In God Told Me to Hate You: An Evangelical Minister’s Escape from the Clerical Closet, Tom Muzzio describes his journey as an Evangelical Christian convert who became a prominent clergyman but eventually loses his faith due to a combination of facing his homosexual orientation and factors he found hypocritical within his religious community.
The memoir is interesting and unique in the shared stories of his atheist upbringing, conversion process to Christianity which became more fundamental as he went, diverse travels, theological studies, a stint in the military, missionary service and many other personal experiences. Where it has a tragically common thread to the many LGBTQ+ Mormons I have worked with and known over the years, is in the reality that his religious community could not make space for the appropriate developmental life journey of a gay man. Not only could they not make space for him, they campaigned and discriminated against homosexual members in aggressive, profound and historically relevant ways.
Some of the problematic themes he brings up with the Christian tradition he so adamantly adhered to for many years are things I also have concerns with from within:
- By and by theory: the idea that God will explain things in the afterlife, excusing us from having to do the hard work of processing through challenging or confusing aspects of our own doctrinal understandings.
- The God trump card: there is no ability to have a conversation or compromise when one person has God on their side
- Missionary zeal: that all who don’t have the “good news” in the form of whatever religion says it should be, then the responsibility to “save” from “damnation” is constantly present and a source of pressure for believers to “preach the Gospel to every creature” — often in the process minimizing and disrespecting other people’s traditions, cultures, ethnicities and most definitely orientations other than what is deemed heteronormative.
- False doctrine: basically anybody else’s interpretation of spiritual things that don’t adhere to one own’s faith tradition.
- Doubt: seen as suspect and not allowed to be explored or as a legitimate concern.
- Self-Sacrifice to the extreme for eternal reward: Putting off legitimate human needs for rewards that will come in an afterlife we know very little about has a history of humans participating in all kinds of unhealthy human behaviors. “Like a Catholic priest who would never know the touch of female flesh, I too was going to have to forgo any male sexual encounters — ever. It was a rather dismal proposition, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make for the Lord. So I went in search of a wife.”
- Even the most opposing of religions can join forces to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ population or “gay agenda.”
- That the “choice” homosexuals are forced to grapple with in these types of religious communities is “to either actualize one’s biological nature or to fight it…. It was going to be an interesting and gut-wrenching time as I faced the years ahead in the ministry, knowing that I was going to have to subordinate all feelings and sexual interests and keep playing the game, pretending to be straight.” And how that choice often leads to impossible decisions, many fraught with dishonesty and the leading of a “double life” since there is no space to show up authentically. Also the heightened risk for depression.
- God’s laws are above man’s laws: justification of dishonesty and even illegality at times.
- Trend towards politics and “against everything” mentality – “Christians loved to fight, and had even gradually changed their god, Jesus, from a loving, caring, sweet, gentle savior to a conquering hero — a roaring, raging campaigner for truth, righteousness, and the American way. Just like Superman.” “The world is against us” type of mentality that tends to polarize topics such as abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights, sexual rights, gender equality, etc.
Tom describes a faith transition that was incredibly painful, fraught with personal contradiction, disillusionment and potential consequences. Married to a woman, a prominent leader in his faith community, and his entire livelihood tied to his ministry work… he was facing a dramatic life shift. As he comes out to his wife, faces different choices around his profession and starts leading a life that is aligned to his orientation and values… he continues to experience a Christian religious movement that does not align with his understanding of Christian theology. The second half of the book describes his concerns for the direction of the “religious right” and the implications therein for the laws of the land, discrimination, and social justice. He ends by describing how he still has evangelical energy within him…. being a missionary and preacher for causes of personal import. In a sense this memoir becomes a sociopolitical critique of how mainstream Christianity in the United States has fundamentalist attributes that he warns can easily take root and have lasting consequences.
As a side note, it was somewhat amusing to see how many times he had been taught in his theological studies that Mormons are not Christian, are damned and in need of salvation. 😉