This past week has been a roller coaster of emotion for me. On one hand, marriage equality finally came to the U.S.- although there are still other important areas to be worked on, this was a massive step for LGBTQ equality and that’s wonderful! My first Pride Festival was also a very positive experience; I loved the acceptance and freedom to by myself that I felt there. It was a safe and happy place and I was able to meet other people just like me. I was also very happy to see support from countless Christians in my life this past week- even those that did not personally agree with me were still vocal in their support of my right to choose for myself, and they shared my joy with me even as they stayed true to their own religious beliefs.
But there was another side to this past weekend- Christians who don’t approve of marriage equality did a lot of posting and talking about their feelings on the matter. Of course it’s your right to believe whatever you want and express those beliefs, and I’ll always support that right because freedom can’t be given only to those we agree with- but your words come with consequences. And often it’s other people who have to live with the consequences of words we so causally throw around.
I cried this past weekend. I cried because the way you used your freedom of speech hurt me deeply. You’re not strangers on the internet, people I’ve never met who understandably wouldn’t have as much personal empathy for me. But you are people I know personally, people who claim to respect and care about me. I need to express to you how you’ve made me feel this week, I need you to understand the power of your words to tear people down and push people even farther away from your faith.
1. This isn’t just a simple disagreement.
I disagree with my Christian friends all the time. Our conversations usually look like this:
(Me) “I believe homosexuality isn’t a sin. I don’t believe in sin. Therefore I would marry someone of the same sex if I fell in love with them.”
(Them) “I believe homosexuality is a sin. Therefore I would not date or marry someone of the same gender.”
THAT is a disagreement. We both have our views, we express them respectfully, and neither of us are forcing our views on each other. This, however, is what has been happening with the issue of marriage equality:
(Me) “I believe homosexuality isn’t a sin. I don’t believe in sin. Therefore I would marry someone of the same sex if I fell in love with them.”
(Them) “I believe homosexuality is a sin. Therefore, no one should be allowed to marry someone of the same gender, even if their beliefs say otherwise. I also believe that you are pushing your beliefs on me by even asking to marry someone of the same gender.”
Do you see the difference? You’re not just disagreeing with me, you’re literally telling me that I do not deserve legal freedom to follow my own beliefs if they happen to be different from yours. You want YOUR religious beliefs to be legally enforced on my personal life. That isn’t a disagreement- that is you using your religion to oppress me.
And then, to add insult to injury, you are getting upset at me for even ASKING to be allowed to legally live out my own beliefs, or for pointing out that the way you’re addressing this issue is extremely hurtful and oppressive to the LGBTQ community. My fight for legal equality is presented as an attack on your religious beliefs, even though you’re the ones trying to make me live according to your beliefs and not mine. Me wanting to live out my own beliefs is not an attack on your religious freedom.
When you say we don’t deserve legal equality, you’re saying that we are second class citizens who can’t and shouldn’t make decisions for ourselves. By saying that your personal religious beliefs should trump our personal freedom, that you should dictate how we’re allowed to live our lives, you dehumanize and demean us.
You’re also going against everything our nation stands for, since our nation was literally founding on the idea that all people should be free to follow their own personal beliefs without our shared government promoting any of them over another. The same constitutional clause that unequivocally protects your right to follow your religion also protects me from being forced to follow your religion in any way.
I don’t care what you believe about sin. That’s a matter of personal belief. I may respectfully debate it with you (if we both want to have that conversation), but as long as you’re not shaming, belittling, or mocking me I don’t care what you believe. However- I DO care that you think your beliefs about sin should be enforced and regulated via our shared government, which was founded upon freedom for every American. Freedom and justice for ALL, not freedom and justice for Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christians. Your religious freedoms only extend as far as my freedoms begin. I can’t (and wouldn’t!!) force you to marry someone of the same gender or perform same sex marriages, and you can’t (and shouldn’t!!) force me not to.
2. You have dehumanized and mocked me and my struggles.
This week I’ve watched as my Pride symbols have been taken apart, mocked, belittled, and appropriated to support your own cause. Here are some examples:
The LGBTQ community faces discrimination and persecution that Christians in the United States don’t even come close to understanding. 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ teens and young adults that were thrown out of their homes when they came out of the closet, or that left home in desperation because they couldn’t stand the constant judgment and stigma from their loved ones. Transgender people face a 66% risk of violence or attempted violence, most have been severely bullied or discriminated against, and 41% of them have attempted suicide because of how society treats them. LGBTQ people are regularly assaulted, harassed, and judged in public places in the United States. Many have literally lost their lives, whether because of violence enacted against them or because of suicide after years of unending societal torment. The LGBTQ community faces a high rate of depression because of the stigmas and discrimination they have to endure.
THIS is what these symbols represent. Our struggles, the blood and tears we have shed, and the hope of one day gaining freedom from oppression, societal violence, and unjust laws. Our flags and colors and symbols represent unimaginable struggle, but also courage and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. The rainbow represents HOPE for us, just as it represents hope for you. For us it represents hope that there is beauty after a storm. We can both gain equal and different inspiration from this beautiful manifestation of nature.
And yet you mock our symbols, manipulate them to promote your own religious agendas, you put our symbolism down to build up your own. And then you wonder why the LGBTQ community gets angry at you?
3. “God will judge our nation for this!” “It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah!”
This is so incredibly insulting. With all the horrible things happening in the world and in the United States, such as sex trafficking and priests sexually abusing children and black churches being burned by racist terrorism, THIS is the issue you think that God will destroy America over? Loving committed relationships will ruin our nation, but the Christian holocaust of Native Americans in our early history didn’t? Our massive slave trade and legalized racism prior to the 60’s didn’t? America’s terrible treatment of the LGBTQ community wouldn’t? If your God would judge America for loving relationships but not these atrocities, then he is an unjust monster that is not worthy of worship.
4. “We win in the end!”
I didn’t see this one specifically on my friends’ posts, but it was certainly being thrown around by a lot of Christians this weekend. Even if you believe this is true, try to see it from our point of view. Your God is going to destroy us anyways in the end, and you’re happy about this? Wow.
5. “One Man One Woman” isn’t just insulting, it isn’t even Biblical.
This one has long been posted by anti-gay Christians, and a huge number of Christians on my Facebook have been posting them this week. it’s by far been the most popular. But here’s the problem: It’s not even Biblical.
While the Bible may not allow same sex marriages (debated hotly in Christian circles), it certainly DOES allow polygamy, sex slaves (concubines) and treating women like property. The only place that says a man should have a single wife is specifically referring to bishops. This is an issue that Christian missionaries overseas have had to come to grips with, since other nations still embrace polygamy even while also embracing Christ. These missionaries had to acknowledge that the Bible doesn’t actually condemn polygamy, and thus they had no right to condemn the cultural practices of the local people. I studied this when I was in Bible college preparing to be an overseas missionary, and I remember having to reevaluate my idea of what marriage meant in other Christian cultures.
“One man and one woman” is NOT the only type of marriage God allowed in scripture, so these memes are far more indicative of your own personal prejudice than of God’s alleged words. So not only are these memes hurtful because you’re making it clear that our marriages disgust you, but they don’t even match what your own Bible says about the types of marriage that God allegedly condones.
And as for the memes that state “I support traditional marriage”: “Traditional” doesn’t mean it’s right. Banning interracial marriages was once traditional too. Treating women like property was once traditional. Marrying girls barely out of puberty (or still in puberty) is STILL traditional in many countries. Until 1993, “traditional marriage” included the legal rights of the husband to rape his wife, and not that long ago wives were not allowed to vote or hold their own property. And the Biblical versions of marriage are VERY different than the marriage traditions we hold today.
“Traditional marriage” is a meaningless phrase that can be translated into “We’ve always done it this way, and I don’t want to change it!” Our laws should not be based on tradition, but on what’s fair and just for all citizens. And sometimes that means challenging and changing traditions that shouldn’t have been traditions in the first place.
6. You Were the Catalyst for Me Leaving Christianity.
Not directly, and probably not for the reasons you’re thinking, but it’s true. Years ago, when I was still a Christian, the state of Maine was voting on marriage equality. Although I believed it was a sin at the time, I didn’t think it was right to force any of my beliefs on non-believers, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. I had several gay and lesbian friends and I supported and loved them even though I disagreed. However, countless Christian friends on my Facebook were not so empathetic. Most of these Christians were people I went to Bible college with, though there were others from my circles growing up.
The message they sent was clear: They did not respect or love these people. They wanted to force their religion on them, and were not above dehumanizing and degrading them to accomplish this. And not only that, but they started attacking and belittling any Christians who dared to disagree with them. I saw this on one of my friend’s pages: “You can’t be a Christian and support gay marriage!” Really? You’re speaking for God now?
Their hateful attitudes and lack of empathy caused me to question whether or not being gay was actually a sin. After all, Jesus never said the things they were saying. Was this anti-gay attitude really Biblical after all? So I dug deeper into scripture and actually listened to other Christians who believed it wasn’t a sin, and I was shocked. The issue wasn’t as black and white as I’d thought- there were other legitimate ways to interpret those scriptures, similar to how we interpreted verses about slavery.
That day I realized two things that shocked me to my very core- One, my Christian circles only accepted me if I thought just like them, and two, that the church that I had trusted to teach me truth had been wrong on something really important. This last realization caused me to dig into other issues as well. Once I started openly questioning my faith, the questions I’d pushed down for years on many issues all came flooding to the surface. Eventually I wondered whether the Bible was divinely inspired, and realized I didn’t think it was. And then came the biggest question of all: Does God actually exist? My answer surprised me, but it was also comforting too because I no longer had to try to explain away the things that had never made sense to me. I no longer had to struggle with cognitive dissonance.
If these Christians in my life had not been so blatantly hateful towards the LGBTQ community and Christians who supported them, I would probably never have started questioning my faith. If my religion had been a source of love and acceptance instead of division and intolerance that was causing immense pain to LGBTQ people I cared about, I would have had very little reason to question those beliefs. But you made it impossible for me to coast along anymore. You forced me to dig deeper, to ask the tougher questions. And for that I thank you.
I want to clarify that I didn’t leave Christianity because of mean Christians. I’m not foolish enough to judge the validity of an entire belief system on the hurtful actions of some. There are mean atheists too, every group has its good and bad members. Truth is not determined by how people act. However, while your attitudes didn’t directly result in my unbelief, it was the catalyst that caused me to begin openly questioning my beliefs.
I know that converting people to your belief system is important to you, and keeping them in the faith is even more important to you- and the way you’re dealing with this specific issue is turning people away from your faith in so many different ways. For some like me, it was the catalyst that got us questioning our beliefs in general and was thus an indirect cause of our leaving the faith to become atheists or agnostics. For others, the hatred and anger coming from the church made them not want any part of it anymore, so they left the church to follow God in their own way, often joining the ranks of the “nones” who have no specific religious affiliation.
Here’s my point: If you want to get people into your faith, and to stop people from leaving it, then you HAVE to change how you’re addressing this issue. You don’t have to compromise your beliefs on sin to acknowledge that how you’re treating sinners isn’t effective and may not be how God would want you to act.
I love you all, even those of you who have caused me pain this week. I don’t begrudge you your right to express your beliefs just as I express mine. But I need you to understand that how you’re addressing this issue affects me and the rest of the LGBTQ community. It’s hard to see my friends post and say these things, even as they claim to love and respect me. Saying “I love you!” means little when you’re using your religion to belittle and hurt me. And when I’m hurting, sometimes my filter doesn’t work as well as it should. I’m more apt to passionately comment on those posts trying to make you see how hurtful it is. I’m more apt to share posts that may hurt you in return, things that on a normal day I’d refrain from posting. I’m not excusing any reactions I’ve had that may have gone too far, I’m just saying that I’m not perfect and when my friends act this way it feels like I have to defend my right to even exist in their world. I’m saying that in my pain I sometimes lash out because I just want the pain and judgment to stop, and nobody seems to listen when I say things nicely. I’m doing my best to coexist with you, but some days you make it so damn hard.
I don’t expect any of you to change your beliefs on homosexuality being a sin. I’ve never asked that and never will. But I am hoping that perhaps you’ll find a new, kinder, more effective way to address it, just as you address other sins.