As a nonbeliever, I have had people ask me why I go so hard against organized religion, the Abrahamic faiths in particular. The answer is quite simple. I’ve gone through stages of religious zealotry in my life. And as a former ‘true believer’, I know all too well the harm that such faith can cause. I have done and said horrible, stupid and inhumane things in the name of ‘faith’ before. There is one particularly shameful incident, a perfect example of the fucked up things that some of us do in the name of ‘god’.
It was March 2000 and I was employed as a bank teller. The branch that I worked at was located in a lively part of my city and my co-workers were all hipsters. I was still (by outward appearances at least) a devout Christian, believing that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. My beliefs made me a bit of an oddity among my co-workers. They were very polite but amused with my beliefs. In spite of this, however, I became very close to a co-worker who was my polar opposite. We will call him Aaron. Aaron was in his mid-twenties. He was talkative and vivacious, and we bonded quickly. Aaron and I had the same taste in music. We often took lunch together and he’d suggest new hairstyles for me and give me makeup tips. Aaron was also gay, and made no secret of it. I knew very well that Aaron’s sexual orientation was considered a “sin” and a “lifestyle choice” by the nondenominational church I was attending at the time. My pastor preached sermons strongly condemning ‘fornication’ and homosexuality. But Aaron was my friend, so when we hung out I put all that out of my mind.
However once I got engaged things slowly changed. My (then)fiancé was a preacher and often came to pick me up from work. While sitting inside the branch waiting for me to leave, he’d become visibly uncomfortable with Aaron’s presence. Later when we were in the car, he would ask me how I could be so cool with him. “It’s just disgusting“, he’d say, his words dripping with disdain,“watching him prance around like a fairy! He should act like a real man. His behavior is DEMONIC!” I bit my lip. I wasn’t bothered by the way Aaron acted, because I knew that Aaron was just being himself. Even with everything I’d been taught regarding homosexuality in church, I knew that it was no choice for Aaron or the other gay men I’d gotten close to in the past. I also knew that Aaron didn’t have an evil or ‘demonic’ bone in his body. But when my fiancé started disparaging Aaron, using the Bible as a justification, I said little. I didn’t defend my friend.
I wish I could say that the story ended there. I wish that was the end of my reprehensible behavior. I am sad to say that things became even uglier. After discussing Aaron’s sexual orientation and salvation among ourselves for about a month, my fiancé decided that something must be done. As Christians, we were obligated to speak with Aaron. We needed to explain the error of his ways to him and invite him to “turn away” from his sin and seek repentance from Jesus Christ. “If we don’t talk to him and he is lost”, my fiancé said,”we’ll have his blood on our hands. Asking him to repent is the right thing to do”. I didn’t want to do it. But I didn’t have the courage to refuse. Besides, I told myself, technically he is right. After all, didn’t the Bible itself say that gay people could not go to heaven? It was right there in 1st Corinthians 6:9-11
‘Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
I told myself that I had to get over my discomfort and go through with it. Even though my heart told me it was wrong, even though I knew this would hurt and offend my friend, I believed I had to do it. I was simply conveying the word of God to a friend. Besides, what’s a little offense compared to disobeying the “word of God”? Casting all decency and compassion aside, I agreed with my fiancé and set up the meeting with Aaron.
One Saturday after work, we sat down with Aaron over coffee and our KJV bibles. I started first, telling Aaron that as his friend I was “concerned”about him and the path that he was on. I told him that I worried about his eternal fate if he died in his “sin”. My fiancé chimed in, telling Aaron that, if he chose, he could be set free from the spirit of homosexuality and live a life of righteousness. As long as I live, I will never forget the look of shock and pain in Aaron’s huge blue eyes as he listened to me. When I sat across from him that day, I was not the naive girl that asked him for advice about boys and makeup. I was not the sweet, considerate girl that would stop and grab him a drink at Starbucks on my break. No, on that day I was a judgmental, bigoted coward.
Aaron would have been completely entitled to go off on my fiancé and I for the way we treated him that day. But he did not. He let us speak our piece, a tight smile plastered across his face. When we concluded, he gently asked, “Are you done?” I nodded yes. Aaron picked up my Bible and slowly caressed it. “I see you brought the King James Version of the Bible to prove your points”, he stated, looking directly at us. “Are you aware of how this Bible was edited to suit political purposes? Are you aware that King James was an alleged homosexual and child abuser himself? So how can you use these verses to tell me I’m a sinner? Have you even studied the history of the Bible itself?” And with those words, Aaron methodically began to destroy the idea of the Bible being the inerrant word of God. My fiancé and I had no idea what we were walking into when we sat down at that table.
Aaron had been raised Mormon. Like many raised in strict religious households, he struggled to reconcile his identity with his faith. Like many, he found them to be incompatible. When Aaron was a teen and his identity became obvious, the elders at his temple gave his mother a choice: you must disown and never speak to your gay son again or you cannot be a Mormon. Aaron’s mother chose her son, and was promptly isolated by others in the temple for her decision. The experience led Aaron to study the relationship between Christianity and sexuality for himself. His studies gave him the knowledge to confidently combat everything we said to him that day. And I have to give it him: Aaron spoke to us with much more dignity and respect than we showed him.
When I look back at that day, I feel a number of emotions, but the overpowering one is shame. It was horribly wrong and immoral of me to do that to him. The first time my fiancé called Aaron a fairy, I should have shut it down. I should have questioned what the bible said about sexuality. Instead I acted like a robot. Under the guise of religion and “saving” a sinner, I took part in an act of pure bigotry and hatred. It is one of the most despicable things I have done.
Years have passed, and I have no idea where Aaron is at. Two months after our Saturday discussion he was laid off. A month after that he moved out of state. I have searched for him on FB and asked mutual friends about him to no avail. If I was face to face with Aaron today, the tables would turn. Instead of imploring him to repent to ‘god’, I would repent to him. I would tell Aaron that I am very sorry and deeply ashamed of what I did to him that day. I would tell him that I regret being another in the long line of religious folk who condemned and judged him unfairly. I was the one who was wrong, I was the one who was unrighteous. I was the one who brought pain to a beautiful soul, a man who had been nothing but kind to me. And I did it all in the name of religion.