I remember summers in Tennessee vividly. Most days, I spent out in the fields of my family farm, wearing tattered, old jeans and my stepfather’s oversized woodworking gloves as I trudged heavy-footed through prickly straws of freshly cut hay. My siblings and I would spend hours beneath the scorching sun pushing whatever hay had been missed by the tractor into narrow rows so the bailer could scoop it, tying it neatly into fifty-pound square bails.
Days upon days spent in the fields with dry stems and leaves crumbling their way deeply into my socks and shoes, scratching my body, and leaving me covered in a rash, combined with the unbearable heat beating down on me bleed together in my memory – but there was one specific atypical day during the summer of 2000 that I will never forget…
My stepsister and I were excused from bailing hay. It was a rare occurrence, and happened only because we were meeting our church congregation down at the creek for our Baptism.
Everyone told me that it was the biggest day of my life. That I was accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and that meant that no matter what happened in the years to come – all I would need to do was confess my sins to the Lord, ask for forgiveness, and that forgiveness would be granted. After all, that’s why Jesus died on the cross. To forgive us all of our sins…
I remember walking waist deep into the middle of the creek, as our pastor took me by the hand. He told me that I was safe, and that he would hold on to me. He kept his word, pinching closed my nose as he dipped me beneath the surface. I cried as the cold water rushed over me, and our pastor exclaimed that in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I had been washed clean of my sins and saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.
On the dry bank members of my congregation applauded and celebrated my decision to join them in accepting the Lord as my personal savior. My mother watched on proudly, and I could feel the love and joy of the Lord in my heart… It was a powerful moment, but one that now causes me great pain to remember.
Four years after my Baptism, I made what would become the second biggest decision of my life. I decided to come out as a gay person in my Southern Baptist community. I was combating severe depression, and suicidal thoughts – and I could no longer bear to live in the shadows of my own heart.
I tried to pray away the gay, but I quickly realized that being gay was a centric part of who I was. I had become a shell of a person, and my prayers no longer brought me comfort. I didn’t understand what I was asking to be forgiven for, because in my heart, I felt like I had done nothing wrong. I only wanted to love myself, a woman, and God…
I reiterate -- I only wanted to love.
All of a sudden, people I had known for most of my life… many who had attended my Baptism… told me that what I was doing was wrong, and that my chosen lifestyle would send me to hell.
Almost immediately, my history of positive and productive contribution in my church and community no longer mattered. People who claimed to be Christians, and friends of mine, treated me like an addict or a pervert. Members of the church that I grew up in told me that I was no longer welcome in the house of the Lord as long as I chose to live in sin.
My fifteen year old heart was broken…
I tried going to a different church without a specific denomination. It was fine at first. The people were very polite. I made a few friendly aquaintances, and even applied for a membership within the congregation. But word travels fast in small towns…
One day, as I stood in the third row next to the preacher’s daughter – a traveling minister approached me in front of the entire fellowship to tell me that he had heard of me, and that my behavior was sinful. That one of my closest friends or myself would wind up in a pine box for our lifestyle choices. He threw a bible at me, literally, and told me to read Leviticus. Eleven years have passed, and I haven’t been back to church since.
I left the church first, then the religion as a whole. I no longer knew how to believe in something that had beaten me down, and tried to change the very core of what made me happy as a human being… receiving and giving love. Most of the gay people I’ve met throughout the years who were raised in the church have had similar negative, and frequently traumatizing experiences with Christianity.
As an adult I’ve met many wonderful people who are Christians. I’ve heard of churches that are not only open to, but embrace gay people as they are. These congregations recognize that there are parts of the bible that may be outdated, and may have even been mistranslated to begin with. After all, the most common version, the King James Version, was translated by the King himself. Imagine if we allowed Donald Trump to translate his own version of the Holy Bible?
Even after a decade, I find myself grieving over the loss of my relationship with God. I don’t blame these kind-hearted, accepting people whom I’ve met in adulthood, but I find it difficult to relate to them. It’s hard to share my negative religious experience with people who have only received positive love and reinforcement from the religion that condemned me so many years ago. While I appreciate them, sometimes I also find that I envy their ability to still believe.
I have taken the stance that I am not a Christian, because I can’t blindly support a faith that has intentionally harmed so many individuals. I waver back and forth between claiming to not be religious at all, and identifying as “somewhat spiritual.” It infuriates some of my relatives who are still devout Christians. Many of them have told me they've accepted me "despite their religion," and they can’t understand why I haven’t mended my relationship with the Lord. Few seem to acknowledge that I didn’t break up with God… The religion broke up with me in God’s name.
There were a lot of things that I loved about Christianity. Sermons about love and kindness were always my favorite. My little heart would burst with happiness and inspiration hearing the heartwarming stories of Jesus healing the blind man, and turning five loaves of bread and two fish into a bountiful feast that fed five-thousand people...
But as I was pushed away from the church, and told that I was an unforgivable sinner, I reflected on a specific story about kindness that has stayed with me for all these years…
Mark 10:13-16 reads:
“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
If you truly believe in God, then you know that according to the bible we are all God’s children. That all sins are equal, and thou shall not judge. That only a non-sinner was permitted to cast the first stone. And that no one such as this stands among us…
My issue no longer lies in the religion itself, but with the people who have taken it upon themselves to misrepresent the word of God. To translate his teachings into a lesson that preaches hate and judgment instead of love, compassion, and peoplehood.
There is a church near my apartment in Los Angeles that I have driven by at least once a week for four years. Occasionally, I strain to read the billboard out front, curious what the Pastor might preach on that week. Many times I’ve seen rainbow flags hanging from the window ledge, and I’ve often told myself that if I ever go back I will go there. I've yet to bring myself to it.
I know that not all Christians are homophobic. I know that many denounce the way that LGBT people have been treated by a large portion of the religion… but I also believe that it is the responsibility of ALL CHRISTIANS to actively repair the cracks in the foundation of God’s message that are being used to target and condemn an entire group of innocent people.
My experience in the church taught me that as Christians “we are simply servants of the Lord who spread the love of Jesus Christ by the way that we live our lives and treat our fellow people.” It is my humble opinion that Christians as a whole need to refocus on light, and love, and let the message of God live through them – instead of condemning others for the way they live their lives.
And that if the entirety of the LGBT community ever stood before Jesus Christ, he would bring us before him exclaiming ““Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
is a writer, artist and human/animal rights activist based in Echo Park- Los Angeles, CA. The Stephens College graduate loves poetry, camping with her rowdy friends and tequila of many varieties.