Anyone who regularly reads my posts and comments knows that I have a bit of an issue with organized religion. You might even say that I am one of those “militant homosexual activists” that automatically dislikes and discounts a person when they are religious.
And you wouldn’t be wrong.
That has all started to change, however, after having dinner with the openly gay Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson.
First, I’ll give a brief background on what got me to my anti-religion view. It’s a similar story that I’m sure many LGBT people can relate to.
I was raised Southern Pentecostal (like Baptists, but even more conservative. They speak “in tongues” and dance around in the Holy Spirit). It seems my fellow church-goers had me pegged as gay as soon as I popped out of the womb. I can’t remember a time in church when the other youth group kids (and even some adults) didn’t call me fag and sissy.
I was kicked out of the church when I was 16 for coming out. The pastor and youth minister both called me the devil and said I wasn’t welcome. A great example of godly love, I’m sure.
My parents and family all used religion as a weapon against me when I came out, saying I was going to hell. They literally shunned me for a period of time, all in the name of religion.
This past summer, all of the attacks and hate-mail we received after our anti-gay airport incident came from churches and religious folk. I’ve been spit on by “godly Christians” and threatened to be killed by them for speaking out against the crazy, toilet-obsessed Mayor Naugle of Fort Lauderdale.
It’s not hard to see why I would have a negative view of religion, Christians in particular. I found them to be disingenuous, non-thinking sheep at best and hate-filled, bigoted extremists at worst.
That is, until I met Bishop Robinson.
I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to hear him speak. Since I found it impossible to reconcile my religious upbringing with my gayness, I was unsure that he would have anything relevant to say. Would I relate, or even care?
Those questions all melted away when I had a chance to meet him before his lecture (my partner was hosting the series he was speaking at). Bishop Robinson had such a sense of strength, intelligence, and peace about him as soon as he approached.
I put out my hand to introduce myself. He laughed and pulled me in for a hug, saying how great it was to finally meet me. I guess my hubby had been putting in a few good words about me.
I was immediately thrown off by his openness and kindness, something I wasn’t expecting from such a deeply religious person. My surprise only grew when I heard him speak.
He spoke with such authority and conviction about religion, God, and the Bible. He seemed to answer all of my questions and concerns about the way religion has been corrupted by extremists. He talked about the true message of religion: acceptance, love, and compassion. He talked about how civil rights, including LGBT equality, was something all religious people should be behind.
Even when he was attacked during the questions session by some crazy, right-wing pastor for “spreading lies about the Bible and Jesus” and “being a disgusting abomination”, he never got angry or reacted negatively back. He simply showed true strength and answered back intelligently and honestly, never stooping to the level of those that attacked him.
As I drove from the lecture to the restaurant where we were meeting for dinner, my mind was spinning. It was like my own little epiphany. I was being just as close-minded and bigoted as the Christians I had come to despise through my own experiences.
Sure, on some intellectual level, I always knew that the rabid, anti-gay Christians didn’t represent all religious people. I just never really cared to make that distinction. I lumped them all together as ignorant hate-mongers who just wanted to attack LGBT’s. Yet after meeting the Bishop, I saw a different, more honest form of religion that represented something I never truly thought about.
The dinner only cemented my view of the Bishop. He was fun, engaging, smart, and refreshingly normal. He wasn’t here to shove his views down anyone’s throat. He was simply a man striving to have a conversation about faith and love in a society that has given up on both. He was the real deal. A Christian, a man of God, who was trying to make the world he is in a better place.
So where does this experience leave me?
While I may not be running out to join a monastery anytime soon, my views on religious people have shifted dramatically. Sure there are still the hate-filled bigots who use religion as a weapon.
But that doesn’t represent them all.
There are people like Bishop Robinson who simply want to use the lessons of God to make true change in the world.
Honestly, he forced this jaded gay man to try and accept religious folks, or at least not write them off completely. If he can do that, I have every confidence that he can open the eyes of the world about LGBT people and our issues.
God bless him and his mission.