Going To Hell For Being…

My father died thinking I was going to Hell. Not the Gehenna near Jerusalem where trash was burned, but the Sheol, that place in the underworld kept for the eternal dwelling of the dead. My sin? I’m gay. And in my father’s eyes, that propensity, what he believed was a result of my choosing, was enough to damn me.

My “religious“ background began and was “matured” in a small town in Texas, where I was baptized and sternly guided through confirmation by a dictatorial pastor who firmly believed and taught according to the Old Testament passage ….”for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers into the third, and fourth generation….” In my kid mind, that God was vindictive, demanding, and harsh, and he didn’t even seem to like the people he’d created, because he kept having the Old Testament Jews kill anyone who was not Jewish. As for Jesus, he was seldom mentioned then, just sort of treated as a second cousin to God who was supposed to die for the people that God was so critical of in the first place. And as I matured and recognized my attraction to others of the same sex, I came to realize that there wasn’t a place for me in any of God’s houses, as justified by numerous passages in several of God’s books.

And finally, at about age 40, I decided I really couldn’t seek that kind of God any longer.  In the churches I tried attending, my kind were constantly damned by the clergy, shunned by the congregation, and excommunicated if they were “out,” meaning open and honest about who they were. So for about 18 years, I argued with the entity I thought God was.

And then, at age 58, I attended a funeral that changed my spiritual life, for it was at that funeral that I first heard about a loving god who would treat kindly and lovingly those who might have made mistakes even graver than I had made in my homosexual life.

So I went to hear more at Saint Andrew Christian Church.

First it was what I call “the Broadway look,” that intrigued me. The sanctuary was a soaring concrete edifice, an architectural wonder with a Latin American influence, decorated with hundreds of yards of brilliant fabrics and filled with individual chairs covered in brightly colored cushions. There was no altar; instead there was a simple round table on which sat the elements in colorful goblets and a whole round loaf of simple bread for communion. And the histrionics the minister used in her sermon were unlike anything I had seen or heard in the more conservative church I was brought up in. The cassock and the other vestments were there, but so were the emphatic tears, the prolonged silence after a poignant statement, and the exaggerated intonations of her pronouncements about my soul and my right as a gay person to be there.

On top of that, no one got up and walked out in disagreement; no one grumbled or made a face when her message included the appeal to any color, class, sexual orientation, age, gender, ability or thought to be a part of this church. And no one nor any piece of paper said I couldn’t partake of the Lord’s Supper or that I had to first confess my sins to some ordained person who might not understand my particular omissions and commissions.

And there was the strange cross hanging in the front of the sanctuary…not so much a cross as a collage of Latin American village life– people farming, children going to school, animals grazing, men working, women washing…things that would happen most anywhere in the world.

Then too, it was the music…not the mournful, doleful, lamenting, soulful minor key tunes I grew up with, but joyful, upbeat, affirming music played with real soul and modulated to make my spirit soar.

And finally on that first day of attending Saint Andrew Christian Church many years ago, I took the time to read the back of the bulletin, which made what was called “Our Shalom Statement.”

Saint Andrew Christian Church is a shalom community, a gathered people, seeking God’s peace, justice, healing, and wholeness in every part of our lives and world.  Celebrating our diversity, rejoicing in our unity, we welcome and affirm all children of God of any color, class, sexual orientation, age, gender, ability or thought.  As members of the family of God, we share our beliefs, doubts, struggles, and growth.  Recipients of God’s  boundless grace, forgiveness, and love, we in turn offer our gifts and invite the fellowship, gifts, leadership, and spirit of all who share God’s passion for shalom.

I was hooked; I felt for the first time in my life that my soul was filled with good feelings instead of guilt, that I was meeting a god who, over the next few months…would maybe, then possibly, then probably, then absolutely…love me. And for the first time since my father had died, I was almost certain that, indeed, though my soul might be endangered because of some other action or feeling, I would certainly not be going to Hell for being a homosexual.

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