This is the eleventh voice to speak out in Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s Fifty Years after Stonewall: A Virtual Listening Tour. We urge our readers to forward the articles in this series to their diocesan bishops and parish priests. We beg our hierarchy and clergy to listen, attentively, reflectively, and prayerfully.
The deadline to write for this specific series is tomorrow, June 30. We ensure complete anonymity if you wish to add your voice.
To the Bishops of the Orthodox Church:
I don’t really expect to be “heard” when I write this. I’m not sure it will even be read. Yet, I still feel there’s some value in putting it out there.
I’ve known I was gay for longer than I’ve known what sex is, longer than I understood what this “difference” that I’d always felt was. By 11, I knew what it meant, though.
It meant God hated me and I would always be alone and never matter to anyone.
I carried that into puberty, in shame and fear and desperate longing. Around 13 I spent hours one night begging God to kill me. I have rarely cried so hard or so deeply. As I fell into exhausted sleep I prayed, “Kill me or change me. I can’t stand this.”
I woke up unchanged. I had never been more sincere in a prayer, so I thought, maybe, He doesn’t hate me so much.
The message that He did hate me kept coming, though. I would stand in freezing rain hoping for pneumonia and death when I was 12 and 13. A still, small voice tried to reassure me, but family, society, and the Church (Protestant, at the time) told me I was barely human. Yet I knew I was nothing like what they described gay people as being.
Since God wouldn’t kill me I tried to do it myself, nearly succeeding at 16. I didn’t have it in me (apparently I still don’t) to give up on God, as I’ve seen so many do. Over the years, thanks to the love of good Christians (and non-Christians—more of them, actually), I cobbled together a form of self-esteem that would get me through the day. I yearned for a deeper relationship with a God I feared and still half-believed hated me. I’m convinced that’s because the still, small voice was always there telling me, “That’s not Who I am.”
I tried to find a faith community where my relationship with God would not be undermined. Inevitably the emphasis boiled down to my sexuality—as if the sole factor in my salvation was who I had sex with (or wanted to have sex with).
One more suicide attempt and several years later, in one of the only times I’ve felt led by God, I found myself in an Orthodox church. It is no understatement to say I felt like I’d come home at last. I’m luckier than many gay Orthodox. I’ve rarely experienced the hostility reported by many. True, virtually the entire congregation of my first church distanced themselves from me when they figured it out, but I had the Holy Mysteries, and that was enough. When I moved to another state I didn’t even try to integrate into the congreation. I worshiped and left. It was lonely but it was something.
I’ve heard the Church say that the love I had for my (now ex) partner of 22 years was no more than lust. Anyone who thinks lust will hold a relationship together for 22 years has never been in one.
I’ve been told I don’t exist, because there’s no such thing as gay people. I’ve heard that I’m a danger to children, to families, to society at large. I’ve heard that I’m a disease in the Church (not directly from my priests, but from the larger Church).
It has shaken my faith, more in the Church than in God. I can’t seem to shake Him. But when the Church is saying things I absolutely know are not true, I can’t help but wonder what else they’ve gotten wrong. When theology is more important than suffering people, my heart moves away.
All my life I’ve been told, “God loves you, but….” That leaves a permanent mark, I can tell you. I don’t know that I will ever believe, really believe, in a life-changing way, that God loves me. Not even the joy I feel when I receive the Holy Mysteries is a bulwark against that.
So I’ve settled on this: I know wonderful Christians who tell me that God loves me, and who say wonderful thinks about Him. He’s like someone with whom I share many mutual friends but have somehow never met. I respect and love these people and, more importantly, I trust them.
So I pretend that God loves me and act as if He does.
I don’t know why I’m telling you this, except I wish you’d think through what your actions and inactions do. In my case, they undermine the authority of the Church. This is true in the case of many straight Christians I know, as well. If the Church preaches what is demonstrably untrue and reacts with anger and disdain when we try to share ourselves, when she won’t listen, when she cares more about her theology than us, it’s like being thrown a rock instead of a lifesaver when you’re drowning.
And we are drowning. I can’t do Christianity on my own. I’ve tried.
Help me stay.