Coming Out and Religious Guilt
A 20 yr. old male asks, “I like this guy that has an issue with the church. He knows that he is gay but has been brought up in a religious background. Every time he sleeps with a guy he goes running back to the church asking for forgiveness and then he claims he is straight. A month later he is gay again and starts seeing men. What should I do?”
Your question has two parts: 1. How do you help someone you care about who is going through this, and, 2. What can help the person caught in this dilemma?
To begin with, I can understand your frustration with and concern for your friend. Frankly, you are not in a position to resolve his internal dilemma for him. If you can tolerate his inconsistency then you are in a position to support him by being non-judgmental and avoiding pressuring him to own and accept who he is before he is really ready. Like a lot of things in life coming out and coming to terms with ourselves is a process and not a destination; we all have to travel our own road. This is not to say that you are helpless and can only sit idly by. You can, as I said, indicate non-judgmental support by being available to him whether he is “straight” or “gay” on any particular day. You can encourage him to sort these issues through by involving himself in a counseling relationship, talking with someone at GLYS, finding a church within his particular religious affiliation that is non-guilt inducing and more accepting of diversity. There are priests, ministers and groups within many established churches that are supportive of GLBT people and that recognize the need to minister in truly accepting and welcoming ways to GLBT persons. There has been for a number of years within the Western New York GLBT community an organized effort to acknowledge and affirm the spiritual life of our members by working to raise consciousness within church communities and to provide affirming spiritual experiences for our community. You can contact GLYS for contact info regarding these resources.
Along with the above I would ask your friend to allow for and to support and educate his own process of discovery and acceptance by seeking out information and support from a variety of sources. Over the years in my counseling practice I have seen many clients who were damaged or slowed down on their roads to acceptance by taking to heart the damning, negative messages of say, one priest in particular, who may have been assigned to their home parish. To minister does mean to represent or act as an agent for another such as a church hierarchy but it also, in a truly spiritual sense, means to attend to the wants and needs of another. I know of no one who needs to be made ashamed or fearful. Homophobia is only just beginning to loosen its grip on world wide culture and so it remains part and parcel of what we are taught about how to feel about ourselves as GLBT men and women. Therefore, the “organized church” of whatever religion is not free from the destructive power of homophobia as it develops its rules and forms of what is and is not OK. Just as we as individuals struggle with our spirituality and sense of acceptance so to are organized religions struggling with the same issues. Take for example the recent and ongoing struggle within the Episcopal Church over the nomination and approval of an openly gay Bishop.
For myself and my own journey with spirituality over the years I come back to an idea that is soothing and believable, “God doesn’t make mistakes”; so my being gay is not a mistake. I hope for you and your friend that as time goes on you both can find inner peace. If you would like to talk about coming out, being GLBT and spirituality/religion, check the monthly calendar for visits by local gay-affirming clergy.