Hey beautiful people.
I’ve been absent a while, I know. I have a lot of ideas I want to explore in blog posts here, but my depression has been kicking my butt lately and I’ve been feeling lucky for the days I make it out of the apartment, much less do well-researched and articulate blogging.
Depression is a dirty film over your mind that makes it hard to think and see clearly. Everything is tinted by that noxious idea that you are not worthwhile–nothing is worthwhile–that everything is meaningless, like chasing the wind.
Concurrently with my own darkness I’ve been really struggling with my religious experience. Most of the followers of this blog will know that, eight months ago, my religious community performed a blessing for me in honour of changing my name.Â And at the time, that blessing was…. I don’t even know a word large enough. Let’s go with “galactic.” It was galactically important. It meant more to me than the $137 polymer birth certificate with my chosen name (or, y’know, as I normally call it: my name). It meant more to me than any individual acceptance of my identity has meant in my personal life. In that ceremony, I felt that I stood before the creator of the universe and was found sufficient. In that ceremony, I was Daniel in the king’s palace,Â but instead of God saying “your kingdom is over, you are lacking in the extreme,” God said, “Their kingdom is ending, but you will endure.”
‘Their’ kingdom–the kingdom of David’s enemies in Psalms, you know? And I felt, perhaps, like God was giving me a covenant like David’s. That I had suffered, but I would reap my reward. That God would show me the way through.Â As for the deeds of men, by the word of Your Lips, I have kept from the paths of violence. Â My soul had longed for you like a parched land, but you have shown to me the way that I should go!
The point I’m trying to make here is that ceremony was the most “godly” I have ever felt. And that’s as someone who’s been an Anglican most of their life, and been to all kinds of “Catch the Fire” revival events, in Toronto and my hometown and even on Parliament Hill. I’ve been present at more altar calls than I can count, I’ve heard people prophesy, I have done all of those “big Christian things” where people see God.Â And for me, that five minute ceremony was above and beyond all of them.Â I said recently to my pastor that the air in that room was electric. People in my church community still talk about that day. About what it meant, for all of us. About what it said for us as a people–as God’s people. And there was no doubt in my mind that God supported me. That there were plenty of people in my life who didn’t, plenty of whom were even Christian–but it didn’t matter. God was with me.
The Anglican Church, divided
For those of you who don’t follow the intricacies of policy in the Anglican Church of Canada, here’s a summary. Despite the fact that same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada for more than ten years, the Anglican Church is just now getting around to voting on how we feel about this issue. “Voting on this issue” kind of oversimplifies what is actually happening, though, because we’re voting on a topic for the second out of three times (the first, in 2013, was a vote to vote on the issue in 2016, and no, that’s not a typo). If we vote inÂ favourÂ of performing same-sex unions, we’ll still need to voteÂ yet againÂ on this subject in 2019. We also need voteÂ overwhelminglyÂ in favour, as this is basically a “constitutional” change for Anglicans–so we need a 2/3rds majority in each ofÂ threeÂ legislative houses (bishops, clergy, and laity), two synods in a row, to affect this change. (Source)
It’s a high bar. Rightly so, I’m sure some would say.
But there’s a little more context (bear with me). If you want to read the whole story, there’s a surprisingly thorough wiki article hereÂ but suffice it to say that people have beenÂ reallyÂ advocating for this kind of change since the early 2000s–and it has not been particularly well received. In 2005, there was a fairly big schism wherein a bunch of very conservative Anglicans decided to split from the Anglican Church of Canada. They cited a bunch of reasons for doing this, but, and I think people in the conservative sect would admit this, most of it had to do with the idea that it looked like we might allow gay marriage.
In 2007 that got a bit more formal, and you now have a second Anglican group in Canada known as the “Anglican Network in Canada” (ANiC), which claimsÂ an average Sunday church attendance of 4500 people per church, and in 2009 to have had more than 100,000 “members”. For context, the most recent numbers for the Anglican Church of Canada cite slightly less than 550,000 members–so that’s a solid 15% loss. It’s not exactly some fringe group.
So Anglicanism in Canada took a big hit almost ten years ago, three years before we even agreed to vote on this really contentious issue. And now here we are, nine years after that rupture, and we’re finally getting around to actually voting on this issue that a lot of people felt strongly enough about to break communion with their Anglican family, before a vote had even been suggested.Â That’s a wordy sentence there, I know, but it’s kind of a complicated situation.
One last thing. So in 2013, Anglicans in the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) voted that, in 2016, we would vote on this issue. And they also agreed that, in order to vote properly, delegates to Synod (think of it like the “Anglican Parliament”) should be reasonably informed about this issue. Since Anglicans are kind of big on the Bible as the basis of our belief system, we agreed to do a theology study on what the Bible actually says about marriage, and whether or not there are biblical grounds for same-sex unions. You can find that study by clicking here.
It’s a long study, and I’m not gonna go in depth about what it said, because honestly, there are probablyÂ booksÂ to be written about what that study says. But the most salient detail is this–these educated, elected, chosen-by-the-Spirit people saidÂ there was nothing in the Bible that concretely spoke against a same-sex marriage–indeed, there was a lot less in the Bible about marriage that you would really expect there to be.
In February of this year, the Anglican Bishops released a statement.Â It was a very…. diplomatic…. statement. About how the Bishops thought the draft motion for change on this issue “is not likely to pass“. About how they questioned “whether a legislative procedure is the most helpful way of dealing with these matters.”
There was quite a bit of backlash over the statement. I was, and remain, devastated by what was expressed in this letter. It been contextualized for me by several well-meaning people. Painted in a brighter light. “There areÂ someÂ bishops who support gay marriage. This letter is a ploy, to let you know there are struggles, and we need to organize! To write letters. To fight!” Okay. Sure. I see that interpretation.
But every time I read that letter, I read what itÂ doesn’tÂ say, or what peers out shiftily between the lines. The letter says, “we are committed to exploring other options for honouring and fully embracing committed, faithful same-sex relationships.” I read that as,Â we are unwilling to recognize your love as being the same as our love.Â It ends with “Despite the pain and distress we feel at our own differences, yet we strongly affirm that we are united in striving for the highest degree of communion possible in the spirit of St Paulâ€™s teaching of the nature of the body of Christ and our need for one another in Christ, where no one can say, â€˜I have no need of youâ€™”. And in my heart, I hear,Â our community with bigots is more important than your safety and your human rights.
For LGBTQ Christians, this is not a new statement. Over and over we areÂ reminded of the virtues of patience. Of ‘God’s time’. Of turning the other cheek. Walk two miles with your oppressors. Offer him your shirt also. And I do not dispute the godliness of these qualities.
But I am tired.
I am so incredibly tired. I have begun to feel like a museum exhibit in my own home. And I there are people who live here, who have walked this path with me, who have held me up in times of struggle, who I know will be with me as I walk forward. Who, to continue the museum exhibit metaphor–who know the names and references in my papers. Who remember the person who used to drink out of that cup, instead of just a faceless conception ofÂ life before us. Â And here, in my opinion, is why.
On Hatred, and the Weight of Relationships
It has been my experience that people who know me, who really know me, have a hard time treating me like garbage. Online, it’s easy. When you don’t know any gay people, it’s easy. When you don’t have to see the ramifications of your hurt, it’s so, so easy.
And this is not to erase the experience of my queer siblings whose families showed them the door. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if I had come out in high school. Really. I don’t. And those of you who know me personally will know that my parents had aÂ very bad responseÂ to my coming out initially.
But in practice, in my family and, I think, in other families, it’s hard to show your offspring the door. It’s hard to say you never want to see your child again, and hold to that. It’s hard to stop doing Christmas cards or birthday calls. When there are emotional ties, these issues gain an extra dimension. And it’s a big dimension. An important one.
There’s an episode ofÂ This American Life,Â the grandfather of all podcasts, which talks about a study from the United States where canvassers went door-to-door, talking to people about really controversial issues. Gay marriage. Abortion. That kind of thing. “Rate your opinion from 0 to 10”. And this study found that in 20 minutes–seriously, just twenty minutes–you can change even the hardest-hearted person from a 0-no-support level to a 10-full-bar. How? With emotion.
“TheÂ trick to this whole thing was they don’t try to reason with people about rights and equality and big principles like that. Canvass organizer Steve Deline says if you’re talking at a kind of rational, sort of intellectual level about things, you’re gonna fail.”
Steve Deline:Â That’s not where people make their decisions about issues like this. People make their decisions about how they’re going to vote on this at a gut level and at a visceral level and an emotional level.”
— transcript of This American Life, episode 589. Link for listening is also through there.
When they did the study again, roughly one out of 10 voters changed their attitudes about transgender people (which was the most controversial topic at the time). And these effects lasted–for six weeks. Then for three months. They’re going to measure it again at six months. But it’s looking good. It’s looking like science is telling us that the “rational animal” is not so rational. And to bring people to your experience, most of what you need is time. Time, and emotional investment.
Earlier this week I read an article by Matthias Roberts, an LGBT and faith-space blogger and speaker (Matthias, if you’re reading this, dude, help me get your gig!) The article was called “When the Church Hurts,”Â and it was a follow-up to a conversation he had had with Rob Bell, who, if you don’t know, is an internationally acclaimed speaker and former pastor, as well the creator of a (….seriously campy) series of youth group videos called NOOMA. (He’s also married to someone named Kristen Bell, but as commenters have kindly corrected me on, this is NOT the same Kristen as the amazing actress and sloth-adorer, be still my beating heart. But that gifset of her reacting to sloths is priceless, so I’m leaving that link up there.)
Anyway. In Matthias’ blog post, he responds to this really interesting quote by Rob Bell, which is what triggered my writing of this entire treatise on the state of the Anglican Church today. This is that quote:
â€œYou can’t be hurt by a faceless, nameless institution. You were hurt by people. You can only truly begin to forgive when you have names and faces.”
– Rob Bell
And this is a really interesting statement, for a couple of reasons.Â In some ways, this statement is really important, because it humanizes the church and–though Bell doesn’t say this, this my own extrapolation–because itÂ makes the people who have hurt you culpable.Â
But in other ways, this statement is totally untrue. Matthias writes:
“There are so many of us who have grown up or been involved in church communities that were the onlyÂ church communities we knew. While I personally have never had a church publicly turn against me, I have heard story after story of friends being asked to leave, kicked out, publicly spoken against. The places where my friends worshiped, the people who made up the church, their Church, turned against them. Sure, it may have been one or two or fifteen specific people, but the results were a removal of an entire community.Â â€œYou are not welcome here.â€….Â If youâ€™re in that place, I say: go ahead, blame the church. Blame it with everything youâ€™ve got. Because, it failed you.” (emphasis mine)
And if I may again extrapolate my own words, speaking only for my own experience: it is notÂ my churchÂ that has ever hurt me. It has always beenÂ the church.Â It is those nameless, faceless statements that are written by everyone and directed at no one. It has always been those people who do not known me, who have never seen me, who have never laughed with me or seen me cry. I don’t think anyone who was present for my name change ceremony felt anything hard against me. They couldn’t. It’s hard to hate, to really, truly hate, when someone is vulnerable and right in front of you.
Circling back to my family for a moment–I’ve got a particularly big emotional investment in this Anglican infighting. My father is a deacon of the Anglican Network in Canada. The church that I grew up in, that I found my faith in, that shaped in so many ways the person I am today–that church is now an ANiC parish. My dad is retiring from the public service this summer and will be investing a significant amount of his time and energy supporting a body that, unequivocally, does not accept or support queer people.
My own quiet rebellion has been this: I refuse to go to church with my parents anymore. When I visit them, they go together alone. And this is no small thing. Our shared faith is one the few things my dad and I have ever really connected on. We were both the “strong believers” in our family. The people who went to church every week, who volunteered, who were involved in everything from music team to altar guild to Sunday school. My dad and I taught Sunday school together, in fact. And now we don’t.
And I don’t want you to misunderstand me–that does hurt me. It hurts me every time I talk to my mom and she updates me on the local gossip and life changes of these people who watched me grow up. And it hurts them, every time my parents share with their community that I’m in town and, yet again, I have decided not to go to church with them. At Christmas last year, I even went to aÂ differentÂ Christmas Eve service. Nobody felt good about that, me included.
The strangest thing to me here though is that these peopleÂ don’t hate me.Â They know all about my gender identity–plenty of them are on my Facebook, and although we’ve never discussed it, I expect my family turned to their faith community for support when I came out to them. I’m fairly certain there are people in that community who pray for me every day (probably that I’ll see the error of my identity and come back to their understanding of Scripture, but, I mean, the thought is there). There seems to be this complete cognitive dissonance where they are againstÂ the queer,Â but not actually againstÂ thisÂ queer, the only queer that most of them realize they know.
It’s a subtle difference, but it’s an important one. (Gosh, if you’ve stuck with me all the way through this blog post, I really appreciate you for coming on this ride with me.) These people I grew up with–they still love me. They still ask after me like family. And I still care about them, too. I ask my mom how they’re doing. I’m invested in these people. And though I’ve drawn a line, because I’m not comfortable supporting the faith community given their beliefs–it’s not so cut and dry as it could be. Not as cut and dry as, some days, IÂ wish itÂ wouldÂ be.
Conclusions, or lack thereof
I’ve been writing this blog post in my head for months, and holding off because I wanted to have some definite conclusion. Some kind of path we’d walk together with a nice big box at the end, all the pieces neatly tied up and the litter cleared away. But my life isn’t like that. This issue isn’t like that. I don’t know if it ever will be.
I go back and forth on what I’m going to do about gay marriage every day. Sometimes every hour. There are times where I am convinced I cannot be part of “the church”–because “the” church doesn’t recognize me, doesn’t support me. Doesn’t see me as anything other than a problem to be solved. A sin to be corrected. I am exhausted with the church. I am at the end of my rope.
But I am powerfully, equally, unbreakably committed to “my” church. To the community that embraced me when I wandered in sometime during my second year of university, still tending the burn from my previous Ottawa church-home, which I had walked out of after a sermon encouraging Christians not to “fraternize” with gay people. The same community that remembered me when I reappeared, four months later, after an internship in France, missing my church life and hungry for friends. The community that encouraged me to take an internship with them, who loved me when I couldn’t finish the internship because my depression became too strong, who yelled and clapped for me when I got up during the Community Announcements and asked everyone to call me Eliot. Who listened when I sat in the pastor’s office and spoke much too quickly about this crazy idea for a name change service.
I wish I could tell you I know what I’ll do in July, when the vote comes back on this issue. As a Christian I’m meant to believe in miracles–and I even feel I’ve seen a few of my own. I don’t know what God will do at General Synod 2016. I don’t know if hearts (or mountains) will move. And I really don’t know how I’ll face a future of “the church” that rejects love. That chooses to stand on what I truly believe is the wrong side of history. That becomes rapidly irrelevant from a blind choice made from a place of prejudice.
But at the same time…. I don’t know how to live without it.
I’d love to engage with you on this issue, regardless of your religious background, in the comments below. My replies may be a bit slow, but I’m here!
If this blog post taught you something or made you feel something, there’s a donation button at the side there. I’ve been unemployed for quite some time now, and things are getting tight. Please consider supporting me.