I am Thankful for My Faith
A Gay Man’s Reflection on His Faith and Church
Now that the turkey has worn off and the food has settled, I find myself sluggishly moving through the airport beginning my journey back to San Jose. Being the introspective introvert that I am I think over the past few days and relish the memory of time spent with family. Family: my home. There was once a time when being around my family felt much less than home. Back when I was coming out I was working through a lot of internalized homophobia and often doubted the love I felt from family. It was after coming out that I realized and felt the strength and sincerity of their love. Through my vulnerability I found greater connection and compassion that helped me through my internalized self hate. During this same time I was going through a similar process with my faith. After coming out to different Catholic Church leaders I experienced a diversity of reactions.
Yet this process was much more internal than external. In my internal fight to love myself I struggled to find God’s love for me. The process of learning to love myself is inextricably linked to finding God’s love. In fact, my ability to love myself is reliant on my ability to feel God’s love; it was His love that got me through my toughest times. I had “come out” to God multiple times in my life. First in first grade, repeatedly through grade school and high school, and a few times my first year at Santa Clara. I remember going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and “confessing” my sexuality. It was in the priest’s love for me and his compassion that I had the courage to continue my struggle to find God’s love. I found that my sexuality was nothing to confess; Christ loves me for who I am, not despite it.
Back in high school while leading a Kairos retreat I found myself in a similar situation during a laying on of the hands prayer service. I approached one of the adult retreat leaders and internally cried out to God confessing who I am, expecting only rejection. I felt a sham, leading the juniors as a senior in high school on a retreat centered on finding God in our life experiences and yet feeling lost and alone. I expected to hear what I had heard while trying to pray away the gay throughout my childhood: nothing. But instead, I felt what I can barely describe using words. I felt a warm rush from the hands placed on my head down through my body and pulsing from my heart. I felt this warm embrace of acceptance and love. I asked God to “heal me” and I was healed. No, I wasn’t turned straight. I was started on the path of finding God’s love from within. I had stopped asking God to make me straight and had instead cried out searching for love, and I found it. This moment, forever engraved on my soul, has sustained me through my darkest times since then. It got me through the rest of high school, through coming out, through doubting myself and my faith, through hating myself, through wanting it all to end.
I’m remembering this now, unpacking my laptop and removing my shoes and coat whilst in line for the TSA screening. Thinking back now as I mindlessly walk through the metal detector, I smile as I come back to the now when the TSA agent asks me to stop on the rug. Yes, I am thankful for my faith. I am also thankful for my sexuality, for the experiences that have tested and shaped me like the blacksmith that heats and hammers metal into shape. Yes, life would have been easier growing up straight in the Midwest and the Catholic Church. Yes, life would be easier today. But I wouldn’t have this same faith; I wouldn’t have cried out for that love and felt God’s response.
Reflecting on my experience at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, there were often times when people would ask me why I’m “still” Catholic. People, while with good intentions, invited me to their own traditions claiming a level of acceptance and love that they’d supposed I’d never find in my own Church. And while part of me felt tempted to do so, I have a stronger urge to stay--to remain active in my Catholic community, tradition and faith. Leaving my Church to find outward love and acceptance from other traditions would certainly be acceptable. After all, there have been strong voices in the Catholic Church denouncing sexual and gender minorities as sin and perversion and some even calling for our death. The voices of hate and bigotry are loudest. And yet amid all this, I stay. When asked, “Why are you still Catholic?,” I respond, “Because that’s where I found God.” I found God in my suffering. I find God in the persecution of my people. I find God in our experience as our society’s and Church’s undesirables. I find God in my ability to read the Gospel and see myself beside Christ: to see myself in Christ and Christ in me, to see God’s love without condition, to focus my faith on a call to greater love rather than on policing sin.
Leaving the Catholic Church wouldn’t give me that same experience. For me, it would be running from the opportunity to integrate my experiences with my faith. I am Catholic and active in my faith and Church because I am gay. I have “gifts and talents to offer the Christian community,” as a preliminary document in the Synod stated. I have been given a sacred experience of the Gospel, the good news that God’s love comes with no condition, no asterisk.
During the Parliament I attended a session titled “Living In The Tension: LGBTQ Inclusion in Faith Communities.” There was a panel of three evangelical men (two gay and one bi) discussing how they are seeking to change their faith communities. During a Q and A closing section I asked how they respond to the question, “Why are you still (insert type of Christianity)?” In their discussion they offered various perspectives. One said how they hear that same question from their Church leaders with the strong implication (and sometimes blatant demand) to leave. Hearing that same question from someone seeking to help can be just as damaging of a question as when heard from someone within their Church. The offer to change faith communities–while often with good intentions–comes from the same thought: that we do not belong in that Church. Such a demand or implication has theological consequences that shake the very core of our respective Christian faiths, that God’s love is for and accessible to all creation.
I have heard a similar question directed toward my attendance at SCU, “Why are you still at a Jesuit school?” While I understand such a question and have at one time asked myself the very same, I have started to answer people in a similar manner with what I would use while at the Parliament: “Because I do belong here.” Asking that very question implies the opposite, no matter how progressive or supportive the questioner may be.
Yes, I have faced pressures to leave the Catholic Church, some of those external and many internal. But, leaving would be a denial that I am indeed Catholic. I would miss the opportunity to integrate my faith, my experience as an outsider, a metaphorical leper in the Catholic Church who has been saved by God’s love, by Christ’s Passion. I would miss the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy I often face, hypocrisy often rooted in the problematic theological assumption that God can hate or condemn any of his creation. I am thankful for my faith because even if there are times when my Church rejects me, we are still family and I still belong.