Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Confessions of a Former Christian Homophobe

Sometimes you’ll come across articles where people talk about how they used to be religious but then untangled themselves from the shackles of faith and walked out to be bathed in the sun of logic and reason while a choir of Angel’s didn’t sing as they don’t exist. Then they point out that they were children at the time and my lip curls in disdain. Way to rub it in.

I was a fully fledged adult when I finally slipped out of religions paws. Reason wasn’t enough for my desertion. Hey, reason couldn’t dent the years of fear that had been indoctrinated in to me. “If you are lukewarm God will spit you out” was a phrase I often was told about God’s appalling table manners and my ever imminent descent to hell. I was a doubt away from being cast out of God’s love in to a lake of sulphur. I’ve been to Rotorua, this was not an eternity I wanted.

I first got a taste of Christianity in primary school because of a teacher who pushed it during Easter and Christmas with colouring in of manger scenes and other religious imagery. If I signed up there was a life of chocolate eggs and presents ahead of me and what kid doesn’t want that. Also there was the promise of an omnipresent Parent who would always love me. Religion can be awfully Freudian and the appeal of pleasing a parent figure is an innate drive in all of us. 

That was my first hit. My second, and when I became an addict, was as a teenager in High School. I answered an ad looking for volunteers to participate in a school play. No mention was made that it was for the school’s Christian group, and by the time I found out I had already been lured in with the promise of the lead part. And everyone was super friendly! That’s because they wanted something from me, but still, friendly! Being new in town and lost in a sea of scowling teenage faces this promise of instant friendships was enough to get me signed up.

First of all it’s the best feeling ever. Love from God, love from your fellow believers, but once they’ve got you hooked they start reeling out the next phase: fear. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Ten Commandments but the first four are pretty much setting up the faith as the one and only. You’re in the club, or you’re doomed, you slip up and you’re doomed. This is all about maintaining compliance; are you with us, or are you against us? You’ve got to be in it to win it. Wait, I think that’s Lotto.

What effect does this have? Well, religious leaders have a hell of a lot of power. If they tell you that homosexuality is a sin, you believe them, no independent research required, especially when you’re a teenager. Conformity is the goal and this is one of the reasons why otherwise good people can do evil things if they’re told that evil things are in fact godly. You should feel guilty for having sexual feelings, for not being devoted enough, for listening to Crowded House because they were satanic…there was a lot of confusing, weird, guilt.

I was a good Christian girl, and as such because I had been told this was the case, I believed that homosexuality was a sin against God. Jesus was a champion of the underdog and was invested in helping the poor and the suffering, but our High School group followed the adult who led us instead. I am sure during that time I made homophobic comments. I am also sure that in all probability I had made a homophobic comment in front of someone that was gay. I am deeply, deeply ashamed of my conduct. I am ashamed that I let other people’s prejudice become part of my worldview, I am ashamed that I felt I was right in exhibiting a behaviour that was hurtful, that was toxic, and that sought to marginalise people for nothing more than for who they were. I am ashamed that because I was too scared to think for myself that I allowed myself to become part of a culture that harmed others.

After High School I moved from small town NZ to the Big Smoke, attended uni, and having escaped that environment, and with the tools to now think for myself, realised just how horribly wrong I had been. Ironically some of the best and closest friendships I have made in my life have been with people who are gay; how horrifying to think that I could have lost out on that because of something as stupid as prejudice. How much less of a person I could have been.

Some homophobes want to have power and control others, some because they’ve fallen under the influence of others, but there is hope that people’s thinking can be changed. I’m really, really proud of the younger generation of New Zealanders who are a lot more forward thinking and inclusive of their fellow human beings. There is hope that people can change if the thinking behind it is challenged and if common human decency is championed. Think before you hate because the harm you can do to other people is real.

Nothing good ever came out of intolerance and hatred, except maybe chocolate eggs.

ETA: Submissions for the Marriage Equality Bill close off tomorrow and can be made here:

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