This post is not something I do. It’s not something I ever wanted to do. But it is something that I feel I have to do.
I have a story that must be told. This story was 19 years in the making and the catalyst lasted only 10 minutes. It’s still hard to believe that in the span of a 10 minute homily, my worldview was ripped apart.
I am Roman Catholic. I was baptized when I was about a month old. My Aunt and Uncle held me and promised that they would see that I was taught to live according to the faith. I attended years of religious education, I dressed all in white for first communion. I wore the same dress my older sister wore… a picture sits on my bookshelf of my family and my grandparents smiling on that day. My family is of mixed religions: Lutheran and Catholic. I sat in church every week, read my Bible, and studied at home. I went back for more religious education, but because I was home schooled the Sister in charge of my religious education let me work from home and volunteer. For several years I taught first graders about the history of the church, the saints, and the commandments. I told them to love God, do good, and listen to their conscience. I watched class after class graduate and move on, proud of what I’d taught them. I stood in front of hundreds of people and swore my vows to the church. I told the Bishop that I was taking the name Rose after St. Rose of Lima, a woman that lived a life of service. When someone I was dating told me to convert to Calvinism, I told him to find someone else. I was Catholic, and Catholic I would always stay.
So how did that girl turn into me, the woman who would refuses to set foot in a Catholic church?
It started when I met my brother when I was working my first job. He’s been my constant companion through all these years, someone I rely on and love unconditionally. That’s why I call him my brother… he is no longer my best friend, he’s blood. When I met Jase, he was a quiet, sarcastic, tall guy with a bowl haircut and a love of ancient history. We were both in college, studying and working our asses off. We watched the same shows, laughed at the same things, and thought the same way. The years passed and we got even closer. He told me that he was bullied in school because people thought he was gay. He was put in lockers, called names, and pushed around. For years and years he tried desperately to deny who he was. He tried to be straight for me, for his parents… but one day he had enough. He kept having these dreams saying that until he accepted who he was, he could never move forward. He went out to a bar and ended up kissing a guy. The next day, he messaged me on Facebook and told me he was gay.
I was the only one that knew for months. Jase is an only child and his parents always had hopes for a daughter in law and a couple grand kids. Jason’s family is his world and the thought of disappointing them tore him apart. But a couple years ago, he finally came out to them. And guess what? They still loved him. He became a completely different person. All these things he loved came to light and I got to watch him turn into the person he always wanted to be.
I spent a few nights sitting with him when he went to LGBT support groups. I sat there and I talked with gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals. I was completely uncomfortable at first, I didn’t know what to say or how to act and I was terrified of saying something wrong and offending someone. But the more I sat and listened, I realized that these people are mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. Uncles, aunts, mentors, friends. And they acted like that. They acted no different from anyone else. They talked about their dogs, their grades, the cake they set on fire last weekend because they can’t bake for shit but their Mom asked for a homemade birthday cake.
What really got me to sit up and pay attention was when Jase got up to speak. The quiet guy who never said much stood up in front of a large group of people and told his story from the very beginning. To say I was shocked was an understatement. As they listened to Jase’s story, they nodded and commented in whispers to the people sitting around them. When he was done they came forward with stories of their own. How they were bullied, how they were suicidal for years, how they still hide who they are from their families. How their religion told them that they were going to hell. How they came out to their best friend only to find that he or she was homophobic. How they were denied jobs, told they couldn’t go places because of who they were, threatened when they held the hands of their significant others. To say hearing this changed me is the biggest understatement in the history of man.
The last couple of years have been amazing. I’ve watched Jase transform into a happy, successful, openly gay man. Every time he got rejected by someone, he changed his approach. He wasn’t accepted by his church anymore, so he changed religions. He changed his major to what he wanted, not what his parents wanted him to go for. He started belly dancing at our university and performed with his all female club for charity and university events. He is, for the first time, completely at ease with himself and happy with his life.
About a year ago I went to church like I did every week. The morning mass on a Tuesday, 8:30 AM. I sat in the pew I’ve sat in all my life, surrounded by the stained glass mosaics I first saw when I was only a week old. I said my prayers and I sang my psalms, but when it came time to listen to the homily, I got more than I bargained for. My priest climbed up to the speaking platform and proceeded to tell me that the greatest evils in this world were gays, gay marriage, and people that abort fetuses. Not genocide, not war, not nuclear weapons and famine, child slavery, abuse, greed or murder. Gays. Gays that deny God for being who they are. Gays that demand the right to marry. Gays that adopt children and corrupt them. Gays that need to be pitied, gays that need to be fixed. And the people that support gays are misled, tempted by Satan, and in dire need of redemption.
I want all of you to go back and read that last paragraph again. What would you have done?
I walked out of that church and I haven’t looked back since. See, it goes back to what I taught those kids in religious education: listen to your conscience. I refuse to sit in a pew and be a hypocrite. Somehow I feel like God would have more of an issue with that. Here’s the truth: I’ve read the Bible. I’ve studied the history of the Old Testament, which was a rule book for a nomadic civilization concerned with keeping its rituals and traditions alive. I know the Old Testament was written during the Babylonian captivity. I know Leviticus was a book of laws written for an ancient civilization, not for our law makers to take out and toss around when they feel like being judgmental and bigoted. Not for the fanatical religious to use to scream at gays and call them an abomination. To use a holy book like that is wrong, to think that way feels wrong in my soul.
I live by the New Testament. The one that says not to judge and not to hate. To stand up for the weak, fight for justice, and not discriminate. To love, to forgive, and to strive towards a world better for every person, regardless of who they are. Those were the ideals that one man died for. Whether or not you believe that man to be the son of God doesn’t matter to me as long as you know and understand the message he brought us. That was the message the church was founded on a long, long time ago.
When I turn on the television I don’t see that message anymore. I see a church full of old men afraid of change drowning out the voices of those within their ranks calling for rights. I see big hats, jeweled robes, and politics. I don’t want to see silks and furs, dyes and gems. I want to see priests talking to gay youth and telling them that they are loved regardless of who they love. The church has done so much good, but the truth is that it needs to do better. The church needs to open its doors to the peoples of the world without judgment. They must do what Jesus would have. There is so much more to fight than the legalization of same sex marriage. All the church is doing is driving people like myself away.
When I swore those vows, I meant them. I promised that I would protect and uphold the faith. But I also promised that I would do good and strive to be like Jesus. So if my vows take me away from the church because I believe in equal rights, so be it. If that makes me a lesser person or someone in need of prayer and pity, fine. If that makes me the problem in the world or the poster child for vapid, moronic youth.. okay. I can be all those things and that is fine with me. May the fanatical religious use my face as a dartboard and tell me all the horrors I’ll see in hell. I’ll risk eternity because the truth is that I won’t rest until everyone is welcomed in my church and given equal rights in my country. It just happens to suck for me that these two unrelated things are welded together by my country’s screwed up culture. But I will always do my part, as little a part as it is. If I have to walk away from the church, fine. If I have to be put down for speaking up, fine. I believe and vote for equal rights every damn day, not just on election days. And I don’t care who knows.
And one thing is for sure… I won’t rest until I can be the maid of honor at my brother’s wedding. And I hope his husband is Catholic so I can stand on that altar again, hear their marriage be blessed, and be at peace within my soul. Because when I first titled this post, I titled it “How Love Broke My Vows”, but I’m starting to see that maybe love made my vows into what they always should have been.
The possibilities for a better world are endless. Raise your voices with mine and work with me to build a tomorrow full of promise for everyone. And remember that regardless of who you are, what you believe, and who you love… you are loved by the man I’ve devoted my life to. I guess that means I love you too.