Thursday, February 7, 2008

Coming Out

I wonder how you go public with losing your religion.

Maybe I should ask some of my gay friends. It's probably not too different -- the sneaking suspicions in the back of your mind that grow to certainty, making your head spin with half-guessed ramifications. The increasing discomfort of your lifestyle, pinching and tugging at you like too-small clothes. The growing conviction that things can't go on this way, and the daily battering down of that conviction by the equally strong knowledge of the consequences of honesty.

I suppose there are a few ways you could do it. Of course there's the all-out flamboyant approach, where you parade into Sunday School in a NIN T-shirt and black low-rider jeans, shout "Fuck this shit!" and run back out. (I wonder if they'd count that as your attendance for that Sunday. Probably not.) I'd hate to be responsible for anybody's heart failure, though. And some of those people, I love. That makes a difference too.

There's also the sad but determined approach, reyling on logic and bureaucracy to get the ball rolling. You could write a kind but firmly worded letter to the church requesting that your membership be dropped, and use all sorts of correct terminology: "I feel that it is best for me not to be a part of this church for the time being, as my doubts have made it difficult for me to participate in its activities in a meaningful way." Better, but it still has to be brought up at the business meeting, and that's no fun.

There's revelation by attrition, where you just sort of drift from one thing to the next, and after a while people sort of figure it out. I guess that's what I've been doing -- skipping Sunday School, then going to second service Sunday School so I could skip the morning service without actually being there any fewer minutes, but no longer being present for the singing and the sermon. Gradually drifting out of ministry, smiling politely and giving nothing away when people hint that it would be nice if I, you know, did something again. Being sick a lot, and having Sunday races, and being on vacation, but still showing up just enough times that nobody from the office has to call.

I don't really know how to do it, and I think that my combination of fear and laziness have done half the job for me already -- I haven't been a part of the life of my church for nearly three years, and since very few people have noticed, I have few relationships left to damage by leaving entirely. I think, though, that I may have drawn my line in the sand this week, at least in my head. I am not going back on Sunday, and I'm going to try hard to stick to that even if there's a special service or a lunch date or whatever else might surface as an entirely legitimate reason to go. I need to be home this week. I need to be home next week too, and for a few more weeks after that. I can't listen any more, and my not-listening is soon going to be obvious to more people than I care to deal with.

My dear friend A has been out for years, including a same-sex relationship of two years and plenty of dating. She still has not come out to her father (preacher's kids don't have it easy with lifestyle changes, I'll tell you that much). They have a tacit "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, and in some ways that is the most appealing of all. I don't think my parents could do it, and I wish they could. Telling my parents I can't live in the faith they brought me up in is more than I can imagine doing right now.

It is bad enough to have my own heart broken without having to break those of the people I love best. I don't know how you do it, and it must be done. It is not a comfortable conundrum.

1 comment:

DrASK said...

Coming out is one of the harder parts. Not just because of friends and family, but because *everyone* is religious. Most people are as incredulous about your lack of religion as you are about their acceptance of it. I found the best way to deal with people is to simply state your beliefs (when asked) and do you best to answer their questions truthfully. It's okay to say, "I don't know" when presented with a stumper. Take it as a learning experience. A chance to grow. Do not get sucked into arguments with anyone. Don't pick fights either. Be an example of the person you want to be. Take the high road. Good luck.