Some Mormons recently dropped by my friend Lindsay's apartment to evangelize.
"Hi, we're from the Church of Latter-Day Saints. You may remember us from our placid TV commercials of the 1980s."
Rather than slam the door in their faces, she offered them a cheese plate and talked to them for an hour. Since then she's met more of them, even visited their temple, though she has no intentions of converting to Mormonism. But she did confide to me that she's developed an interest in religion -- for a young urban liberal, the equivalent of getting high on mood stabilizers with Rush Limbaugh and hitting the airwaves for some kill-a-queer-for-Jesus banter.
I was raised with zero religion in my life, a fact that I'm strangely smug about, in the same way that I'm smug about the fact that I've never had heterosexual intercourse. Like I'm some sort of purebred.
Yet lately, more so than marriage, and certainly more so than the military, the gay-shunning institution that draws me the most is religion. Not "spirituality," with the whale sounds CDs and the Pier 1 rock-garden fountains for the living room. Actual religion -- a set of beliefs, a worldview, a back-story. Some sort of suggestion that there's more to my generation and my culture than media, commerce, irony and retro-appeal.
Gays are a fairly secular bunch for obvious reasons. We tend to be highly suspicious of anything that even hints at religion. It doesn't want us, so we don't want it. But the problem isn't with religion itself. It's the fact that most denominations suck. They're contradictory and hypocritical: Love peace but make war, hate sins but love sinners, don't drink but sip this "blood of Christ."
I'm aware that there are denominations out there that are hospitable to gays, but with all due respect to the Unitarian Universalists, I'm not looking for a church that seems to be specifically about tolerance (I'll just say it: A gay church). Buddhism seems fairly nonjudgmental, but it's been tainted by the Hollywood influx and now seems more like a religion that you'd order on Zen.com and have shipped by overnight mail.
Many Christian religions make unreasonable demands of their followers. "Love thy neighbor" looks great on paper, but love? Literally love your neighbor? And, by extension, love everyone around you? That's not possible, and it cultivates lying. Fundamentalist Christians then feel obligated to claim to love gay people, even when it's clear that they're totally freaked out and disgusted. How about "Mind thy own business?" I'm not joking. I think that's a good creed.
The new age movement is just the opposite. No sacrifice necessary, no values to adhere to. Light up a scented candle and attain "balance." Everything is flexible and customized to your specific needs. It's all self-help, self-healing, self-actualization. Religion should be more than sitting by a lake in your Escalade with Enya on the five-disc-changer while picturing yourself in a rising bubble.
Why are people like Lindsay and I suddenly thinking about finding religion? Why does anyone seek out something as ridiculous as religion in the first place? I think it's a natural human urge -- the fact that disconnected cultures all over the world have developed their own methods of worship suggests that it might be an innate desire, a natural craving for answers. But somehow, what should have been a noble concept to bring people together and inspire personal betterment has become a tool for denying faith to a select group of disenfranchised people.
Recently, some Catholic brass floated the idea of not only denying communion to John Kerry (a pro-choicer), but to any citizen who votes for a pro-choice politician. No wafer for you! It underscored on a smaller level how serious a punishment denial of religion is considered. In their eyes, denying communion was the harshest penalty. So much for loving the sinner.
In that way, effectively barring gays and lesbians from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic paradigm is worse than keeping us out of marriage or the military. No, we're not officially banned from religion, but we may as well be. New York and D.C. may have liberal churches, but the Church as institution definitely abhors us.
Lindsay's Mormons don't seem to mind that her interest in their church is purely anthropological. I think they're just happy not to have the door immediately slammed in their faces for once. Maybe the Church could try that same tack, leave the door open and break out the cheese plate, learn that, if we really are all sinners, then they don't need to focus such a disproportionate amount of their anti-sin rhetoric on gays.
Still, even as I feel somewhat drawn to religion, my instinct remains to reject it without hesitation. The other day I was downtown doing an errand when a man in an apron stopped me and asked if he could pray with me. He looked wholesome but clearly a little crazy. "I don't think so," I said.
I tried to make "I don't think so" sound like "Fuck you," but he walked along with me, gently pressing me to explain why I didn't want to stop what I was doing and mumble under my breath with a total stranger in an apron.
I explained that I was gay. He assured me that everyone has flaws, even him, a Christian. I assured him that my sexuality is not a flaw. He assured me that, yes, indeed it is. The exchange precipitated an impasse. Needless to say, we did not pray together that day. But he gave me his card, just in case I should change my mind, and I kept it. It says: "Robert Foran, Public Prayer. All Welcome."