I grew up in Chicago (for the most part) and was raised Catholic. We attended mass as a family each Sunday. I attended Catholic parochial schools from K – 8. Chicago public schools were not great, even back when I was a kid, so selecting a Catholic high school to attend was, in my parent’s eyes, the ONLY option. And, so, like nearly all my parochial school classmates, I went on to attend a Catholic high school, at least for two years. In the middle of sophomore year, my parents moved our family of six to the suburbs. At the time, I wasn’t sure which was worse, moving to the suburbs or switching schools in the middle of the school year. My sister and I went on to make our parent’s lives miserable for both. I hated each day of public high school. I finished high school and went on to attend a small, Christian Brothers university, where theology was a required course, and, all the buildings on campus centered around a tiny church, where I attended mass each Sunday night.
I was wishy-washy about religion in my twenties, attending mass haphazardly on mornings when I wasn’t too hungover from a night out with friends. Even after I got married, I favored sleeping in over praising God. But then, I had kids. I distinctively remember the question I was asked by the deacon at both my daughter’s baptisms, “Will you raise your child according to the teachings of the Catholic church?” I answered, “I will.” And so, I did. I loaded up baby carriers and overflowing diaper bags that contained items to keep each child entertained during mass. As they grew from toddlers to adolescents, I silently refereed squabbles over whether the kneeler should be up or down with a stern look and an aggressive point of my index finger, as the priest delivered a homily about loving one another. I signed them up for VBS. I signed them up for faith formation classes. I taught faith formation classes. And, finally, once my second daughter made her Confirmation, I felt like I had reached the goal line! I was home free! No more stress to make it (on time) to faith formation classes on school nights! No more volunteering for VBS! We could just simply attend mass on Sunday (and holy days of obligation, of course), put our envelope in the basket, go to confession, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
After my daughter came out as transgender, I struggled personally. I was not strong. I was not courageous. I was devastated. I convinced myself she was going through a phase. Each week at church, I would kneel after Communion and repeat the same fervent prayer, “God, please bring my son back to me.” Months came and went, things went further in the opposite direction. One day, I went to Communion, returned to my pew, and knelt to pray. I closed my teary eyes, and, instead of asking God to bring my son back to me, I prayed in desperation, “God, I don’t know what to do anymore. How do I parent this child? Please help me parent this child.” This time, God answered immediately. He whispered a single word in my ear. Love. I left church that day with a sense of peace that had eluded me since the day my daughter sent “the text.” The first two Commandments are, indeed, the greatest. Love God. Love others.
We were parishioners at the Catholic church in our town and had been for ten years. If you were a person with an LGBT family member, and I’m certain I wasn’t the only one who did, the 2016 presidential election made our church an uncomfortable place to be. As an adult, I had witnessed six other presidential elections. I never recalled homilies that centered around politics. 2016 was different. I felt my church had crossed the line of keeping church and state separate. Both the pastor and the deacons gave homilies that mentioned the LGBT community, and not in a supportive way. I distinctively remember our pastor giving a homily and saying the words, “and men with long hair who look like women” (to this day, his condescending voice echoes in my ear). The comment was part of a negative dissertation about LGBT people, political parties, and the views of the Catholic church. I looked around and saw people in other pews nod their heads in agreement with what the pastor was saying. I was uncomfortable, to the point of being nauseous. I wanted to get up and walk out. I was a coward. I stayed until mass was over. I never went back. That was a year and a half ago.
I love God. I believe in God. I still pray each night. I even say the rosary on occasion, silently, in the passenger seat, as my youngest daughter practices driving. I miss the sense of community that church provides. I hope to find, and join, a church someday that is affirming of LGBT people and their families. It would be great if it was a Catholic one, but I have accepted that it most likely won’t be, at least not where I currently live. I have visited other area churches – Catholic, Episcopal, and Methodist, but I have not registered as a parishioner at any of them. Acknowledging the LGBT community appears to be a tricky subject for churches, especially in the South. I visit the websites of churches I am interested in attending to search for wording that will tell me all are welcome, regardless of gender or sexual identity. Those words are not written anywhere. If you are reading this, and you are affiliated with a church that is LGBT affirming, please encourage your church to say so on their website because I know that I am not the only person with an LGBT family member who is searching for a church to call home. Until I find a new place to worship, I will continue to live the first two Commandments – loving God, loving others, and, most importantly, loving the children He gifted me for who they are.
Father James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has written a book titled “Building A Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.” The book gave me hope, but has been quite controversial within the Catholic Church. If you are Catholic and interested in Fr. Martin’s perspective on this subject, I encourage you to read the book. I also enjoy following Fr. Martin’s Facebook page. I am not paid in any way for this endorsement.