Might Oklahoma Be OK?

Subject:Growing upPentecostal and gay?!?

I am really having a struggle right now, deciding what is right and wrong biblically. The problem is, I have grown up Pentecostal. However, I have also grown up gay. I am just now coming to terms with that, and it’s not easy. I have been the pianist and Praise and Worship leader at my church since October of last year. I have had a huge problem sitting on the piano and singing “Hallelujah” one night, and spending the next on the phone with the guy I was dating.

My mother always used the quote “to thine own self be true,” but the Bible says “take up your cross daily.” I have decided that maybe I should change churches, but then I would feel like that would defeat the whole “dying to self” thing. At the same time though, the religious politics of the church, I feel, are hindering my worship. This is a huge decision that I have to make, because if I change churches, I will have to move to do so. I live in a small town in Oklahoma. What do you think?

Re: Growing up Pentecostal and gay?!?!

Here’s what I think: The leaders of your church are nuttier than a Snickers bar––and more dangerous to you than a tornado raging across that Oklahoma prairie. You need to get as far away from them as possible if you’re going to even remotely come to self-acceptance about your sexual orientation. That may sound harsh, but any individual or organization that condemns people because they are lesbian or gay does not deserve respect. And, with few exceptions, people who stay within churches that denounce them are deluding themselves.

All too often such individuals, rather than challenging the church, begin making excuses for it and for homophobia. If there was a broad-based, organized movement for change within Pentecostalism, as there is within other Christian denominations and other faiths, I might feel differently. I’m not saying you’ve got to give up on Christianity or spirituality, but trust me on this: Pentecostalism is not about to lighten up on the gay issue any time soon.

One of the fastest growing branches of the larger evangelical Protestant movement, Pentecostalism––also known as the Charismatic Movement––focuses on “speaking in tongues,” a prayer language in which followers believe they are talking directly to God. Pentecostalism follows an extreme, literal reading of the Bible––and we all know too well what the Bible says about homosexuality and many other things. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a staunch conservative (and an antigay crusader while he was a U.S. Senator), is a Pentecostalist. And as I wrote a few months ago in this column, he apparently had naked statues covered up in the halls of the justice department last year and avoids calico cats, which he believes are signs of Satan. As unusual as Pentecostalism sounds, however, the basics are similar to that of most other rigid faiths hell-bent on controlling followers.

This “dying to self” business that you mention, for example, is yet another version of the same cant that the Catholic Church, the Mormons, and other antigay and anti-sex religious organizations traffic in.

Here’s how the Rev. Paul A. Hughes, a minister of the Assemblies of God––one of the more successful Pentecostal churches––describes it: “God calls all Christians to die to self, to varying extents and at diverse times, according to his purpose. He calls us, initially, to die to self by laying aside our former sins, no longer being subject to them. Some of these we die to readily and happily enough, while others we fight for months, years, even our whole lives long…”

And of course homosexuality is among those “sins.” Do you really want to view your entire identity as something you’ve got to “fight” against for your whole life? Forget dying to self.

Live for self!

Brought up in Catholicism and lucky to have made it out intact, I gave up on religion long ago, so perhaps I just don’t get the Christian thing. But as far as the beliefs of others are concerned, who am I to cast the first stone? You don’t have to stop worshiping, nor do you have to move far away to find a church that is more open-minded about the issue.

There are many gay-accepting Christian denominations, from Methodists to Unitarians, including throughout Oklahoma. The Dallas-based Cathedral of Hope, part of the gay-founded United Federation of Metropolitan Community Church, describes itself as “the world’s largest Christian Church with a ministry to primarily gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.” UFMCC is rooted historically in the gay movement, an integral part of social change in America for homosexuals. Cathedral of Hope has an Oklahoma City satellite church, Cathedral of Hope-OC. I realize that may be quite far from where you live, but give them a call; chances are they can refer you to a gay-accepting church in your area.

Perhaps you believe you’d have to move away because the community might ostracize you if you leave the church, particularly since you live in a small town. That’s understandable, and many of us have moved to bigger cities, at least for a little while, for similar reasons, whether it was because our families were devout Catholics, evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, or run-of-the-mill non-religious bigots. Some, like myself, moved from one place to another within large cities—from the Italian Catholic neighborhoods of Staten Island to Manhattan. Sometimes that’s what you have to do in order to find your own people and come to terms with yourself, and it’s not a bad thing. You can always go back—a lot saner and smarter—but I have a feeling you’re not going to be the Praise and Worship leader at that church again. And to that, just take a deep breath and belt out a “Hallelujah!”

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