Walk Away Just as I am By David Dean To understand why I first embraced fundamentalism, an

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Walk Away Just as I am By David Dean To understand why I first embraced fundamentalism, and in time rejected the dogmas and doctrines of the Christian Religious Right, one must understand my personal and spiritual background. I am quite sure that my experience parallels those of many others, who with all good conscience, could not reconcile what they knew and experienced from a loving God with the exclusive rhetoric being preached as truth from pulpits in every corner of the world. Being raised in the traditions of an old-world Italian atmosphere, I was born into, baptized in, received communion from, and confirmed into the Catholic church. From my earliest recollections, the Catholic tradition was mysterious with the ringing of bells, the burning of candles, and what seemed to me as incantations over the bread and wine that miraculously turned into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the kneeling and genuflections, the robes of the priest, the burning of incense. It gave me a sense of separation from a personal God. Even the prayers of the Catholic Church invoked images of a great communion of saints, martyrs, and believers with the company of all the heavenly hosts enjoying the peace and love of God. But I never felt part of that company of believers. I also can remember listening to the readings from the Old Testament, the epistles, and finally the Gospel reading every Sunday, but I don't remember ever learning or relating those lessons to my life and practice. During my confirmation period, I remember learning about the history of the Catholic Church and its faith. Once a week nuns would drill us in these lessons until we knew them from memory. It wasn't an exercise or discipline of love in which I continued to learn these lessons, but of fear of not being the person others expected me to be. So I had no other choice but to be a good and faithful Catholic by going to confession on Saturdays, thus making me worthy of receiving the body and blood of Christ on Sundays during the Eucharistic celebration. Around the age of twelve or thirteen, my oldest brother began inviting family members to his girlfriend's family Bible study. All my family members began to encounter a different God than the one we were exposed to in the Catholic tradition. I can remember listening with amazement as the Bible study leaders read from the Bible and explained its meaning. It was the very first time I heard anything like what I was hearing: a step-by-step explanation of God's activity with the human race, and it was being validated by Scripture. These new insights to Scripture were food for a hungry soul who wanted more than anything to know and be known by a loving God. I can say that those Bible studies introduced me to the grace, forgiveness, and love of God through faith in his son. Soon the romance of this new experience began to fade. The love and acceptance I first experienced by knowing and being known by a loving God were replaced by another set of doctrines and dogmas. In these Bible studies I was taught that to love God was to know his word and will. The only way to know the word of God and his will in your life was to study Scripture. That explanation had a core of truth, however as with many cults and heresies, there is always a kernel of truth surrounded by loyal and misguided people. I began to substitute love for knowledge, and not the knowledge of a loving and forgiving God, but the knowledge of an exclusive and hateful God. I was becoming intolerant of other Christian beliefs that did not line up dogma to doctrine with the faith I was being taught. In time, I applied and was accepted to Moody Bible Institute to further what I thought to be my continued love for God. By that time in my life I was a full-fledged Bible-thumping fundamentalist. At MBI my beliefs were being validated, I was surrounded by like-minded people, and there were no outside views to challenge what I was being taught. It was the perfect microcosm for the maturing fundamentalist. Once again, I found that I was trying to live up to the expectations of others. That in order to be a Christian, I had to be conservative and adhere to the strict fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture. Everything was perfect in my life. I had the respect and admiration of other true believers in being their great white hope. After all, I was attending a bastion of conservative Christian beliefs and expectations were high. Everything was going wonderfully until I discovered a reality about myself that all the prayers in the world could not change, and that was my sexual orientation. I came to the hard, cruel, and frightening realization that I was queer. From all outside appearances, I was a gift to fundamentalism, but inside I was ripped apart. I was going through such emotional turmoil and self-hatred that soon I was in the grip of depression. I could not understand why God created me gay. I could not reconcile being queer and a Christian. After all, God hated lesbigays and they would not inherit the Kingdom and were doomed to hell. Yet at the same time I knew that Christ was my living redeemer, and I had faith that I would be with God when I died. The immeasurable pain I was carrying because of my sin of homosexuality became intolerable. The inner struggle between my personal experience with faith and fundamentalist doctrine was leading me to only one logical solution: suicide. All I knew was that I wanted relief from the guilt of my sin and suicide seemed to offer the best answer. The height of my depression developed the fall semester of my second year at Moody Bible Institute. I would find myself in my dorm room crying because I felt that I was unworthy of God. I began to entertain thoughts of suicide on a daily basis. Nobody knew of my inner conflict since I remained painfully silent. In addition, I felt I could not trust other Christians with my struggle since it was a sin and an abomination to God. So on one gray and cold Saturday in autumn, I found myself walking along Oak Street Beach crying out to God demanding, "Why me?" I continued to walk to Fullerton Pier where I sat and watched the waves splashing onto the pier. An incredible sadness enveloped me as I walked to the edge of the pier and considered jumping in the crashing waves. All I can say is that God must have been with me in that moment because somehow I found myself sobbing and wanting to live. My struggle continued, but I knew beyond any shadow of doubt that suicide was not the solution I was seeking. After graduation from Moody Bible Institute, I went to Western Bible College to finish my bachelor's degree. I continued to struggle with my queerness, but I soon created a circle of friends who did not fit the mold of the perfect fundamentalist. Their experiences moved them away from the center of conservative Christianity to its fringes. In time some of these friends opened up in trust and told me their stories. Stories of what I first considered rebellion against God, but soon learned it was trying to break free from the demands and restrictions of fundamentalism. In these stories I heard for the first time about a God who loves and forgives, who desires intimacy with us an intimacy grounded in love and freedom, not fear and restriction. The main problem with my fundamentalist training came in the area of trust. Trust became entangled in faith, and faith is extremely subjective so that anything objective was untrustworthy. Anything that challenged my subjectivity (my faith) must be wrong. The horrible result of such training is that everyone and everything cannot be trusted. I can say now that fundamentalism is a paranoia of fear. Since I did not have the ability to trust others, I could not share my inner struggle. I just knew that I would not be accepted and acceptance even on a superficial level was better than rejection. I continued to pray, and pray, and pray, for the removal of my sin of homosexuality. My prayers were not answered so I began to doubt the level of my faith. After all, if I had the faith of a mustard seed, surely my sin would be removed and I would be normal. But nothing happened and once again my self worth began to plummet. Since there seemed to be no release from my homosexuality, I began to turn my anger against God. I hated him for not answering my prayers and cries for help. He remained silent in his heavenly expanse, not caring about me. To hear the phrase "God loves you" made me sick. I soon believed that God was indifferent to all human conditions. So I became indifferent to God. After graduation from Western Bible College, I abandoned Christianity. To me it became a religion of false hopes and lies. To know and experience an intimate God was a fabrication of fanatics. Why bother with the holy, impersonal other? I still believed in a creator, but one who is removed. This absent God gave me the freedom to explore my humanness. I became involved and active in the lesbigay community in Denver, Colorado. I discovered a community of women and men united to each other, creating new and different expressions of family. For many, their coming out to themselves, friends, and family only isolated them from those who should love them unconditionally. Because of our desire to be needed and loved, we reached out to each other and built a community/family based in love that celebrated diversity. For the first time in my life I could be the person I was born to be and be accepted for who I was. I did not have to hide or lie. I only had to be myself. Coming out to friends and myself became the means through which I began to celebrate life. This freedom gave me a new perspective on all those rules, regulations, and expectations that kept me from enjoying life. I learned that being gay was just as acceptable as being straight, that one sexual orientation did not have an advantage over another. Once I came to that conclusion, I began rediscovering that God loves me unconditionally. It doesn't matter what my orientation is. My only reality is that I accept God's love as a gift. This new self-love was the very stepping stone I needed to begin to love God and others. It was also the vehicle through which I could begin to trust again: trusting others with my hopes and fears, loves and likes, and all my expectations. This was the healing process I needed to move away from self-hatred to acceptance and love. Not just love for self, but love that could be extended to others and also to God. I am now a firm believer that we are created for the greater glory of both humanity and God. To deny our uniqueness in the image of God is the ultimate sin we can commit against the Creator. I now know that I cannot live up to others expectations, rules, and regulations. I must be faithful to self, God, and that still-small voice that informs me that unconditional love is the answer. I walked away from the Religious Right and fundamentalism about seven years ago. Since then I've been rediscovering a loving God who accepts me as his gift, pride, and joy. I don't have to prove myself worthy. I just have to accept his unconditional love and return that love both to him and others. Fundamentalism is ultimately about control, the control of others to do what they deem is appropriate for Christians. But Christianity is not about control. It is about loving your neighbor, loving God, forgiveness, redemption, life, joy, and hope. And that is my faith. 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