The Friendly Atheist recently posted an article written by guest blogger Camille. The title was “Gay Christians Shouldn’t Just Leave the Church; They Should Leave the Faith.” Camille starts by discussing a fictional interview between Pastor Stanton Jones and a gay man named Todd, in which Stanton tells Todd that he should admit his sexual struggles to his evangelical church and ask them to support him in his quest to remain chaste. Camille then turns to a response by fellow Patheos blogger Tony Jones, in which Jones offers the fictional Todd this advice:
I think we can all agree that this is some bad advice. If you’re gay, don’t tell your evangelical pastor, “I’m a man who feels sexual attraction to other men, but I’m staying chaste. Can I please serve as a leader in this church?”
No, don’t do that.
Instead, find another church.
Camille then offers this response to Tony’s comments:
And now we’re back to Tony’s critique of the pastor’s advice. Tony suggests finding another church, where announcing your status as a second-class citizen is not a prerequisite for gaining the respect of your peers. But for those who are as disturbed as I am with the pastor’s suggestion that this process should guide the way for LGBT people in any Christian faith, that’s not a strong enough solution.
If ever you’re made to feel this terribly about being who you are, don’t just leave the church—leave the faith.
I have a serious problem with the way this is phrased. If a LGBTQ individual wants to leave Christianity, or to leave religion altogether, more power to them! But if they don’t want to do that? If they want to salvage their faith and reconcile their beliefs with their sexual orientation and/or gender identity? In that case, I also say more power to them! In some cases, reconstructing one’s faith as an LGBTQ individual can be empowering, a way of reclaiming the narrative and not letting others dictate their experiences.
This isn’t just about LGBTQ individuals, either. There’s this suggestion in some atheist circles that if someone was abused or mistreated by their church or denomination, the only sensible course of action is for them to leave their faith behind entirely. While it I would definitely urge someone who is being abused or mistreated by a church or denomination to consider leaving that church or denomination, I would never presume to tell them that the only way to get away from such abuse or mistreatment is to leave their faith.
For one thing, it’s not true that a Christian facing abuse or prejudice within the church must give up faith entirely to get away from such abuse or prejudice. There are plenty of progressive Christian denominations that take a stance against sexism, homophobia, and abuse, and it is possible to have faith or be a spiritual person without attending a church or denomination. For another thing, telling someone this actually may contribute to them deciding to stay in their abusive church or denomination. Why? Because if you tell someone they have to choose between their faith and their happiness, they may choose faith. If you tell someone that their options are to remain a fundamentalist or conservative evangelical or become an atheist, they may stay put and never find the progressive or spiritual traditions that would make them most happy and fulfilled.
So I suppose I would say, if ever you’re made to feel this terribly about being who you are, take a personal journey and find somewhere where you are safe, happy, and fulfilled. Is that inside a faith community? Great! Is that outside of faith altogether? Great! What matters here is not religion v. nonreligion. What matters here is people finding safe spaces where they can live rich lives. Will I tell them that I’ve found it more than possible to live a rich and fulfilling life as an atheist? Sure! But I won’t pretend that my way is the only way, or that they can’t live rich and fulfilling lives without giving up their faith.
Turning the fact that many LGBTQ individuals have suffered a great deal of harm at the hands of many strains of Christianity into a talking point for winning atheist converts is not something I want any part of.