A gay ex-Christian stumbles over God Talk


Got in the below. My answer follows it.

Dear John,

Firstly I would like to thank you. The NALT Project is such an important message. It has certainly touched my heart.

I don’t really know why I am writing an email to you at 1:00 a.m. EST. I have come across the NALT project online. I think it has awakened a longing that I’ve forgotten. I used to be very devout in my youth. I can still remember the feeling of holiness in my youth.

For so many youth, especially gay kids, the turmoil begins at puberty, and it was no different for me. I had the good sense (or grace) to avoid the Gay Catholic Trap of “I’ll become a Priest so nobody will question why I’m not married.” Catholic High School and Boy Scouts seemed to just exacerbate my crisis of faith at the critical juncture.

Despite the best of intentions, I have a Pavlovian response against many of the NALT videos. I feel deeply unsettled with “God Talk.” It strikes my jaded ears as saccharine when I know that it isn’t. I want to get over this, and seek faith again. But I’ve been conflicted for six years now.

Have you heard from others who have hit this same stumbling block as me?

How did you experience God’s Grace?

Thank you so much for listening.

Dear Guy Who Wrote Me This:

Everyone has “jaded ears.” We have all heard and seen it all before. We all have a million reasons to dismiss or flat-out despise Christians and Christianity, to hold that “organized religion” is a crock, to ascribe ulterior motives to anyone who in any way whatsoever seems to be encouraging us to be spiritual in the exact same way they are.

Possessing half a brain means being repelled by “God Talk,” since “God Talk” usually comes wrapped up in insincerity and pretentiousness—with a bow of passive-aggressiveness on top. Not exactly the gift that keeps on giving anything anyone wants.

You asked if I have heard from others who, like you, as children were into church and Christianity, but after hitting puberty and/or going to college fell away from the faith. Friend, that’s like asking me if I’ve ever received an email from a person who knew how to type. By far the story from people I’ve most often heard about their faith journey matches yours exactly: wholly into it as kids; decidedly less into it after hormones and Ever-Engaging Life took hold of them; again interested in it once life has proven to be … less engaging than it promised to be. (Included in my book UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question are about thirty extremely powerful letters I received from gay Christians whose stories … well, you should read, which I swear I’m not saying just so I can sell a book.)

In when you’re ignorant; out when you know it all; in again when you realize that you can’t know jack.

Ah. The cycle of life. The training wheels on that cycle should be permanent.

Finally, you asked how I experience grace. The same way as you do, I guess: when I’m meditating; when I’m praying for more than about ten seconds; when I’m listening to and caring for a person in need; when I’m freely creating; when I’m surrounded by nature. When, in the main, I let myself experience God’s presence.

God’s here, within me, all the time. He/she is as close as my next breath. I just have to be attentively aware of that as I take my next breath. If I am, then boom: grace. If I’m not, then boom: regular life.

It’s the same with you. It’s the same with everybody. That’s just … part of the phenomenon of being human.

If you’re feeling yourself pulled back to Christianity, don’t fight that. Don’t worry about being taken in, or duped, or playing the fool. Screw all that noise.

Why should you let what others have done to Jesus ruin what Jesus has done for you?

(Hey! God Talk! Oh well. Sometimes grace and saving face can’t be in the same place.)

Best to you. Thanks for writing.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Matt

    I’ll just re-enforce what John said, Letter Writer: you’re not alone in your particular experience of faith. I was the quintessential “church kid” growing up, and now I am in my 20s and don’t identify as a Christian anymore, although I definitely don’t know everything! That would be insufferable for others and for me! The more I learn, the more questions pop up. No problem. That’s life. It’s more interesting that way.

    I experience my “de-conversion” more like a sabbatical than shaking my fist at the heavens. I will most likely return to the faith again one day, although who knows what kind of twists and turns my life will take? I guess just don’t worry. You have plenty of company out here, so it’s okay to take your time with it. If God exists, He’s not going anywhere.

    • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

      I also was a quintessential “church kid” in fact I was a preacher’s kid so to some extent I literally grew up in the church. And from the age of 17 or so until my early thirties I ‘did’ know everything and yes I was insufferable. It took me a while to learn that I’d not only didn’t know everything but in the immortal words of Alister Sim in the classic movie Scrooge “I never did know anything”. As a result I walked away from Christianity for a number of years and was at one time a card carrying atheist. I can’t say exactly when I became I believer again it just sort of happened. I now realize that God never left me even when I walked away from him. I hope this doesn’t sound trite but I though it might be of interest to you.

      • Matt

        It is very interesting! And it does not sound trite at all. If asked directly I say that I am an atheist, but that is just to avoid more probing questions.

        For now, being nothing is a very restful place for me to be. And seeing things from an non-believer’s perspective has been eye-opening as well. There’s nothing I love more than learning. Honestly, if someone offered to fill me with omniscience, I would have to think about it. It sounds awfully overwhelming, deadly boring, and desperately lonely.

        • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

          To me one of the saddest things is that many people have little interest in learning after they leave school unless it has to do with their work. I’m a blue collar worker but I love reading and I am always learning new things about whatever interests me about science, philosophy or religion.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            I’m always trying to learn too. I can’t imagine not wanting to.

  • Christine McQueen

    To the letter writer: I may not be homosexual, but there are plenty of reasons I stopped going to church a little more than thirty years ago. I still do my praying, though it is now done from home (or from wherever I happen to be when the need for prayer arises) but, other than an occasional funeral or wedding, I haven’t set foot in a church since 1983!

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      Heathen!!

      • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

        (And hi, Christine! So good to hear from you! Please continue to think I’m super funny.)

    • DrewTwoFish

      Don’t worry. Not everyone is privileged to be gay! I’ll bet you’re still an OK person.

      : >)

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

    Letter writer: There are certain settings and phrases that are common in Christianity, at least along this link of the Bible belt, that make me want to run away screaming. And yet, there are others where I feel comforted and at peace.

    I’m a lousy Christian, more one of habit than faith, more mystical than dogmatic, yet my favorite, most memorable religious experiences have been in a church, a funeral for a client’s husband at a local Catholic church, my children performing in the annual Christmas play at the little Southern Baptist church I played piano and sang at, my first sunday at the church I now attend, and hearing the choir sing so beautifully, our youth pastor daring to suggest to our mostly conservative Methodist congregation to consider the gay community as equally deserving of love, acceptance and respect as anyone, and a mass with my eldest and his girlfriend in a gorgeous Catholic church in Houston.

    Each had meaning and a presence of God.

    i’ve also seen that when riding home from a day trip with the grandkids and our car chasing a double rainbow for 20 minutes, and standing at the base of a pounding waterfall, and just basking in the serenity, seeing three dolphins playing in the waves at Hilton Head one summer.

    God’s grace is here, along with peace, compassion, courage, and all those other things God tends to leave around for us to discover. I am always surprised when I trip over God’s presence, Looking for it has proven to be futile, so I just wait for me to face plant right in it.

    • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

      Greetings from one lousy Christian to another.

      “I am always surprised when I trip over God’s presence, Looking for it
      has proven to be futile, so I just wait for me to face plant right in
      it.’ I love the idea of tripping over God’s presence and getting face planted by Grace.

    • Andy

      Based on some of the things I’ve heard and seen done by people that have been called “good Christians”, I’m perfectly happy with being a “lousy Christian” if it means I don’t get lumped in with them.

    • BarbaraR

      Allegro, can you try to explain what you mean by “mystical”?

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

        I can try.

        I’m a ponderer, always channeling my inner four year old, that part of me who questions everything. Part of that is my religious upbringing, which hindered my ability to do it openly, which I have written about. Once i found the freedom to do play the, “why game” I went whole hog.

        As as result, I have a unique faith, one that gets frustrated with dogma and rituals, or utterly bored, one that finds little value in Bible Study and prayer, at least in the sense commonly known as prayer, because I feel there is something missing there…God.

        I seek to understand God, yet I also seek to discover how little I know about the divine as well. I don’t want certainty, I want wonder. I can read a passage in the Psalms and glimpse how the poet was blown away by looking at the stars one evening, and feeling so small, yet so awed by his belief that God made all of that. I can read Emily Dickinson and her love for nature, and feel she also wondered. Reading Rumi, or Buddha, or the Dalai Lama, has me feel connection with people who saw peaceful, harmonious human interaction as purposeful and inspired by God . I can listen to Vivaldi or Chopin and feel an ethereal presence, and then I can take a photo of a katydid, or pull weeds out of a flower bed, and delight in the diversity of life in just my front yard…believing it is part of this amazing planet created eons ago.

        I just am not satisfied with religion to help me on my quest, although it does serve other purposes, like a sense of community, and some structure, as well as a wealth of sources to glean insight from.

        Yeah, I know it sounds totally out there, and convoluted. I am just an oddity.

  • maemarie

    My dad recently went back to church after a 30+ year hiatus and was accepted as a member yesterday. The key for him was to find an Open and Affirming church. I believe he struggled spiritually quite a bit the last 10+ years due to the discovery of his homosexuality and all that ensued… He said he’s finally found a place to call “Home.”

    It was a beautiful sight to see him confirmed as a member and welcomed so wholeheartedly by the congregation.

    He tried several churches in the past 5 years, with little success, but started attending this particular church in February this year and now he’s home.

    HOME. What a comforting, loving feeling.

    I pray you find your home, too.

  • Stephen

    I’m yet another reader who identifies with the letter writer’s observation that “turmoil begins at puberty.” I was raised Mormon, and for a decade or so after puberty, I struggled to be both gay and Mormon, but then rejected religion – and God – wholesale. At the time, I saw that as the only option to live an authentic life. But when I met online the man who is now my fiance, one of his first questions to me was, “Do you believe in God?” I instinctively answered yes, even though I hadn’t consciously thought about it in many years. That was the beginning of a cautious, start-and-stop journey to discover what God means for me, to me, and what I mean to God. I’m nowhere near figuring it out; I too still sometimes bristle at “God talk,” and I’m not sure if the Episcopal Church, which I attend with my Episcopalian (raised Catholic) fiance, is a true spiritual home for me, but I do know that I am very happy and grateful that my lawfully recognized gay Episcopalian wedding that’s happening in 19 days has at its heart God’s blessing of our marriage. My 2 cents would be to mindfully tolerate the PTSD that “God talk” can trigger, recognize whether those reactions are externally imposed, and embark on the journey to “seek faith again.” Beginning to reclaim my relationship with God as my own is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever done, even though I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface.

    • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

      Congratulations on your up coming marriage. I think their are a lot of people who follow this blog feel that they are nowhere near to figuring out what God means to them and they mean to God. To me faith will always be a journey and not a destination.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      Congratulations on your wedding. And on your personal spiritual journey as well, especially doing it on your own, its a quest that, to me, fits the narrow road analogy, as no one but you can walk it.

  • DrewTwoFish

    Gosh, you all seem so damned reasonable…and, well, nice!

  • lymis

    Dear Guy Who Wrote John,

    I can relate very strongly. I left Catholicism, but I really couldn’t leave God – and found that indeed, “God talk” was an ongoing sore point for me for a number of reasons, including that other gay people in faith exile reacted very badly when I tried to talk about some things that were very important to me in the only terms I knew at the time.

    I found that for me, a change in vocabulary made a big difference. At the time all this came to a head for me, the New Age movement was quite popular and I found some of the language they used to be very useful. Now, they’ve either gone completely underground or largely gone away, so that avenue might not be as applicable to you.

    The point is that the direct experience of the Divine in your life isn’t a matter of the words that are used to express it, but the experience you are having of it. Uncoupling it from churchy language can make it easier to keep track of what it is you are actually experiencing and what other people tell you that you are supposed to be experiencing. And, it’s entirely liberating to become okay with saying that you don’t in fact have all the answers. A “complete and coherent theology” requires certainties of interpretation that “a description of what I am experiencing” doesn’t have to have.

    I wouldn’t seek faith. I’d be open to it, but I wouldn’t make it the goal. I’d set goals of things like living authentically and truthfully, surrounding yourselves with those you can love who love you in return, focus on doing as you would be done by, and focus on letting go of the resentments resulting from the hurts others have inflicted, whether in the name of religion or not.

    I’ve been aware for a decade or so that at this point in my life, it’s similar to a child starting to get good at walking – I’m no longer carried the way I was, and no longer hovered over by a loving Parent, but no less aware of the Presence of that Parent who is, for now, letting me navigate my world without my hands being held, prepared to allow me to bump into things and occasionally fall on my rump, but prepared to step in if I do more than skin a knee. It’s a Dark Night experience in the classic sense. God is unquestionably there, but he’s not micromanaging me, and I’ve matured enough to not need too much magic and miracle to know that God is present.

    For me, at one point, “faith” and “church” were inseparable, and nearly synonymous. That’s no longer true, and as a result, my experience of both are very different than they were when they were inextricable. I have faith without particularly needing Faith, and I have my shared humanity with my brothers and sisters without needing Church. That could change once the poisons are out of my system, but it may never happen in this lifetime, and if not, it’s not a problem.

    It may be that you’re looking for something other than what the Spirit is offering you at this point. It might be worth asking just that – what should you be seeking at this point in your life. It may not be a return to any older answers, but rather a move forward into a new understanding of what those old answers sought to teach you.

    There have been times in my life that I thought I had to find my answers and get all polished up before I could allow myself to approach God. When I reversed that, and sought God in an effort to find what questions to pursue, I got better answers, because I got better questions.

  • vj

    “Why should you let what others have done to Jesus ruin what Jesus has done for you?”

    Exactly!!


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