Saturday, July 23, 2016

Act Two, Scene Nine - "Seeking Favor"

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you.  Please feel free to comment or contact me.  Thanks!

           In my former church community, I felt like I was in trouble a lot.  With the fall of the Cord, I focused a lot on what I could have done to make things turn out differently.  Was it my fault that it failed?  Did God make it fail because I was gay?  I was trying to fix that though.  Didn’t that count for something?  On another guilt-ridden channel of my mind, I was asking other questions.  Was I supposed to even have been involved at all?  Did I do harm by being involved because I had gone against my pastor, the person God had placed in spiritual leadership over me?  My response to all of these questions was to double my efforts to crush any remnants of homosexuality within me and to live a life as pleasing as possible to God.  I knew that I could never achieve perfection, but I had to try to get as close to that standard as I could.

            In retrospect, I can see that I was trying to earn the approval of men, and one man in particular, not God’s, but, at the time, I equated the approval of my pastor with the approval of God.  I saw him as being more experienced in relating to and communicating with God.  Of course, he would have more insight into what God’s will might be than I would.  I was afraid to trust my own judgment.
            In order to make sure that I stayed on what I perceived to be the right path, I threw myself into my work at the church.  I also further narrowed my social circles, which were already pretty small.  I made efforts to stay within the insular community of the church and, more specifically, within the circle of my pastor’s family and close friends.  As I have had the opportunity to reflect back on things over the past few years, that really is where the true power of that church as other’s like it came from.  Participants within those communities were encouraged to spend time together socially.  The phrase, “what fellowship hath light with darkness” was thrown around a lot.  Protecting your salvation and keeping on the straight and narrow meant isolating yourself from those who might pull you down.  At the core of the “church family” was a machine, a handful of central cogs that drove the workings of the rest of the collective community that gathered within the walls of the church at least three times a week.

            The church did not have an official membership.  The pastor did not believe in church membership.  He wanted a church based on relationships, not numbers.  In the defense of the pastor, his family, and the others at the heart of the church’s inner workings, I believe that they are completely unaware of the nature of their role in the integration and inclusion of some while excluding and relegating to second-class status of others.  I am sickened now as I look back and see my own collusion in this.

            What was spoken was that faith was about relationship with God.  In reality it wasn’t about that.  It was really about what was exhibited outwardly and who saw it.  Even mainline denominations speak of the fruits of the Spirit, but, in this environment, it didn’t matter what you did or how you did things if the pastor or someone else within the inner circle didn’t see it.  Also, there was a significant political element.  When it came to church matters, there was no Church Council or Staff Parrish Relations Committee.  There was the will of those in leadership, which ultimately came down to the will of one man, the pastor, and your will and your words needed to align with his.

            At the time, I did it without thinking.  It was more of a survival reaction than anything.  As someone who was socially awkward growing up, and still is in many situations, I feared losing my connection with the community of the church.  I could not have articulated what it was that I feared at the time, but, in retrospect, it’s very clear.  Time and reflection have allowed me to see those years of my life in far more objective ways.  I did not have the confidence in myself at the time to assert my own thoughts.  Any time that my thoughts were not in alignment with those at the core, I believed that it must be mine that were out of alignment.

            That time was, and continues to be, so complex for me.  There is a part of me that still craves their approval.  The more rational voice in my brain tells me that I would have never been able to fully achieve that goal.  Plus, it would have required me to be someone that I wouldn’t like very much from my current point of view.  The human mind can be a strange and complex thing.  Ultimately, of course, I am thankful for the life that I am able to lead today as an openly gay man and a person of faith, having found peace with who I am.  Check back for more of my story next week.

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