The Connection Between My Identity As A Gay Man And My Spirituality
The following is adapted from A Gay Man’s Guide to Life.
I grew up in a Christian household, but today, I am an atheist. I put my faith in the here and now. I believe in the present moment, rather than whatever came before or might come next.
I am also a gay man, and I’ve experienced harm and hate directed toward that side of myself, an experience that many other gay men know too well.
I’d like to share how my sexuality and spirituality are connected—how one helped shape the other—and to examine how we as a society might heal with spirituality rather than hurt our marginalized communities. There is a real need for reform in Christianity, and it is long overdue.
How I Define My Spirituality
Faith is belief in the absence of evidence, and I have faith in many things. I believe in the power of the human spirit and the brilliance of the human mind. But my prayers are an attempt to invoke our better natures, rather than messages to some all-knowing being.
While I believe that bodies of superior power and intelligence inhabit this universe, I do not believe there is a grand architect, much less one that requires, or even wants, our supplication. Some might call this brand of faith “secular humanism,” but for me the label is unnecessary. It’s just what I believe.
In my spiritual journey, I have sat with Quakers and Buddhists, and I have stood with Lutherans and Episcopalians, yet I do not feel part of any particular movement, nor any group-oriented faith-based practice. In this way, I am connected to everybody, which is another way of saying that there is nowhere to hide.
Everyone is my soulmate, and we are all in this together. Maybe someday I will join others. Find a spiritual home that celebrates the innate goodness of all things, understands the beauty of radical inclusion, and teaches the value of continuity with an eye toward opportunity. I would share that home with all who enter, such that we might raise our voices and sing of togetherness. But today, I practice alone.
I come from a Christian family, and have experienced Christian abuse. My family questioned, shamed, and ridiculed my sexuality and gender expression, until they forced me in the closet completely—all in the name of Jesus.
But even worse was that, as a child, the spark of my nascent spirituality was left entirely unlit, and the wisdom I should have acquired through ceremonies, initiations, and rites of passage was never transmitted. I earned my insight exclusively through lived experience, unnecessary tragedy, and heartbreak.
Perhaps my secularism is a response to the vile behavior I witnessed: the shaming of souls, the othering of neighbors and loved ones, the consolidation of power in a select few, as well as the homogeneity of narrowmindedness, usually bound by race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Yes, in churches I have also witnessed tender mercies, true selflessness, and love writ large. One does not obviate the other. Harm can be amended, but never undone. Our words and actions are sacred. Even wrongs made right are never truly unwritten, no matter how much honor there might be in the effort.
The Need for Reform in the Church
When we talk about the intersection between Christianity and homosexuality, we must start with the harm, and the harm has been legion: Christians have tortured and killed gay men for centuries. They have cast us out of their families and communities, and rendered us helpless and hopeless. We have been laughed at, spit upon, imprisoned, institutionalized, physically and chemically castrated, psychologically tortured, and forced to choose between quiet desperation and public humiliation.
At long last, the church recently awoke to find itself as part of a shrinking cultural minority. Some organizations split between those who wanted better, and those who wanted worse. Some members left for greener pastures; others were driven out. Meanwhile, those who remained consolidated their ugly power.
As church leaders and members grow accustomed to privilege and power, it is tempting to lie: we are good people, have a well-meaning congregation, and would never intentionally harm anyone. But if they are members of a well-meaning church that promises inclusion, yet does not explicitly celebrate gay lives and bodies, then they are condoning, or even participating in, spiritual abuse.
It is all too easy to pat themselves on the backs while sitting in the cheap seats, pretending they love everyone—to put up rainbow flags and send a few parishioners to Gay Pride events, without risking anything and never truly leaving their comfort zone. Churches must do more.
Bridging the Gay and Christian Communities
If churches truly want to be houses of inclusion, they have to get real. They must extend their hands in caritas, then they must get in the fight. They must go somewhere that frightens them and challenges their delicate sensibilities.
To those gay men who might be part of such congregations, it’s time for some rigorous honesty. Are you truly working within the system to foster it on behalf of all people? Or are you staying cozy, garnering crumbs of proximal power from those who have a vested financial incentive in oppression?
As gay men, we are not beholden to their stories about us. We get to find our own way and chart our own path. I am an atheist, but there is a place for other gay men in Christianity if churches are willing to make a change.
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