Way back in the pre-e-mail mid-1990s I received a letter from "Mark," a seventeen-year-old who lived in suburban far-eastern Long Island with his devoutly religious parents. He didn't know how to reconcile his religious beliefs with his homosexuality and wrote to me for advice. It was just the first of many letters and e-mails I've received on the subject since then.
And it's a subject that I've addressed most recently in the new edition of my book for teens, What If Someone I Know is Gay? For the lead question in the chapter on religion I incorporated some of what Mark wrote to me in that first letter. Here's the question from my book. The answer follows.
If I'm lesbian or gay and my religious beliefs tell me that what I am is wrong, what can I do?
Many people, young and old, have written to me over the years about conflicts between their religious beliefs and their sexual feelings. Often, what they know in their hearts about themselves has clashed harshly with the teachings of their religion. This is a personal challenge for which there is no single answer.
For Mark, who thought he was going to hell because of what his pastor said in church, the personal conflict was enormous. Finally, he came to terms with his sexuality and what his church had taught him:
I was having anxiety attacks every day. There were six to nine months of hell. I couldn't breathe. I remember sitting in church every Sunday feeling very nervous. Then something just snapped in my brain. It was the thought of going to college and planning out my adult life. It was the promise of love. I started imagining this guy I would fall in love with. It was the power of love out there that overpowered the bad feelings. And then I read everything I could about gay people and learned about gay religious groups and that there were people who read the Bible who were gay and were also religious. That did it for me.
Carolyn Mobley also struggled with her sexuality, which she once believed was sinful. But then as a college student she realized that her sexuality was not sinful but, instead, a gift from God. I met Carolyn several years ago, when she was an assistant pastor for the Metropolitan Community Church. I hope that her thoughts on this subject, which follow, will help you to think in new ways about what you have been taught and what you know to be true about yourself or about a gay person you know.
Carolyn gives credit to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., with helping her come to terms with being a lesbian. She told me:
Dr. King's commitment to disobeying unjust laws had a profound impact on my thinking. I began to question the things that I was told to do. Are they really right? Are they right if I'm told they're right by a person in a position of authority? I began to realize that parents could steer you wrong. Preachers, God knows, could steer you wrong. They were all fallible human beings; they could make mistakes. That really changed my way of looking at myself and the world. And it certainly helped me reevaluate the message I was getting from the church about homosexuality. It made me examine more closely what the Scripture had to say about it.
After examining the Scripture, Carolyn came to the following conclusion:
God didn't deliver me from my sexuality. God delivered me from guilt and shame and gave me a sense of pride and wholeness that I really needed. My sexuality was a gift from God, and so is everyone's sexuality, no matter how it's oriented. It's a gift to be able to love.
I couldn't agree more.
For links to GLBT religious organizations, have a look at the "Resources" section on my web site.