Friday, July 8, 2011

Gays and spirituality - answering my own questions

Hey friends, Justin here.  And Tyler.

We're on a date.  He's the son of a Southern Baptist minister, and I'm, well, Mormon.  We decided we're going to answer some of these questions I asked a few weeks ago.  Fifteen minutes.  Ready, set, go.

What are our stories?  

Justin:  BYU grad who semi-faithfully attended USGA, and loved it.  Excited to answer some of these questions.

Tyler: Justin spoiled my story by announcing from the beginning that I am, in fact, the son of a Southern Baptist Minister. I live in an extremely small town and came out to my parents and brother last year.

Do we yearn for it more than others?  

Tyler: In many cases, I do feel that religious gay youths pursue a more spiritual life. Personally, I always felt the need to adhere more strictly to religious teachings and to conduct myself as the "perfect Christian." It wasn't until I reached college--where one is forced to examine their own spirituality instead of perhaps riding on the coattails of one's parents--that I realized that I had been pursuing such perfection partially in order to make up for my supposed shortcoming of being a homosexual. This is a recurring theme among the gay Christians that I have met, and one of the prime reasons that many religious and gay individuals could end up with serious issues of depression and self-loathing in the long run. 

Justin:  When I was young, I always felt a great interest in slave narratives, and also in the civil rights movement--and race relations before then.  Beauty born of suffering--perhaps that's what drew me to black lives.  Perhaps part of me felt some sort of connection with that suffering.  Do you know who has the best choirs ever?  Black baptist churches.  At least I think so.  I don't know--all that suffering (not that we suffer so much--in fact, that thought is a bit funny) deepens a soul, maybe.

Are religion and spirituality synonymous at any level?

Justin: Where I currently live, there's a magnet on our friday that says something like: "I can't stand religious people, but spiritual people inspire me."  Sure, they're synonymous at some level--I feel like one of the primary purposes of organized religion is to help adherents cultivate greater spirituality (from the collective to the individual).  Most of the time it probably has that effect.  Mormonism?  Certainly belonging to the LDS Church gives us many chances to feel the Spirit, to feel a deeper testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, an appreciation for the priesthood and prophets, etc. 

Do we feel sick sometimes thinking about the disconnect with our former lives?  

Justin: Absolutely, but perhaps less and less as time passes.  When I left for a mission, I decided that I wouldn't think about the disconnect, and it worked alright.  There was a time limit--two years is do-able.  But I often thought about Stuart Matis's story--especially as I returned to the Church and prepared for a mission.  I am not him, but I wish he had made the other choice--to pursue gay relationships rather than to feel trapped in the Church.  I decided at some point that I'd choose the former if it ever came to the mental/psychological angst that Matis found himself in.  And this--pursuing relationships--feels alright.

Tyler: The disconnect has been something that I have pushed to the back of my mind since I finally admitted to myself in early middle school that I was gay. While I am entirely out to all of my friends at college, I have yet to speak with anyone from my small town besides my immediate family members. At UVa, I feel that I am able to live my life as though there is no disconnect because everyone has been genuinely supportive of my identity--both as a Christian and as a gay man. However, this leads to the sometimes painful reminder that I am not and would not receive such support from those in my hometown and even in my family. For this reason, I can say that  while I absolutely miss the safety of my "former life." However, I do not miss the constant feeling of questioning how those in my life would feel about me if they know that I was gay, especially after receiving such encouragement from my collegiate friends. 

Do we often end up with something syncretic and tolerant?

Justin: Obviously I asked this question with myself in mind--unfair question, huh?  When I was in Korea, I thought a lot about the Buddhism I had read before going.  Once, at the top of a mountain, I thought, "I know nothing."  And it was interesting, because in the Church we often let ourselves feel certain that we know the answers to--if not everything--a whole lot.  Non-attachment is an important aspect of my spirituality.  Perhaps that's how I can let myself choose what Matis did not.  On the other hand (and this is the syncretic part) I don't really buy the "just be a good person and you'll be alright" thing.  I still feel that ordinances, etc., are important.  Oh, also, feeling grounded is important--to realize that lots of what you're thinking/worrying about now isn't important, and isn't even really real.  Grounding can be achieved through things like walking barefoot, thinking about the food you're eating, meditation, breathing, etc.  I'm new to this, but it feels good.

Lots of us lose the faith, but what do we replace it with, if anything?

Tyler: From what I have observed both in my life and in the experiences of others, many who lose the faith and seem to distance themselves from spiritual relationships will opt to throw their energy into less spiritual and possibly unhealthy bonds with others. For example, it makes sense that one may feel that their sexual energy and freedom is stifled due to their religious beliefs, and they may immediately seek instant and frequent sexual satisfaction in order to "make up for lost time." After years of devotion to developing strong and healthy spiritual lives and relationships, it makes sense that those who lose the faith would pursue just the opposite.

This is all kind of serious!  (Heaven forbid we be serious ... )  Here's something you might enjoy.  (I posted it on my blog re: graduation, I think.  It's a great song.  And Tyler agrees.)  Oh, P.S.  We actually spent a longer than 15 minutes.  But whatev.


  1. Oh Justin. You and that song. It does sort of fit here I guess, though
    I like this post, by the way. And you.


  2. @ Christine: You WOULD comment on this post. :) Thanks for being such a friend.

  3. Great post, Justin. And Tyler. PS Tyler, you're welcome to do a guest post (the official slot on Saturday) if you'd like :)

    I think I'll use part of your answer to the last question for one of my posts if you don't mind.