on losing judgmental friends

Why would I worry about losing fundamentalist friends? Why would anyone wish to maintain friendships with people who will in all likelihood throw theological boulders at one, were one to stammer any sort of objection to the theology of these people?

Perhaps it seems obvious that such people aren’t friends after all, and I’d be far better off without them.

But nothing is as it appears through the ‘obvious’ lens.

I have two important reasons to desire a continuing friendship with my not-so-understanding friends.

1.  We are fellow travelers.

I have spent almost two decades with these people. We have laughed together, cried together, grown and fallen together. I have watched their children grow up, have taught some of them, have shared in their triumphs. Regardless mistaken doctrinal positions, these people are not one-dimensional caricatures, not something one finds in the panels of political cartoons.

These people believe what they do because they have been taught their whole lives (most of them) that this is the truth of God. And certainly such is the popular belief about Christianity, forcefully propagated in American society today. If one’s a Christian, then one must be a fundamentalist—consider what one sees on “Christian” TV, on “Christian” radio, in “Christian” bookstores, in “Christian” music and videos. Notice how fundamentalism has not only taken, but been allowed to take the name of ‘traditional family values’ and has conquered the US mindset so thoroughly that the Republican party bows to its demands. These people aren’t evil, but just as taken in as much of the rest of the US about what it means to be a Christian. They’re mistaken, but it’s hard to blame them for accepting the only message they’ve heard as the truth.

I’m not talking about worrying about what the leaders in the fundamentalist movement think of me. No doubt there. I’m talking about my fellow travelers, those who, like me, deeply love Jesus, and have found themselves in a tradition that says to love Jesus translates in a very specific pathway, marked by very specific milestones and credos. I don’t blame them for their mistaken beliefs, for if I do, then how am I any better than the fundamentalism I reject?

These precious souls are confused, well-meaning, loving people, who have been taught that love cashes out in a certain way. I cannot blame them without hypocrisy for doing their very best to live congruently with their beliefs. I can only pray that they will find, like I have, that their beliefs are themselves inconsistent.

2. We are family.

On two levels. As fellow Christians, we are all family. As human beings, we are all family. Consider my immediate family as analogue. My mother and sister will never accept me as gay. My sister will in all likelihood revel in her new status as the ‘good’ daughter, as the best little Christian in our generation. But even so, even though I will be the stuff of rumors, I want my sister and mom to accept me. I want the relationship to be healthy and compassionate. I don’t expect it, but I still desire it.

It’s because I love my family that I want to maintain close ties. In the same way, I love my Christian family—no matter how judgmental or misled or confused they might be at any given time—and I wish to maintain friendships. I wish this because of love. And I wish this because I hope for them a growth in God that I am currently experiencing. Like they often say in churchy circles—God loves you just as you are, only he loves you so much he doesn’t want to leave you that way. So too, I love my churchy friends. And I want them to learn to love more fully. I want to maintain friendships with them because I believe they are capable of more. And because of my long relationships with them as co-traveler and family, I know them to be complex, beautiful souls, even in their doctrinal slumber.

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3 thoughts on “on losing judgmental friends

  1. jaded theologian

    It seems to me that your problem is not really theological in nature, but emotional. You have come to a theological understanding of homosexuality; your fundamentalist friends and family have come to another understanding. The two (worldviews) are polar opposites. They will not likely change in order to embrace you, neither will you change (re-closet) in order to be embraced.

    You understandably have compassion for them, and long for their healing, yet your very existence in their midst challenges their core values and would, if they let it, force them to examine those values — which they are loath to do.

    This is a sad situation, but again, not so much of a theological problem. Moving away won’t change them, but it will keep ‘the problem’ at bay for a while longer. After all, how long could you be expected to stay trapped in a situation where you must choose between being controlled by your family and losing your family, with threats of Hell and damnation thrown in for good measure? Think of it as a much bigger closet.

    When you meet the love of your life while living on the other side of the state or country, will you mention her name to them? Share your delight? Invite them to the wedding? Will you wear your ring when you visit, or hide it?

    As a mature individual, as a mature Christian, is the cost of your family’s love worth compromising your integrity? That’s an awful question, but it’s the one many of us have had to make. What happens if you declare your autonomy and reject this emotional oppression? What happens if you don’t? Which is worse?

    You could definitely move to another town, at least till you’re 50, maybe 60. Bide your time till your mother dies. Maybe some of the others will get a life and move away, maybe some will miraculously “get it” and decide you’re ok. Could happen.

    As your minister I would assure you that being closeted is deadly to the soul. As one of your friends who journeys with you I would remind you that there are a lot of people who love you just the way your are and wish this didn’t have to hurt so much.

    Heaven is other people too.

    Reply
  2. Bubba

    Granted, you do have reasons for maintaining friendship with those with whom you have shared your life to date, and granted, they may well be good reasons. The question is not whether you ought to try to maintain those friendships while living out your authentic existence, the question is to what degree you will be able to. As I have suggested, you have taken upon yourself the mantle of prophecy, and your existence is the irritant that could, given time and perseverance, develop into a priceless pearl.

    You do have some duty to your fundamentalist friends, to expose them to the truth that has the potential to make them free. You also have a legitimate claim to their affections, and this is a blessing which you oughht to pursue.

    The problem, as our friend suggests, is that you and your friends are living out incompatible theologies. And the question, as much for them as for you, is this: to what degree are you willing/able to remain in communion with one another in the face of this contradiction? Some will be more understanding than others. Some will allow this conflict to become the invisible elephant in the room, carefully skirting the issue. (And trust me when I tell you, this is far more toxic than you would likely imagine.) And some will manage to work this conflict into their every interaction with you.

    At the risk of amending a definition you’ve elsewhere established, one of your responsibilities is to “forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34, KJV) And yes, this means recognizing that, despite the fact that they are infected with a false theological worldview thas has resulted and will result in untold pain, both for you and for others like you, they are not bad people. But, on balance, many of them may be bad for you, and witnessing to them through your example may be more painful than you can bear.

    On the other hand, I am probably not the appropriate person to advise you in this regard, especially since my own life has been far from commensurable with my ideals. Almost everybody I know knows what my theological understanding of sexual orientation is, at least in the broad strokes. Only a very few, however, know that one of the factors that led me to that understanding was my experience of my own sexuality–I am, for want of a better term, ambisextrous. My girlfriend and a few close friends know; it is unlikely that my parents or brothers ever will.

    Part of the reason for this, and, ironically, part of the reason I envy you in this, is my ability to “pass.” I can, and have, had honest, fulfilling relationships with women. I have also had significant relationships with two men and been deeply in love with two men. (Unfortunately, there was no overlap between the two groups.)

    I have never been forced to choose between the love of my life and the support of my family. And, to my chagrin, this has led to a certain moral cowardice on my part, which I do not like, but am unwilling to give up. So, for whatever it’s worth, I spend my life defending the truth as I know it from the shadows of ambiguity and silence, and I cannot help but admire and envy those, like yourself who have no real option but to step into the light.

    Reply
  3. flayed Hypatia Post author

    To JT:

    The problem is indeed emotional, not directly theological (indirectly so, though, since the problem is just that we have conflicting theologies). But whether in some cases this will only delay the confrontation (‘keep it at bay’ ) I am uncertain. In a sense, I am deliberately delaying outing myself to some people merely because I just don’t need the added chaos in the midst of dissertating and complicating health issues. But more importantly, I believe that I won’t need to come out to some people at all—since I have moved away and wasn’t planning on coming back even before I came out. I don’t foresee reuniting with many of these people, so there’s no need to lacerate myself publicly when I see little good coming of it.

    I did expose a bit of myself to a couple people—testing the waters as it might be—and found dramatic responses. I am still unsure as to how one person might respond, much shows me that she and her husband will likely be just fine with it all—but the other completely freaked out, and it broke my heart. I know that when I do choose to come out, as I will, I will then lose many people. The word will spread like wildfire, and the fire will burn many bridges. I am prepared for that eventuality, just not prepared for the eventuality right at the moment. That is to say, I am intellectually prepared for the hit, just not quite emotionally strong enough for it, yet.

    What I have decided to do to beef up emotionally is just this. I’ve begun this blog, under a different name, to process with you the route. I have begun an intensive re-assessment of my belief system, in the grand Cartesian style. A quotation is here perhaps helpful:

    Several years have now passed since I first realized how numerous were the false opinions that in my youth I had taken to be true, and thus how doubtful were all those that I had subsequently built upon them. And thus I realized that once in my life I had to raze everything to the ground and begin again from the original foundations, if I wanted to establish anything firm and lasting […]. But the task seemed enormous, and I was waiting until I reached a point in my life that was so timely that no more suitable time for undertaking these plans of action would come to pass. For this reason, I procrastinated for so long that I would henceforth be at fault, were I to waste the time that remains for carrying out the project by brooding over it. (from Meditation One)

    So I am carefully reassessing, spending much of my so-called ‘down’ time (and a lot of time I should be spending on dissertation or teaching matters—like this very moment!) reprogramming myself. I have set a year aside for this. This seems right to me in that I will certainly still be dissertating for the next year, and it strikes me as a useful sort of ‘wilderness’ period where I remain isolated from the maddening crowd, as it were, growing stronger and more ‘prepared to give an answer’ for the faith that I have.

    Regarding family—I don’t know. Your questions cut, though like a scalpel. I do plan on coming out to my brother, maybe once the year is passed and I’ve got some stronger emotional legs beneath me. My sister and I have been estranged for over a decade, and I don’t anticipate any changes there. She’s just so judgmental as it is, that I have no difficulty seeing this as one more arrow in her quiver to shoot at me whenever she finds an opportune moment. My mother just won’t understand. My other sister is completely supportive. So then what? Well, if I get a tenure position somewhere, I will surely settle down and live out my life away from the old hometown. I’m okay with that. But what if I find somebody? I have no clue. But I also have no clue what sort of woman I’ll be in a year. I suppose I am currently of the mindset of “I’ll cross that bridge when I reach it.” Not a very good answer, not very planned, but it’s all I’ve got right now.

    To Bubba:

    A prophet. Well, you’ve really got me thinking on that one. In fact, so much so that I’ve been chewing on it since you first posted your thoughts. What a responsibility! Of course, I have to admit I don’t exactly feel surprised at this image, nor at the sense of responsibility or calling. I’ve felt it for many, many years. Only it’s just been recently that I’ve felt it so pervasively again. And boy, do I feel unprepared and inept. Hence the year in reprogramming—ask any philosopher: when in crisis, buy a few hundred books and submerge for a year! But I guess this is an integral part of my processing and growth style. I need to have an intelligent position, the ability to explain both to myself and to others why I hold certain positions—and why they should, too.

    Regarding your bisexuality—kiddo, I’m not at all surprised. And you’re not as cowardly as you suggest. I don’t think my coming out is evidence of courage, rather, of desperation. I was no longer in a place in my life where I could pretend to be content—and the discontent (malcontent?) was eating me alive. I had already lost many relationships to the silence, and when I began to lose God, I plunged into this recent cycle of depression (as you well know!). JT is right when she says that the closet is death to the soul. As you noted in one of our conversations, I’ve never been all that good at staying in the closet, occasionally blurting myself into the open when my guard wasn’t carefully on watch. It’s not so much that I’m strong or brave—not so much that I’ve overpowered my guard and triumphantly escaped the closet—as it is that I’ve been carried out by a fistful of very good friends (you included) who couldn’t stand to see me withering away any longer. And now that I can breathe again, there’s no going back. That’s not courage—that’s necessity. Facing what must be—not strength, but necessity. All I’m doing is what I have to.

    I’ve come through a very sad decade. My 30s sucked, and I really don’t want that for my 40s. When my friend R dared me to live congruently, when she asked me ‘how many more years are you planning on living this way?’ I was unable to let the Theyself dictate my actions any longer. It was exposed. I had to step out or forever be absorbed. That’s not at all a brave thing, my friend. Courage would have been my never going into the closet at 21. Courage would have been standing up when I was publicly ostracized by my church at 25. I don’t know what courage is for me now. I’m just doing what I have to in order to survive as somebody I’d like to see in the mirror.

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