Tuesday 6 March 2012

Why I Remain a Person of Faith

Over the last few weeks since the release of BGBC, I have been interviewed many times. Of all the questions that I have been asked so far, there is only one that every interviewer has asked. It is this: if the church hurt you so badly and was so destructive in your life, then why on earth did you stay with Christianity - why didn't you get the hell out of there as fast as you could like other gay people did?

The one dominant emotion in each of the interviewers was incredulity. They simply could not believe that after everything I had endured at the hands of the church and good Christian folk that I chose to stay with a faith that was ostensibly so homophobic, so hostile to my natural self, so aggressive in its repudiation of my personhood.

So all these years after the fact, what do I think of this?

Well for a start, I think incredulity is probably the most logical feeling to experience. It really is hard to believe why I stayed, if not in the institutional church, then with the Christian faith. And I am not the only one who has experienced this. Lots of gay Christians get asked all the time why they continue to bother with the whole thing, given the church is so resistant to change and enlightenment.
Here is my answer as I see things at the moment. Part of this can be found in the final chapter of the book and part of this is new for the BGBC Blog.

The thing is, when one has a deep faith as I had, it is not the easiest thing in the world to just abandon it. This is because our faith is birthed and rooted in the person of God, not in the institutional church. While the church hurt me, and it certainly did, I cannot blame God for that.

You will recall from BGBC if you have read it that I felt I needed to put God on the shelf in order for me to get some answers. I had to be broken in order to finally be honest with myself. I do not say that everyone has to experience this brokenness, only that I had to. It was when I reached that point where I could no longer go on and that nothing made sense any more, that I finally began my upward journey to truth and peace. It was that honesty that lead me to seek help from a Psychologist who gently and carefully took me through everything that I needed to talk about - sex, tenderness, desire, companionship, self-love, self-acceptance, healing.

And to achieve this resolution, I felt I needed to do it outside the church - outside its worldview, outside its terminology of sin and salvation, outside of its teachings on human sexuality. The lovely thing that I have realised for a long time now though is that even though I thought I had put God on the shelf for those years, nothing could have been further from the truth. Instead of me putting Him aside, I was actually held firmly by grace. This is the definition of grace I love the best - to be taken hold of by the Divine Presence, to be grasped by God. We so often think it is our grasping of God that makes the life of faith work. It is not this at all; it is the reverse in fact. It is being grasped by God. During those years in the wilderness for me, I was held by the Divine Love at every moment, every point, every tear.

And so, to abandon the God I had loved my whole life proved impossible for me. So grasped was I by God as a young man that I could not do it, though the church repudiate me, though Christian friends reject me, though they all think I am in error, or backslidden or in heresy. In the end, it was not they who had to live my life, with or without God, but me. I had to choose to live my life authentically as my true self. And where there is truth, there is ultimate reality, there is God.

At the end of that long dark tunnel I found God not only out in the light but I eventually realised that He had been with me under the mountain undergirding my life and trajectory all along, always to freedom, always to peace, always to relationship, always in love. So while incredulity is truly the logal thing to feel at such man-made destruction, the love of God goes beyond logic to the depths of being, the depths of identity.

However, there is another reason why I stayed with my faith too. In BGBC in Chapter 11, I talk about why some Catholics choose to remain in the church when its official teaching is so out of step with modern scholarhsip in psychology, sociology, theology and Biblical studies. It is this notion of not abandoning the church to the bigots and the ignorant, but choosing to stay in order to make a difference, to open up the conversation that has to be had and to make the declaration - I am gay and I am Catholic, you will not deny me my church that I have grown up in from my infancy. This rather 'protestant' position is also why I wrote BGBC.

I wanted to say out loud that the church's teachings about gay people are wrong, unjust and harmful and that they needed to cease declaring these teachings. So part of my living faith today is not just my own personal relationship with the Divine but a sense of using this book to help others to self-accetpance and self-love and to know that God is on their side too. To the whole of my faith I stand as the gay Catholics to the whole of their Church. I cannot abandon it to bigotry and ignorance and stand idly by while good people are hurt and the reputation of the Gospel is tarnished.

And so I remain Christian. One friend put it this way. "It is my first language." I like this. My faith is my mother tongue. Though I cannot hope to ever pretend that I will understand everything about how God works in this world, it is enough that I do not understand yet get to make meaning out of a confusing life through the prism of Jesus and to know that I am grasped by grace.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

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