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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pluck Me Out of the Hand Basket to Hell

Growing up Roman Catholic in the 1970’s, I don’t feel I was as exposed to “hard core” religion as the kids raised in other denominations. We carried our Bibles to catechism but didn’t necessarily read them; it was only in 1969 that the Catholic Mass had been translated into English. The official language of the church is Latin and each new Missal is still recited in that tongue, so we Catholics have always been used to not being able to understand what the Priests were saying anyway. The one main thing we did learn as Catholics is how to love and be good to one other, and for that I will be forever grateful.

A few months before my twenty-first birthday I moved south of the Mason-Dixon Line to Atlanta, which unbeknownst to me was in the heart of the Bible belt. I was frequently asked by complete strangers if I was a Christian and if I had been saved. When I replied, “Of course I am a Christian, I was raised Catholic and baptized as an infant,” they looked like they were going to pass out. “I do proclaim Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior…that makes me a Christian, right?” Not necessarily to everybody, I soon learned.

While attending Chiropractic school in Marietta, I picked up a part-time job at an on campus cafĂ© and during slow periods I would slip off to play the piano in a side room. One day, as I was playing and singing a Melissa Etheridge song, a gentleman knocked on the door and asked if he could kneel down and pray for me. “Sure,” I said innocently as he knelt beside the piano bench, placing his hand on my shoulder. The next few moments were filled with a style of preaching I had never experienced: speaking in tongues, eyeball rolling, raising of voices in prayer, and hand gestures swirling over my head. It ended with, “Lord please release the demon from inside this young woman’s body for she doesn’t know what she is doing.” He then turned and looked directly at me.

“Do you realize that by living your lifestyle you are going to have to walk through the gates of hell?” he asked me. “Homosexuality is a sin and your soul will rot in hell for all eternity if you do not change your ways. I can help you, just ask Jesus to be your Lord and savior.”

“Jesus already is my Lord and savior,” I curtly replied. He looked stunned. By this point I was a little annoyed that this man had overheard my singing, interrupted my practice session, claimed I was possessed by a demon, and was going to try to remove it for me. “But I appreciate your passion for your belief system and trying to save me.”

“Young lady, it is not about my belief, it is about your soul for all of eternity. You will be going to hell with the other sinners.”

“Sir, pardon me if I offend you, but I believe that if God didn’t want me to be this way then he would not have created me this way. Homosexuality is not a choice, like what color socks you are going to wear that day or what you plan on cooking for dinner. No one would choose to be different. No one intentionally wants to be the outcast or the deviant, sometimes we just are. I didn’t choose to be a homosexual, I just am.”

I gave my voice a moment’s rest, I felt like I was being attacked and was becoming emotional. “I never understood why Christians are so judgmental. Doesn’t it say in the scripture, “Thou shall not judge?”

“But you can change your ways and still be saved,” he said passionately, his voice trailing as he rose up and placed his right palm on my forehead. I politely removed his hand from my face.

“Look, none of us really know all of the answers, we are just guessing in hopes of getting it right. What I do know is that Jesus wants us all to emulate him: by loving, by giving, by serving others. I don’t believe that he cares who we love, just that we love. I don’t believe he cares what we give, just that we give, and I don’t believe that he cares who or what we serve, the important thing is that we do it.” I was stunned at the words coming out of my mouth, not sure exactly where they were coming from. “I cannot believe that a God who loves is going to banish me for loving someone else, no matter who it is. I spend my life giving and serving others out of my own abundance, which is my way of serving the Lord.”

“It says in the bible that homosexuality is an abomination.” He wasn’t going to back down.

“If what you are saying is true, and I don’t necessarily believe that it is, than I am just going to have to risk it because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on Earth living a lie. Would it be fair for me to marry a man I couldn’t love with all of my heart, just because the church told me to? I believe lying is a sin and I try to live my life as real and true as possible. Can we just agree to disagree?”

Eventually the man gave me one final blessing, turned around and left the room. That was the first of many times I have had to defend my “lifestyle choice” to a religious zealot who felt it important to try to “save” me without my permission or particular interest.

Twenty years later I am in a committed relationship with the love of my life. We are now allowed to legally marry in Georgia and we are raising our seven year-old daughter together. I volunteer my time playing drums in the Praise Band at the Bethel United Methodist Church, where they accept our family as we are and do not try to change us.

Whenever I hear the phrase, ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin,” I shudder. I am not saying that I don’t sin. In my forty-three years I have fallen victim to lust, pride, and envy. I have felt jealous and I have told lies. I have sinned and hopefully I am forgiven, but my life is not God’s mistake… and the love I feel for my wife… that is not my sin. I just can’t believe that.

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