As for myself, I left the church when I realised I was gay. It was heart-breaking because I felt I had a vocation within the church. I was planning to go to grad school to get my M.Div. and hopefully be the pastor of a church someday. I was lucky that I was in a progressive branch of my denomination. Being a woman would hold me back a little in practice, but officially, they were ok with it. And it all fell apart when I realised I was gay.
I might not have left the church altogether had I remained in Canada. At home, there is at least 1 protestant denomination -- The United Church of Canada -- which is full-on affirming of gay people in their churches and in ministry. Other protestant denominations struggle with the issue but you're likely to find individual churches that will welcome a same-sex couple. I, however, was a baptist. There would be no welcome in my own church for me.
I knew that well ahead of knowing I was gay. At one point, I had a discussion with a woman from church whose child I often babysat. Ellen had just come out and still had her sitcom. Nadine (not her real name) argued that she shouldn't be shown on television. Even as an evangelical who hadn't yet questioned the stock teaching on gays, I was anti-censorship. No, I said, censorship is bad. What if they try to censor Christians? After all, as an evangelical, I was brainwashed into the "Christians are already marginalised" mentality. Best to leave it be and simply police what your children watch, lest censorship be used against Christians in the near future.
My rhetoric proved unconvincing, and I was never asked to babysit again. Another religious girl I know was drafted to care for those children. She was objectively a better Christian, apparently. She had long hair and long skirts to prove it, and certainly never questioned whether a gay person should be allowed on television, making people laugh.
I guess I wouldn't mind except that I would have agreed with Nadine that homosexuality was wrong. I'd never questioned it. In fact, I have burned into my brain a conversation at the local tea room with another ministry hopeful about Ellen and "the gay". I stated that it was unquestionably wrong. The last time I saw her was the first time I went to the only gay bar within reach. I hope she understood.
Not long after I came out, I moved away, and when I arrived on this side of the pond, I did look for affirming churches. For a brief period of time, I tried to keep my faith alive by myself. But more and more, news report after news report, I found out how hard God's people make it to love God. As it happened, I haven't lived anywhere in over a decade where I have had access to an affirming Christian community. There are now some affirming churches in places I have lived in the last decade, but they weren't there when I was.
And if I found one, would I go? This is the question I no longer can answer. I am closer to atheism than I have ever been in my life. At the same time, it takes little or nothing to move me back to opening the Bible. Still, something, the years of exile, perhaps? Or that I've learned that I can trust nothing that isn't empirically real? Something makes me think I can never go back to the kind of faith I had as a student. Even then, I shuddered at the emotional, manipulative, and downright ridiculous tactics that were employed in my own church to make people feel like they were part of something supernatural. Have I thrown the baby out with the bathwater? Or did I just imagine the baby in the first place?
Sure, others have been where I am. Many Christians would insist I am in my wilderness years, being away only to arrive in a better place. I had a friend who came from the same church I did, who moved away from home and broke free. She drank, she danced, she dated a guy who already had a girlfriend. She hung out with my wife and I when we were dating. But she went back. I remember all too well her response to our wedding invitation. She wouldn't attend our wedding -- she couldn't condone a same-sex wedding, but she would love to see us. It made me physically sick to my stomach. To this day, I don't know if I could look her in the eyes. My Catholic mother said pretty much the same. She was happy to attend our "party" (wedding reception), but not our wedding. I had to remind her that she'd been invited to neither. We were married in a church in Nova Scotia amongst friends and family who supported us. It was wonderful.
My search for meaning -- absurd as it may be -- is a search for something that might reconcile my instinct towards faith and my need for intellectual honesty. It turns out what started as a handicap -- being gay -- in my search for faith has become more of a clearing house. No faith that breeds hate and exclusion need apply. Others manage to keep their faith alive despite the onslaught of hate from fellow believers. For me, however, I will continue my search keeping in mind
Matthew 7:15-20 "Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. You will be able to tell them by their fruits. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit nor a rotten tree bear good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits." (NJB)
I'm going out on a (rather sound) limb to list some recent rotten fruits: covering up child sexual abuse, supporting a law to put homosexuals to death, condoning harmful lies about "change", attempting to enforce Christianity through the law.
How does one navigate faith and honesty in this confused age?