beautiful monsters: The Church and I...

August 27, 2004

The Church and I...

I’m probably going to keep riffing on the Destiny theme for a while yet, because it’s still freaking me out.

I watched events unfold on Monday as a Christian... as a Sunday school teacher even. But also as someone with a bit of inside experience with charismatic fundamentalist Christianity. It scares me (a lot of things seem to scare me this week) to think that maybe if I’d kept on down that route, I might have been wearing a black shirt on Monday.

There is certainly a powerful attraction to churches like Destiny. For one thing, the services are designed for maximum hype and adrenaline. For another, it’s very comforting to be so clear about what is right and wrong. It’s a relief to have simple solutions to complex problems (like, “if we stop homosexuality we are supporting family values and so we will prevent the ruination of society.”) Also… being part of an exclusive club is always fun.

Some people in the comments section and in emails have commented that there is a certain amount of Christian bashing. Well, yeah. I was frequently hassled because of my faith. But the things is, when I was hassled for being queer it was devastating, it struck at an intrinsic part of my being, and I had no one to turn to for support. But when I was hassled for being Christian, it was almost exhilarating. I had been taught that I would be persecuted, but also that I was right and God was on my side, and I would be rewarded. In the long term, in paradise, but also in the short term, as others from church lauded me for my suffering.

And so, I wonder if the negative media attention is really going to bother Tamaki and his followers, or if it will merely act as fuel on the fire.

As I have said previously, Destiny has been a good thing for some people. But it worries me that a lot of followers seem to believe that Destiny’s version of religion is the one and only way to solve anyone and everyone’s problems. For me, fundamentalist Christianity wasn’t a solution… and in fact, it ended up being part of the problem.


I still maintain that I became a Christian as my teenage rebellion phase – it was the only thing I could do that would shock my parents. Sex, drugs and rock n roll they could have taken in their stride. My sexuality they handled without much batting of eyelids. And I’m sure if I’d become a Buddhist they would have found it less threatening. But Christianity? That scared them.

Looking back there were probably other factors influencing my conversion... a beautiful girl, for one. And a deep sense of loneliness, emptiness and fear... the beginnings of what would later be diagnosed as Bipolar and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I longed for something to cling to, something to hope for.

In my early teens I started going to a range of different churches, from Anglican to Pentecostal, but it was the latter that had the strongest attraction. There was an atmosphere of intense emotion that complimented my bipolar tendencies. It was ok to cry in the middle of a service, or start clapping and dancing. The turmoil of emotion inside me was given a release.

People were getting “slain in the spirit” all over the place back then. Usually someone would “lay hands” on the person and pray for them, sometimes it would just happen spontaneously during worship. They would fall backwards, and lie on the ground in a trance or a state of bliss. Some would lie still, others would laugh or cry, shake, or speak in tongues.

I had some intense experiences in those early days. Sometimes I was certain that I sensed a physical presence, something warm, and slightly thicker than air, guiding me, moving me gently. Sometimes I relaxed completely and let myself fall slowly backwards. I was conscious, but slightly distant. I was aware of hands laying me down, and people resting their hands on me and praying for me. During those times I managed to escape from the problems I was struggling with in my life. I wanted to stay there forever, with the warmth, the touch, the peace.

Sometimes, however, I found these experiences terrifying, and afterwards I would end up sobbing hysterically. Once I went to a church where there was a visiting evangelist from an African nation. He announced that he was going to pray over people, and he selected me. I didn’t want to go forward, and shook my head, but he persisted, and a woman from the church ushered me up to the front. I felt uncomfortable with the guy standing so close to me, but I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. As he prayed, he laid his hand on my forehead, and then started to push me. I felt no amazing spiritual sensation, just a man with a sweaty palm pushing against my head. I had to step back slightly to regain my balance, but eventually I started to fall over. I struggled to get up again, and he pushed me more forcefully. I fought back, and when I realised I couldn’t get up, I screamed at him. He backed away, and I burst into tears.

I was asked never to return to that church, because I was “possessed.”

I don’t want to imply that no one had genuine spiritual experiences at the churches I went to – I’m sure many did. But they were very intense situations, with emotive music and speaking, and a lot of pressure to make important decisions or statements right then and there (because otherwise the ungodly world would interfere with the process of salvation).

Eventually my mother heard that one of the churches I had been to was teaching that a woman’s place was in the home, having babies, and she banned me from attending all but the Presbyterian church her mother had attended occasionally many years before, and my mother had been there as a small child. I disobeyed this rule once, and was found out – the only time in my life I was ever grounded. I felt like a real martyr… it fuelled my passion even more.

The church I was allowed to go to had certainly changed since my grandmother’s day, but my parents didn’t know this. They never stepped through the front doors. Emotions ran high in there… and yeah, we got high on it too. The intensity, the passion, knowing we were right... it was like a drug. I craved it.

There were good aspects, I’m sure, but looking back, reading my diary... I prayed every day for God to give me faith, because I didn’t believe that my parents and friends were going to burn in hell, and I couldn’t make myself believe that, no matter how hard I tried. My diaries are full of notes from the sermons, including “I have to accept the fact that I am sinful”, and “Saying you have your own ideas about God is a quick way to hell.” Many pages of my diaries are blurred with tears.

The scary thing for me is looking back and realising that at the time I was struggling with the symptoms of severe mental illness. I heard voices, but this meant I was either blessed or possessed, depending on what the voices were telling me. My emotions were up and down, intense and out of control, but this was either excepted as part of the spirit moving in me, or condemned, because it started to seem less spiritual. I was extremely suicidal. When I tried to talk to youth leaders or other adults in the church, they prayed over me a couple of times, but when I showed no signs of being healed they seemed angry with me, wanted me to pull myself together.

The church I went to had a “love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy... But as Mel White says, “Calling people sinners over and over again… becomes hate language very quickly.” Most people who use the phrase seem slow to put the love part of it into action. Kynn writes, I believe it is not possible to love someone while having no respect for their belief system, culture, and choices… Many conservative evangelicals may claim that they'll continue to "love" that person, but what they generally mean is "I will pray to God that you start to believe exactly as I do, and I will do my best to encourage you to become just like me." That's not love.

I’m not sure that I was loved by some members of the church… I guess I was tolerated. As long as I shut up about the fact I had crushes on girls. I felt pretty confused, and guilty about it all. My feelings didn’t seem wrong to me, but I was constantly told that they were. Yes, that’s right, I was told that my feelings of attraction and love, not just my actions, were a sin. They were part of my behaviour. I should have been praying harder for God to make me strong enough to overcome the feelings. Or something.

Oh how I hated myself in those days. I hated myself for having crushes on girls. I hated myself for not believing everything in the bible. I hated myself because God wouldn’t answer my prayers and cure me of these problems.

Eventually I started going to church less and less. My emotional spins were beginning to terrify me. I still felt alone and scared, and although I occasionally found temporary peace during church, it didn’t seem to last for long. And I started to realise that spending so much time trying to believe things that I felt in my heart were wrong was just... crazy.

By the time I went to Costa Rica as an exchange student, I no longer saw my self as a Christian.

The following is an extract from a memoir I have been working on (she says, hoping there might be a stray publisher in the audience). At the point where this extract begins I have just changed host families, and my host mother, Marisol, is a born again Christian. I have been keeping my sexuality hidden because I was in a small agricultural town in the middle of a Catholic country. I have made friends with a few closeted gay guys in my town, but I didn’t realise that the pastor of Marisol’s church was an ex-homosexual. He has been cured, and has a wife and children, but he tells Marisol that I have been hanging around with homosexual men…

Into the Fire…

Marisol hadn’t talked to me about God for a while, but suddenly she wanted to take me to a pastor who spoke English.
“I have a message from God,” she told me. “I want this pastor to translate, so that you will understand better.” I wondered why she didn’t pray for the Holy Spirit to give me enlightenment, but I kept quiet.

The pastor turned out to be a woman – quite young, with a short black skirt and a lot of hairspray. Marisol started speaking to her rapidly in Spanish, and I hardly understood what she was saying. One phrase stood out though: “espiritu de homosexualidad.” Oh shit, I thought. Here we go…

As Marisol talked, the pastor became increasingly uncomfortable. She fidgeted with her necklace and couldn’t seem to decide where to look. Several times she tried to change the subject, but when Marisol persisted, the pastor finally turned to me.
“Would you like to pray for us to drive out this, er, this… spirit?”
“Of homosexuality?” I prompted her, and she flinched. It’s mine, I wanted to scream at her. A gift, God gave to me.

Marisol continued talking about this “movement,” how they made homosexuality seem like a great thing, so lot of young people got caught up in it. But really it was sinful and ended in destruction. Then she asked me a question and the pastor translated for her.
“Are you a, er…”
“A lesbian?” I finished for her. I thought for a few moments before answering. “I think I fall in love with people, not sexes.” The pastor started to translate, but Marisol interrupted, asking me if I had ever been with a woman, or if I was with a woman now.
Well, if I’d actually known of any other queer women in Rotorua I might have been with one, but…
“No,” I said quietly. Marisol seemed relieved. Then she asked me to say that I wouldn’t be a lesbian while I was in Costa Rica. I stared at her. What was I supposed to do – get a sexuality transplant? The pastor translated Marisol’s request, and I glared at her. I understood perfectly. I just didn’t know what to do. Marisol watched me intently. The pastor stared at her crimson fingernails. I stared at the floor. I could hear a baby crying in the distance.
“I… won’t be a practising lesbian while I’m here,” I whispered. Marisol’s shoulders slumped in relief.
“What would your parents think if you were a lesbian?”
“They’d support me.”
Both women pursed their lips in an expression of pity and disgust. Marisol said she knew I’d been visiting Paolo and Jorge, and she knew that they were gay and they were trying to corrupt me with their perverted ideas. The absurdity of the suggestion struck me. What on earth would two middle-aged gay men in a loving relationship with each other want to corrupt a 17 year old girl for? Marisol continued to talk animatedly about corruption and perversion for quite some time, before the pastor finally managed to steer the conversation away to firmer ground.
“Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your life?” she asked. I slumped back on the sofa and closed my eyes as she started to summarise the gospel for me.
“I was a Christian,” I interrupted. “But it didn’t really work out. I don’t believe everything in the Bible.” Marisol rolled her eyes heavenward. The pastor was undeterred.
“I don’t think the church you went to was really a Christian church she said. “You can’t really have been a Christian. You thought you were, but you were deceived. Because if you were really a Christian, you’d still be Christian now!” she finished triumphantly.
The conversation was about as much fun as having a debate with a brick wall. My words just bounced back and I ended up banging my head in frustration. I felt exhausted.

When we got home I called Juanita at the AFS office to find out what I should do. Before I even had a chance to explain the situation, it became apparent that Marisol had already spoken to the AFS staff.
“I need to make some things clear,” said Juanita. “While you’re in Costa Rica, you can’t have a girlfriend. You can’t have any gay friends. You must not go to gay nightclubs, or tell anyone that you are a lesbian. If you do any of these things, you won’t be able to continue with the programme.” I was so stunned I couldn’t think of anything to say. “Oh,” Juanita continued. “Can you come to the AFS office on Tuesday.”

It was a long weekend. Kristina and Luk came over on Saturday and we sat in our room listening to music for a while. I told them what had happened and what Juanita had told me, and they were both outraged. The three of us went out to a bar in town and talked for ages over Imperial beer and margaritas.

“It’s not fair,” Kristina kept saying. “I mean, it’s not like you chose to fall in love with women – it just happened. They can’t punish you for that.” I was so glad she’d had a chance to get used to the idea of homosexuality before she found out that I was queer – now she seemed to be turning into my greatest supporter.

On Tuesday I headed off to San Jose, but the meeting turned out to be an anti-climax. I had to talk to another woman, Savannah because Juanita was sick. Savannah started off by telling me that she was a very open-minded person. She didn’t tell me that I couldn’t do anything, she just said that if I did then they wouldn’t be able to find me another host family and Marisol wouldn’t be willing for me to live in her house. And she told me to be careful that my gay friends didn’t use me for my money or get me into drugs. “I understand that you have a friend who has AIDS,” she said to me. “Now it’s nice that you’re such a kind person that you want to help him, but you need to be careful.”

I left the AFS office and made it as far as the San Pedro church a few blocks away. I was slumped on the steps, staring at my shoes through a blur of tears, when I realised someone had stopped in front of me. It was Valencia.
“What’s the matter?” she demanded, but I could only cry harder. But once she’d dragged me into a café and I’d had a few sips of my drink, I managed to tell her what had been happening.
“Of course they can find you another host family,” Valencia said. “You can live with me.”


My experiences in Costa Rica were the final straw, and I backed away from Christianity for several years... until I found St Andrew’s. But more about that later. Right now it’s the middle of the night, and I need some sleep soon...

This is the 5th post relating to the Destiny Enough Is Enough march.
Go to post 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 6

Posted by Fionnaigh at August 27, 2004 02:26 AM

Hello again again.

My flatmate wanted to read your stuff so I've printed it out. Hope you don't mind. I guess I could sacrifice the paper to the pagan gods if you do mind.


Posted by: Matthew at August 27, 2004 05:19 PM

"The scary thing for me is looking back and realising that at the time I was struggling with the symptoms of severe mental illness. I heard voices, but this meant I was either blessed or possessed, depending on what the voices were telling me. My emotions were up and down, intense and out of control, but this was either excepted as part of the spirit moving in me, or condemned, because it started to seem less spiritual. I was extremely suicidal."

I feel like saying something here... and have suddenly gone blank. There are some real limitations on the web - when there's not a 'real' person in front of you, your line of thought gets a bit tangly, or you lose it entirely because there's no tug. you would like to make a connection, or give the type of silence that in the same room speaks of a good quiet or a 'taking in'. on that net thats more like to translate as non-interest, a no show or a not here. I'm tired so forgive me I'm going to ramble.

When i was reading your stuff... i was thinking you're an easy person to love - there's an honesty to you, thats endearing - and is sane. and you wish you were there when you went through stuff, to give a hug. it's distressing to hear your self doubt and painful to the heart, mine at least - that a god i know; of such infinite love is so tritely portrayed by his followers. Love like that is so - so very beautiful, it's sad to make it so petty and small. And i say that not as a harsh condemnation but a sadness - like if you really love this god, folks can't you represent him better?

Its obvious that youre a spiritual person - in old days it would be understandble that if you're particularly spiritual you would be more of two spirits and hence gender would be more both rather than either - sexuality and spirituality are two sides of the same coin. not that you're of Maori whakapapa - in your old days they would of drowned, burned you or not recognised you i guess.

when i was 14, my girlfriend at school scared me by joining this christian life campus group, some yankee outfit. her first day back from a meeting she had her hands on my head mumbling gobbledegook that she was sure was 'speaking in tongues'. I was so spooked I studied the bible (not that i was a believer) found a scripture that said soemthing like; and if any man says he speaks with the tongue of angels and there is no interpreter there of, that man is a fool. (heh heh) I showed that to her. :)

The bible -actually isn't an endorsement of good and virtue - it's just a history book, that focuses on god's dealings with those descendents and ancestors of Israel, primarily. Albeit, a written history of some hundreds of years of remembered oral literature, 4 main translations and then some nearly 600! interpretations since. If you don't read it searching for external references from the world around you, common sense, your heart and God - you can pretty much make it endorse whatever you wish....

To me the touchstone, of what ever is right or wrong - is aroha. Does what you teach give you a sense of love, inclusion and caring for another ? Then your not in sync. "by this shall men know ye are my disciple if ye have love one to another'. sooo true.

If love don't work - then common sense : if you say homosexuality is wrong, then who do you blame - the product or the maker? There has been far far far too many suicides of those who believed Christians when they spread that hateful message that 'homosexuals are wrong'. Inherently wrong. THAT is just plain evil on their part.

God doesn't make absolutes in nature. Nature tells you a lot about the nature of God.

you know now, anyhoo -- that really it is the heart that tells you aright. Commonsense shows you that in all nature there is no hard and sharp catorgorisation that the pakeha in the main insists there is. true male on this side and true female on the right. Sexuality is fluid.

Spirituality by the way needs -grounding. It's commonplace particularly around the ages - 7 and ages 13-15 years for kids who are particularly sensitive to have 'mental' issues. If you ever get off kilter - do a few things to tune into the spirituality without - turning the dial to far into noise or static:

- eat natural foods in the proper season, and try to have them as far as able foods that are of the land and sea of the country you're in.
- put yourself into a routine of sleep and wake
- make sure you have a balance of exercise which fits with your make up - provides the needs you have.
- if you get really out of kilter - get off sugar, coffees , smokes, alcohol for a while
- get a regular dose of hugs
- get a regular dose of good music and beauty
- make sure you have a 'balance' of events particularly when you are hit by a major bad event. eg bad experience with people, get with as many good people you can - so your spirit-bod 'knows' and can get back in kilter.

...there is a saying I remember in my studies i found that was powerful and hit my heart when i learnt it. In jewish history and teachings the meaning of the word -anti-christ- is this: "One who destroys the esteem of another"

When those who call themselves of christ - act to demean the esteem of another - they step directly into the opposite corner to that one they say they serve.

Aro ha - the breath of god in all things. breating in and out - through all things, by all things - do all things live and move. i really believe if god stopped loving the world it would fall off it's circuit.

ramble over - movie time.

Posted by: ckarena at August 28, 2004 08:52 PM