Queer in Church

circa 1995

This morning I watched the first episode of the new season of Queer Eye. The person they helped in this episode is a gay Lutheran preacher, and this episode brought out all the feels. 

The above photo is me getting baptized at around 13. I grew up going to a Southern Baptist church with my grandmother. I remember getting dirty looks for laughing at the preacher because in true Southern Baptist style he would yell his sermons - face red, wiping the sweat from his brow, shouting "And the Lord said 'ha!' that you would be healed 'ha!' in the gates of Heaven 'ha!'

The "ha!" every few words just cracked me up! 

My parents weren't incredibly religious, but it was understood that we believed in God. They didn't go to church, but my grandparents devotedly went to three services a week, as did generations before them. 

In junior high I started going to a (not southern) Baptist church with one of my friends. I remember all the other kids in my youth group getting so into it - they'd make prayer requests during services, they were in the choir, they went to Prim (Christian prom without the dancing - because dancing is sinful), they celebrated when someone would get saved or baptized... So I thought that was what I was supposed to do. 

I was saved twice. According to Baptists, you must be saved - accept the Lord Jesus into your heart as your savior and ask for forgiveness for your sins. That's how you get into Heaven. 

The first time I was saved was at a Christian version of a haunted house around Halloween. A church in a nearby town put this on every year. You started out on a bus where a semi truck"crashed" into you, and you "died." You then went into the church where you laid down on a table in the "morgue," then were pushed through a hole in the wall where you found yourself in a casket with mourners looking down on you and crying. You were then judged to decide if you were going to Heaven or Hell, and were put in a pitch black room that I believe was supposed to be purgatory - a tiny room crammed with people? Hell yes that's purgatory! They instructed you to think back on your life. Where would you end up? Have you accepted Jesus into your heart? 

We were then corralled into a room where church members would walk you through getting saved. So, that's what I did. My friends cried and praised me. 

I didn't feel any different. 

Shouldn't I feel different? 

So a year later during a church service, I asked to be saved again. I didn't feel like it took

That one didn't seem to take either. 

The natural next step is to be Baptized. Maybe that's why I didn't feel any different. 

When I was Baptized, I remember the water was so warm. I just wanted to soak in it. The preacher instructed me to put my hands over my mouth, pinching my nose shut, and said "I now Baptize thee, my sister Bertina..." and tipped me back into the water. I came up coughing up water because I was laughing. (Notice the attempt at hiding my grin in the photo!) 

 Bertina?! I'd been going to this church for two years, and the preacher got my name wrong! 

Well that one didn't take either, obviously because he baptized some chick named Bertina, not me. 😂

Sometime in the 9th grade I started questioning the sermons the preacher was giving. The thing that struck me first was that it is a sin to be homosexual. I had never known a gay person, but how can it be a sin to love someone? You can't help who you fall in love with. I was in love with a boy who didn't know I existed, if I couldn't choose to not love him, I was pretty sure a lesbian couldn't choose to not love women. What kind of a God would send you to Hell for who you love?!

When I first started going to this church, they had just recently gotten a new youth pastor. He and his wife were recovered addicts. They'd had a rough life, and they looked it. But they were so nice! As a new member, they really made me feel welcome. Everyone else hated them. They judged them for their appearance and their past. The youth pastor and his wife eventually left. They were replaced by Chris and Linda Pinion, an attractive couple who looked the part of youth pastor and wife. Everyone loved them. I was indifferent. 

After one church service where all the youth group was crammed into the first three pews (as was required), this new youth pastor approached me. He said he wanted to talk to me about how close I was sitting to my boyfriend. He felt it wasn't appropriate, and he just didn't want me to get pregnant. 

Wait, what? 

I was in the 9th grade. I'd just recently gotten my first kiss. I didn't even know exactly what sex was yet, but I was pretty sure you couldn't get pregnant by sitting too close to a boy in church. I strongly considered pointing out that I couldn't get pregnant by sitting too close to a girl, so maybe I should be a lesbian, but bit my tongue. 

After that I started questioning everything. 

I grew up being told you believe in God, you go to church, you get saved, you get baptized, and that's just what you do. 

For what? So I can judge people unfairly? So I can be told I'll go to Hell if I'm gay? By then I'd started questioning my sexual orientation, so that one really resonated with me. 

And why did I believe I was supposed to do all this anyway? Because that's just what you do? What if I don't agree? What if God isn't even real? 

From there I realized I don't even believe in God. I just couldn't fathom how any of it could be physically possible. Sure, there could have been a guy named Jesus who had a following, but I was pretty sure the whole turning water into wine, walking on water bit was a euphemism. I mean, the bible is a book translated from Hebrew hundreds of times, surely they got some parts wrong and embellished a bit. 

No wonder two savings and a baptism didn't make me feel any different. I never believed it in my heart. 

That experience truly shaped who I am as a person. Since then, I question everything. I refuse to believe something just because that's what everyone believes. I research the shit out of everything and form my own opinions. And because of that, I have a lot of conflict with my family. They think it's weird that I'm atheist, queer, and passionate about causes that they don't understand. 

I did have a few more stints in going to church regularly (I even helped teach Sunday School for preschoolers for a while), but both stints were for other people. After telling my second husband I could no longer go to his Pentacostal church with him and listen to homophobic sermons, I swore I wouldn't sit through another church service again. 

 I'm still expected to go to church once a year for the mother daughter banquet at my grandmother's church. They don't understand that walking into a place where I would not be accepted if they knew who I really am (I've since come out as pansexual) causes an immense amount of anxiety. But it's important to my mom and grandmother, so I go. And when my grandfather passive-aggressively suggests I go to church for Easter and Christmas, I politely decline, and feel like a disappointment. 

My family knows who I am, but they don't acknowledge it. They don't talk about it. I've been told I cannot bring female partners to family gatherings. I've been looked at with disgust - by my family - when I mention female partners. 

To circle back around to the inspiration for this post - In this episode of Queer Eye, this gay preacher welcomes everyone who comes into his church. He celebrated when a member of the church came out, and he mentioned that the kid's parents had been waiting for him to come out since he was four. I can't imagine what that kind of support and acceptance must feel like. 

If all churches were like that, instead of expecting people to be a certain way, and judging anyone who doesn't fit into their mold, maybe more people would be accepting and the world would be a better place. 

It gives me hope that churches like that do exist. Even if I don't believe in God and have no desire to step foot into a church again, to know that because churches like that exist, a few more people will have radically different experiences than I did. 

It gives me hope. 


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