My com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with God

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

By PATRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

I pray ev­ery night, but I don’t know if I truly be­lieve in God.

I know that might sound odd, the idea that some­one would talk to some­one night af­ter night, year af­ter year, when they’re not sure that the other party is even out there. And I’ve been do­ing it for as long as I can re­mem­ber, go­ing back at least 15 or 20 years and per­haps my en­tire life.

It’s be­come more of a rit­ual at this point rather than an ac­tion rooted in pure be­lief. I pray for the safety and hap­pi­ness of my friends, my fam­ily and, of course, my dog. I pray for our troops. Those are the main­stays.

More and more in the last year or two, I’ve been pray­ing for our coun­try for many ob­vi­ous rea­sons. If some­one is sick or go­ing through a par­tic­u­larly rough patch, they get a prayer. It makes me feel a lit­tle like Oprah ev­ery night.

Some­times the list gets re­ally long and that’s when it gets tricky be­cause, at some point, I have to de­cide when to take some­one off of it. What if I stop pray­ing for them one night and some­thing hap­pens to them the next day? I’m not fool­ish enough to think I would have re­ally had some­thing to do with their bad for­tune, but I’ll ad­mit it messes with my head a lit­tle bit.

As to how I got to this point in my “It’s com­pli­cated” re­la­tion­ship sta­tus with God, I was raised Pres­by­te­rian and went to church and Sun­day school ev­ery week un­til my early teens. The church­go­ing be­came more spo­radic at that point, down to an Easter and Christ­mas Eve thing, to even­tu­ally just Christ­mas Eve. I rarely ever go now, but I re­al­ize that you don’t have to go to church to prove you be­lieve in God.

I can’t pin­point any fall­ing-out point with God be­cause I was never re­ally all-in on the deal in the first place. But I can say that the anti-gay sen­ti­ment cours­ing through­out much of Chris­tian­ity didn’t help mat­ters.

It was a par­tic­u­lar source of anx­i­ety for me when I came out in my early 20s. I knew my fam­ily loved me, but what would hap­pen when I told them some­thing that might go against their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the scrip­ture that they’ve held for their en­tire lives? “How do I com­pete with that?” I re­mem­ber think­ing to my­self. I lucked out though, and they ac­cepted me just as I was, but I never asked what their be­liefs were on the sub­ject.

Though my fam­ily didn’t use God against me, that didn’t keep oth­ers from do­ing it. It’s the lit­tle things that pile up over the years and stick with you. Like the co-worker at an of­fice I worked at who, over­hear­ing some­one men­tion some­one be­ing gay, said “The Lord don’t like that.” Then there’s the spir­i­tual as­sault in­flicted by so-called Chris­tians – pas­tors in par­tic­u­lar – who ca­su­ally use God against me and other peo­ple like me.

I get an in­ter­est­ing view of this work­ing in LGBT me­dia. We get the oc­ca­sional Bi­blethump­ing email, but we most of­ten see it in our com­ments sec­tion on­line. As the mod­er­a­tor, I make de­ci­sions on a reg­u­lar ba­sis on how in­flam­ma­tory a new com­ment is and whether to let it through or trash it. Is it a sim­ple “I be­lieve it’s a sin” or are we talk­ing a “You’re all go­ing to roast in the pits of hell” kind of day?

As any­one in the LGBT com­mu­nity knows, those kinds of com­ments are a part of our lives. I’m al­most numb to it at this point, but I have to think it chips away at me on some deeper level.

I found my­self in one of the more bizarre cir­cum­stances two years ago this month in the ro­tunda of the Ge­or­gia State Capi­tol. I was cov­er­ing a rally in sup­port of for­mer At­lanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who a week ear­lier was fired for dis­tribut­ing an anti-LGBT book he wrote to city em­ploy­ees. Pas­tor af­ter pas­tor stepped to the mi­cro­phone and used God to ridicule LGBT peo­ple, and hun­dreds of Cochran’s sup­port­ers around me shouted back in agree­ment, hold­ing aloft anti-gay signs in the process. It was bad enough what they said and, this time, it com­ing not from be­hind a key­board but in­stead right in front of my face.

But the other part that both­ered me was that for them, they saw that as love. They were ex­press­ing love and sup­port for Mr. Cochran with their words. How could some­one con­sider that love? As a jour­nal­ist, I’ve spo­ken with some pretty nasty peo­ple from time to time, but by far the most an­gry, hate­ful peo­ple I’ve cov­ered were that group of folks that day who called them­selves Chris­tians.

But you move on. You go home, you de­com­press, you keep go­ing. All of us in the LGBT com­mu­nity do it. And I haven’t even men­tioned “re­li­gious free­dom” bills.

So while I don’t re­ally un­der­stand what my re­la­tion­ship is with God, or if we even have one, or if he’s even out there, I’ll still pray tonight, and prob­a­bly the next night af­ter that. And all of you will likely be a part of it.

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