I’ve spent the past year recovering from, and coming to terms with, a depressive episode that happened at the beginning of last year. All depression alters you, but there are some encounters that reach so deeply into your core that they leave you permenantly, utterly changed. My breakdown of 2015 was such an episode, and I’ve spent the following months trying to come to grips with the experience, and the person I’ve become. I’ve spent the past year trying to fathom the experience – what it was, how to describe it, and what happened.
I have to be honest: I hate going to church. Lately, my sponsor has been encouraging me to pick up church attendance again, and I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about why I hate it so much: why I find it, at best, intolerable and boring, and at worst, painful and overwhelming.
The tide started to turn, perhaps, when my editor was reading a piece for my previous blog, “Sacred Tension”, about being gay and Christian. She looked up at me and said, “Stephen, I can’t let you publish this.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because people would feel attacked, belittled, dehumanized,” she said, “I won’t let you publish this piece, not in its current form.”
It was a year ago when I first came to the 12 Steps. Like so many others who find themselves sitting around that folding table, in cold metal chairs, and drinking bad coffee, I came broken. My life was rapidly spinning out of control, and for the previous 2 years I had kept it just barely – barely – within my grasp. But, by the time I finally stepped through those doors, smelling of cigarette smoke and terrified of what I might find, my interior world had reached a fever pitch of pain.
There are two primary accusations brought against Christians today: hatred and hypocrisy. Over the past year, though, I’ve come to see the apparent hypocrisy and hatred (or bigotry, as many people put it) as occasional symptoms of a much deeper problem, a disease that is rotting out the heart of modern Christianity: codependency.
I have been writing and conversing about homosexuality and faith for well over 5 years now, and over the years I have noticed some trends. Some are very good: when most Christians are confronted with the raw humanity of the LGBT issue, regardless of their theological convictions, they are moved to greater compassion. Many genuinely strive to show greater love and engagement, and this is good.
Last week, a reader sent me an email and wrote a blog post in response to my recent post, The Church Is a Whore, And I Am Her Gay Son. The person in question is named Andrew, and is connected with Courage – the official Roman Catholic ministry to gay people. You can read his full post here.
While I genuinely appreciate Andrew taking the time to reach out to me and respond to my post, I also thought that I would take some time unpacking his statements, because they bring up some ideas that I find particularly frustrating when it comes to the topic of gay people in the church.
“The church is a whore,” wrote Augustine, “But she is my mother.” Too often, I have heard this quote used to say, “yeah, the Church is messed up, but family’s family. I can’t leave, even if I wanted to.”
I’ve often wondered if the people who so willingly fling this quote around have any notion of what It’s like to have an abusive mother.
During my brutal battle with anxiety, depression, and being gay in the church, I struggled deeply with finding relatable, insightful words about how to survive depression. I found a lot of general, obvious advice: exercise more, find a good therapist, and get on meds being the top three. But when it came to real-life, personal advice from other strugglers, I found very little.
Somewhat by accident, this month turned into an exploration of religious abuse and blindness. I found myself reading, watching, and generally thinking about the abuses of religion. An important note: the title of this post is “exploring religious blindness,” not “the blindness of religion.” Unlike many, I don’t believe that all religion is blind and abusive. In fact, I believe that the very best religion offers us a mystical humility, a flexibility of mind, and a passion to defend and speak for the abused.