Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

Written by | Gay Voices

praying woman

Stock photo credit Ben White

During one of my religion classes, our teacher played a video for us in which a man explained the sacredness of marriage. He went on to elaborate that heterosexual marriages are the only healthy, true form of love. He reminded his audience that there is help for people facing same-sex attractions, and such individuals do not face alienation from the church. He explained that society offers homosexuals two options: stay in the closet and hide their homosexuality, or be openly gay and live a homosexual ‘lifestyle.’ Thankfully, he elaborated, the Catholic Church offers them a third option. They are encouraged to tell their religious community about their struggles with same-sex attractions, and they will work together to overcome their unnatural, confused desires. It was during this religion class that I realized just how disgusted my community is with my ‘lifestyle,’ and how frequently this disgust is presented in the form of love and compassion. Religious leaders believe that by offering us this third option, they separate themselves from homophobic people that call us faggots, dykes and trannies. What they fail to understand is that their kind tones deliver the same hateful message that we are abnormal and disgusting. This causes difficulties for LGBTQ+ Catholics in understanding who we are and where we belong, because different aspects of ourselves–religion and sexuality– are not allowed to overlap. These conditions make it impossible to find people in our religious communities we can trust, cause difficulties in practicing our religion, and leave us feeling merely tolerated but not accepted.

Society made me assume the hardest part about being lesbian would be enduring harassment from strangers and classmates, but in my experiences, the most emotionally draining messages came from the people closest to me. When I first started identifying as lesbian, I expected to start getting harassed at school. I never was harassed as I anticipated, but it was not until several years later that I realized where true homophobia resides. My friends, family, and religious community were the sources of the most condescending messages. One example of this comes from a friendship I currently have with another Christian in my grade. I knew she was against living a ‘homosexual lifestyle,’ so I wanted to be sure she knew I was gay from the start. If she felt uncomfortable about that, she would know before we became close friends. This was not a barrier in our friendship, as I originally anticipated. Last semester in high school, we somehow had every class together, and we became close friends. She came to me for advice about guys she liked or liked her, and we both felt comfortable ‘venting’ about whatever was on our minds. This friend was, and is, very concerned about my wellbeing. I had originally planned to come out to my family after college, so that if they decided they didn’t want to help me pay for it because I was gay, I could still get an education. This was a terrible idea and was much more draining than I anticipated. My friend saw how this was affecting me, and convinced me that I needed to tell my parents. She helped me get through the most emotionally excruciating time of my life, and continuously checks up on me now that we go to different schools.

This friend has improved my mental state significantly, but she simultaneously considers my homosexuality a ‘challenge’ I face. What I did not realize at the time, was that she encouraged me to come out so that my parents could get me the help she thought I needed to overcome my sexuality. She recognized the pain I was in, but found the source of that pain solely from having same-sex desires, not being afraid to tell others I had them. I remember her telling me, “You don’t have to do this by yourself, you can ask for help Isabella.” I realize now that ‘this,’ was referring to my homosexuality. She thought that me being attracted to women was eating me up inside. She learned this from the church’s approach to treating homosexuality as a sin and denying it as a legitimate identity, allowing people like her to tolerate, but not accept us. This is what I have struggled to realize and accept for a long time. I understand now that my friendship with her is possible, because culturally the church detaches homosexuality from LGBTQ+ people’s personalities and traits to humanize otherwise ‘revolting’ people. This ideology is meant to make us feel loved, which it does to some extent, but it mostly leaves us feeling hated. By loving the sinner, (me) but hating the sin (my homosexuality), they assume that they follow the Bible’s teachings of unconditional acceptance. When they consider our identities a tragic mental error, it leaves us feeling merely tolerated, not accepted.

The Catholic Church assumes they present themselves as approachable people, but in reality their efforts to ‘cure’ the LGBTQ+ community make them difficult to trust. I have learned how to navigate my friendship I previously mentioned with the understanding that she simply does not realize that homosexuality is part of my identity, not a disease. Other relationships I have with Christians in my community are more difficult for me to justify. Last year, a different religion teacher was assigned to my grade. He introduced himself to us and explained his educational background. He specifically studied how evolution is a theory that the Catholic Church believes in, and told us that he can answer any questions we have about how the Catholic Church and science interact. After hearing this, I expected this new teacher would be more aware of the reality that LGBTQ+ people are born as they are, since he is not opposed to scientific research and discoveries. At the next class, I realized my perception was horribly wrong. The lesson was on marriage and sexuality, and during the closing and opening prayers he asked for guidance to any individuals facing ‘same-sex attractions.’ He assumed his prayers would comfort people in my ‘position,’ but his words only reminded me how dangerous it is to assume I can trust religious adults in my life.

Catholic and Christian ideology often follows the conception that the religious LGTBQ+ community seeks their help in developing a closer relationship with God. In reality, religious openly LGBTQ+ individuals are not seeking approval from other people, we are seeking approval from God. To grow in our faith and connect with God on a deeper level, we do not feel the need to change or overcome our sexual identities. Other Christian denominations have reformed their teachings to allow LGBTQ+ people to simultaneously be themselves while practicing their religion, but the Catholic Church is mostly absent from this reform. It may seem obvious that religious LGBTQ+ people can simply join an accepting church, but for Catholics, this is less simplistic. We believe that communion truly is the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and receiving this body and blood is a vital aspect of accepting him into your life. LGBTQ+ friendly Christian denominations do not follow this interpretation of communion. Because my religious beliefs align with the church but my personal beliefs do not, the isolation I feel has led me to develop an individualistic mentality toward my faith. I do not try to connect with others concerning my religion, because every time I do, I learn later on that they want to offer me ‘help’ to overcome my homosexuality. I find myself faking a lot of my responses to discussions in my religion classes. I have to write a letter to my priest for our upcoming confirmation. We are asked to discuss any concerns we have about confirmation, and immediately I thought about me being gay and struggling to find any religious adults I trust. I promptly reminded myself that I do not know if I can trust my priest, and discussing my true concerns would likely result in a kind yet painful conversation about the help he can offer me in overcoming my same-sex attractions.

What I appreciate now is that I was able to learn to develop my religious beliefs on my own. Practicing my religion in a more reserved context because of my sexuality has only enriched my understanding of my faith. When I recognized that it was Jesus I needed to worship, not the Catholic Church, It became possible to uncover what religion meant to me. Reaching the point I have with this understanding of myself has been difficult, and would have been much easier to achieve if I had religious adults in my life I could trust. The church assumes that for me to reach the kind of peace I have with my sexuality and faith, I need their counseling to overcome my deranged desires. In reality, having the opportunity to grow in my faith without their interference or influence is exactly what allowed me to trust and follow the Holy Spirit.

I may have been able to find my footing when it comes to practicing Catholicism while identifying as lesbian, but this process has resulted in a lot of unnecessary pain. My religion teacher says people like me need not worry, because there is acceptance and guidance in the church for people facing same-sex attractions. What they fail to recognize is that this ‘acceptance’ is only granted if we deny and suppress whom we truly are. Despite having no religious adults I can trust, being taught that my sexuality and religion are not permitted to overlap, and reading the Bible on my own, I have been able to find the Holy Spirit in all the ways my church denies are possible.

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Last modified: September 28, 2018