would be like to have a church family that welcomed me, that was not afraid of me, not afraid to acknowledge me from the pulpit, not afraid to discuss the issues that have such a deep impact on my life. Seems to me it would be an amazing experience -- to go to church and be surrounded by supportive people, to worship together, to contribute my talents and gifts just like anyone else and not always be singled out as someone of questionable morals.
How is it that I am now 51 years old, and have never experienced this?
When St. Peter was given charge of the church, he was told -- three times -- by Jesus to "Feed my sheep." Why is it that I am always left with the feeling that I have not been fed, that the church has nothing to offer me except condemnation and perhaps pity, that it sees nothing about me except a "disordered" sexuality?
An abusive relationship is one in which your needs are not being met, where you're not free to state your needs, where you're not free to speak for fear of the consequences, where you live in fear of what might happen, what might be done to you if you don't measure up, or keep quiet, or toe the party line. In an abusive relationship, one does not feel properly valued and acknowledged. There is no mutual exchange of respect, love and encouragement. One person always lives in fear of the other, lives in the fear of love being withdrawn, or the fear of being punished, the fear of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, and bringing down the wrath of the abuser on one's head.
How can genuine spiritual work be done in such an atmosphere?
How can the "love of God" be authentically experienced when it comes from the hands of people who are simultaneously abusing you?
A private spirituality is fine and dandy, but a genuine spirituality must be communal, must involve the give and take of others, of a community. Within the framework of community, one discovers who one really is.
The church's LGBT sons and daughters are handicapped in this regard because they are not free to be themselves. To admit to being what they are is to admit to some moral, irresolvable failing. A cloud will always hang over their heads. How can they live authentic lives and experience an authentic spirituality when they are not allowed to be authentic?
Hence, my dilemma.
I don't want to leave the church, but there are times when I think my spiritual sanity and well being depend on it.
The church has been a wonderful place for so many groups of people. It could be a wonderful, uplifting place for gay people too -- but it does not want to be.
How can I continue to support a church that does not support me, that does not feed me, that has no answers for people like me, that condemns me for a reality that I did not choose, that I find just as bewildering as it does?
Where is all this "good news" that the Gospel was supposed to bring -- and when will the church get around to sharing it with its LGBT sons and daughters? Or must we stand on the sidelines and forever remain second class citizens who need to be content with whatever crumbs from the table that might get thrown?