We’re here talking about Queerituality, which I didn’t realize was going to be such an important topic as it’s become since I’ve become the father of a 6-year-old.
When I was younger I was very involved in the church. That was a real part of community for me. I would spend Saturday nights with my grandparents. We’d play Monopoly, my grandmother always won, and bankrupted the bank even. Sunday we would go to church, where all of my relatives from that side of the family, minus my immediate family, would be.
Even though my sexual orientation has always been known at some level, and I’ve always been attracted to other boys, to men as I grew older, I never made the connection to a label or the fact that the church that I was attended, which was Church of the Nazarene, had problems with homosexuality.
As I started getting older and into my older teens, I started realizing that the label that they were using in the church actually pertained to who I was. The church that I attended used things such as homosexuality as a way of scaring you to do the right thing. They used the concept of Hell to really drive you morally and ethically—like, ‘If you don’t do the right thing, you’re going to Hell.’
So when I started coming out, my relationship with the church changed, and I very quickly separated from the church. I spent many years trying to find my own spirituality, looking at books, going to different churches including affirming churches. I started realizing that, for me, spirituality started being more of an interpretation of that person who was running the congregation, as opposed to my own connection to a God.
I became pretty much agnostic, and became pretty much comfortable with myself in that I realized, for me, it was more important to love and respect human beings, and if there was a God that existed, if that wasn’t enough to provide love and respect for every human being that came into my life, than that’s probably not the God I wanted to worship anyway, or even have a relationship with.
For the longest time, I was really comfortable with that aspect [of being outside of the Church].
Six years ago we had a child, my partner and I. My partner is also agnostic.
Our son started coming home and asking about who is, what is, God. We both had already decided that we would not push our own spirituality or beliefs onto our child; that our jobs were more to facilitate a process of him searching for his own answer and for his own relationship or non-relationship with God. But we also didn’t know how to do that.
At first I was really nervous because I didn’t want to set him up for failure. I didn’t want him to end up being in a situation where he was being told that his family structure was wrong by having two dads, that his two dads were going to Hell. At the same time, I didn’t want to force religion or spirituality or God onto him, but I also didn’t want to sit there say that what we believe, he needs to believe.
There’s this mix of emotions, like ‘What do you do?’ You want to be that perfect parent that encourages your child, but you also have that protectiveness and the scars of your past experience personally of negativity from the church. You just don’t know what to do.
Sometimes, even though you know it’s the right thing to do, it’s really challenging emotionally to let him go through this process.
Our first response was to talk about different perspectives and offer to our son options of going to different churches.
The first church that he went to, his grandparents went to, and we really liked the fact that he knew people, etc. But there was still this feeling of not getting out of it what he was asking for, which was an exploration of ‘Who is God? How do I form a relationship?’ We felt that it was more of a telling: ‘This is God. This is what you need to be doing. This is how you worship God. This is how you pray.’ Though he was fine with that, when we asked him more questions about what he was trying to get out of it, we realized that he was really just going through the routine and not really forming that relationship or deciding whether, for him, God exists.
For the last three months, he’s actually been going to a Unitarian Universalist church locally. Their entire perspective is that you get to explore. You get to decide whether God exists. It’s OK to be agnostic. It’s also OK to be Christian, or Buddhist. You get to really navigate your relationship with your own spirituality. Even sixth graders in this church are asked to go to other churches and explore.
So for us, we’ve really found this balance for him, and yet we still get questions about why don’t we stay at the church with him, because we make arrangements for others [to supervise him]. The bigger challenge for us has been, should we give in on our own beliefs in order to cater to him, or is it OK to really stand firm in what we believe, not go to the church with him, but facilitate him having people there, make sure he’s safe, that there’s an emergency contact, and encourage discussion upon him coming back home: ‘How did you do today? What did you learn? What questions do you have?’
We have found in that process that he’s been very comfortable with exploring this on his own. We’ve really appreciated that this exploration is encouraged through the church that he’s currently attending. That’s where we’re at now.
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This is condensed and edited from a conversation with Kevin Bowersox-Johnson recorded on June 27, 2013. He recorded his story in Urbana, Illinois, where he is the president of the local LGBT center.