Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Rainbow Coalition of People from Every Creed

When I graduate in December, I will most likely be moving to New England. There are so many art opportunities around New York and in New England, and I could get married there (you know, just in case). High on my list right now is New Haven, Connecticut. It's only an hour and a half drive to art galleries in New York City, and two hours from Boston. I've been doing a lot of research on the area. One thing that I've discovered is that there is a huge presence of the United Church of Christ, and I've been learning about the Church. I like what I've seen so far, which has made me really question how I feel about God, spirituality, and religion. This has been intensified by the fact that many people within the gay rights movement have been pushing gay activists to redefine their arguments in religious terms. Gay rights won't happen if it is a fight between religious arguments and secular arguments (regardless of whether that is right or wrong). Gay people must, the movement says, be affiliated with religion. But I just don't know how I feel about religion.

When I came home from my mission, it wasn't long at all before my experiences started contradicting what the LDS Church had taught me. Church leaders told me that things would be a certain way if I did things a certain way, and I found them to be wrong. This lead me to question whether or not the Church could be the only true Church of God. I came to the conclusion that there is no one way to live, nor is there one authorized group that speaks for God and that one must belong to in order to be right with God. At the time I became quite certain that because there were so many different problems and situations in the world, God must have different solutions for different groups of people. I viewed religions as tools God created and used to help different groups of people in different circumstances. In a sense, all Churches, then, were true.

All while I was seriously questioning the LDS faith, though, I maintained somewhat vehemently that I was a Christian regardless of how I felt about Mormonism. I maintained a belief in God--that He guided people and had a big picture plan for them, and I believed in Jesus--that His Sacrifice made forgiveness possible. To me the most important elements of Christianity, both inside and out of the LDS Church, were revelation, forgiveness, and compassion.

Then Prop 8 happened. Hateful and clearly false rhetoric was spouted from pulpits, TV, youtube, and facebook. People I had once thought of as friends said nasty things about homosexuality to me, not knowing I was gay. As I made my orientation and my stance more clear, I lost friends and received hate mail. I watched administrators in Church, school, and even local government flat out lie. And the end goal of these people who used their religion as their authority was to prevent the families of gay couples from being recognized as equal (or as legitimate). It was to take away from my people the right to marry in the State of California. Prop 8 was like a war, and religion was the enemy.

My impressions of both the Latter-day Saints and Christianity as a whole changed drastically. Where as I once viewed Latter-day Saints as one "true" Church of many used by God to help people, I now viewed them as an institution that strategically fought to hurt myself and others like me. Where I was viewed Christians as a group that included me, I now viewed them as a group that excluded me from their table and actively opposed my right to sit at any table. I couldn't be a Christian because Christians were people that were against me and my future family.

I wanted to feel like I was a part of a group that would include me, so I began ordering books about gay spirituality. I knew I was always included in the gay camp, and I thought I might be able to tap into some gay religion that could tie me to the community. One of the books I ordered turned out to be really out there. It read almost like a Kama Sutra, detailing how homosexual sex could bring back memories of past lives and could take one on a spiritual journey to other worlds in the Universe. As much as I wanted to fly the "magic carpet" past Kolob and check out the other Mormon worlds there, it just wasn't for me.

So since that failure, I have wrestled with humanism. Instead of tools formed by God to help men, I have seen religions as organizations formed by men to reach God and explain their pre-existing emotions and beliefs. I stopped associating God with inspiration, and I stopped associating Jesus with forgiveness and compassion. Instead, I began to associate Jesus with symbol and mythology. I have read about Mithra, and Horus, and a dozen other mythological deities who share common stories of divine birth, miracles, ministries, and universal sacrifice. It's as if all civilizations need these archetypal stories, but they are still stories.

Having now unloaded my religious feelings for the past two years onto you, I'm asking for feedback. As I study the United Church of Christ, I am realizing that this is a huge body of people who believe in God, and in Jesus Christ, but who also affirm the legitimacy of homosexual individuals and families. They can do this in part because they believe in modern revelation, that God is still speaking. (God's word, they say, didn't end with a period, but a comma). Their Churches are almost always beautiful, especially in New England, and beauty has always spoken to me. Quite frankly, if I had known of this Church and if it had been available to me before Proposition 8 hit the ballot, then I would have joined it in a heartbeat, and would likely be an active member in that Church right now. But instead, I grew jaded and critical with religion and with God Himself.

So what do I do now? It would be nice to have a community to belong to. It would be nice to keep many of my childhood traditions. It would even be nice to keep Christian mythology. While I don't view it as literal or as absolute, I do view it's message as universal, applicable, and relevant. Would it be acceptable to investigate a Church under that pretense? Should I let the distrust and the distaste for religion left in my mouth after prop 8 keep me clear of religion, or should I do what many in the gay rights movement suggest and try to build bridges with Christianity? What do you think?


D-Train said...

Really interesting post. I feel like I went through a similar phase, but perhaps in an abbreviated period. I went from active LDS to not practicing to considering myself to be "Christian," to agnostic to somewhere between atheist and indifferent in about 12 months.

I think that religion can be a source of good in people's lives, but I am absolutely over the idea that there is a "true church" and really see organized religion as fulfilling a need in people's lives. Christianity really is our brand of mysticism and makes people feel complete for the time being.

I think that if you want to join a church for social or other reasons, it's fine, even if you don't believe the so-called doctrine. Being part of a community whose mission you believe in can be fulfilling.

Anonymous said...

watching new members become inactive is hard on missionaries so we convinced ourselves that if nothing else, we ruined other religions. that is, having once known the true church, all other churches just couldn't compare, leaving inactive members isolated.

well, that was not the only mission myth, of course, but it was pervasive.

one of these days the church will find a way to lose it's "one and only true church" identity, replacing it with a more suitable identity. It will be tricky, but it certainly wouldn't be the first theological flip-flop.

by the way, I really like your art

Lisa said...

I think religious people in your life will tell you to find God and spirituality again. Secular people will tell you that your religious experiences and upbringining caused you psychological harm. You have to do what you think is right. If you want religion or spirituality in your life, then you go and find what works for you. It doesn't mean you have to subscribe to any one philosophy, or group of people. I know you are striving for community - that you want that again, but I think as you have learned, being a part of an organized religion does not make you a "community" any more than does attending a candle light vigil. When you get away from Utah and start living your life by your rules alone, you'll find your community in your everyday life and the things/roles/events that give you happiness. If it's in a Church setting or a pottery class, I just want you to find happiness. You know as well as I do that there is no answer to your question "what do I do?" Love you.

alea said...

I think some people have an impulse towards spirituality and some don't. It sounds like you're in the former camp. I think the trick might be separating out the spiritual feelings from the religious ones. That is, develop a relationship with God (spirituality) and then maybe look into finding a community that supports you in that effort (religion).

I don't think there's any wrong reason for investigating a church. Being a seeker isn't a bad thing, even if it takes you lots of false starts to find a place where you are welcomed and belong

Daniel said...

Thank you all for the input. I don't think I'm really having a spiritual longing at all. I think that I'm really just scared that if I move out East, I won't have any friends near by. Looking for a Church was just a way to feel like I would have a community there. But I feel optimistic. I seem to find community no matter where I go, and I'm sure this will be no different.