A Gay Atheist Goes To Church
Photo by Karl Fredrickson.
I’m an atheist. It’s never normally hard for me to admit that. But last time I settled myself in a city overseas, while looking for community, I found myself in a circle of Christian men that made me their prey.
Personally, I’ve always found church a bit hard to swallow. Perhaps it is the remnants of my Catholic upbringing. Perhaps I’m just a born cynic. Perhaps, as a gay man, it is my fractured view of religion as a consequence of its impact on my community. This definitely played on my mind, I always assumed religion would never gel with me because of my identity as a gay man; I was even slightly scared of it.
Until I fell in love with a boy who’s weekly routine always involved church, who loved to worship through song and who really wanted to share that with me. This is what we do when we fall in love right? We try to expand our world to include theirs as part of our own. If he had been really into mime, perhaps I would’ve found myself in a striped shirt and an imaginary box. I wanted to experience this part of his life that he loved so much.
So I went. Foreign country, foreign boy, in a church that was probably the last place I imagined myself on this trip. The first week Matthew invited me was nothing like what I expected. It was progressive, inclusive and preaching things that I couldn’t agree more with. At the end of each service they invite people up who have been directly affected by the weekly issue to be prayed for and seeing the sheer amount of people who stood, let alone the emotions displayed was a massive moment for me. It was cathartic and terrifying and I caught myself thinking, ‘Did I just have a spiritual awakening? Am I religious?’
I had to try it again, and the next week I was not moved like that first time. It was, however, something special that I shared with Matthew and he still wanted to go so I was, of course, happy to accompany him. I found the behaviour fascinating and sometimes hilarious. There was one week where I watched a girl do an entire interpretive dance routine to one of the worship songs. I couldn’t, however, get it out of my head that because I am gay, I shouldn’t be there. Matthew held my hand at one point and I slapped it away and told him that ‘we probably aren’t meant to do that in here.’
One thing led to another and our relationship ended, but I continued to go. Why? I’m still not sure. Perhaps I felt a stronger connection to him there, perhaps I wanted to see the smiling faces I’d been seeing for weeks, perhaps I felt a sense of community in a city where I knew virtually no one but I knew that I was still just as much of an atheist as when I first walked through those doors. My family were more shocked by this than when I came out of the closet, my friends didn’t know what to say and I had no idea what it was that was still driving me to go. The will of God? The Holy Spirit?
While I was telling myself constantly that I wasn’t allowed there because I’m gay but I was still continuing to go put me in this constant state of conflict. Then one week, a boy, who was beautiful like the kind of person that makes heads turn and you’re never really sure if they’re actually a robot, smiled at me. Not just a friendly church smile but that kind of smile that you give someone you want to see naked. Surely not, I thought, I am already an anomaly and a sinner by being here, there can’t be more of us. Just before I left, I thought why not check, and I slyly opened Grindr in church. The world did not collapse and the fiery pits of hell did not open to swallow me up as I had expected. Instead, Mark’s smiling (possibly robotic) face was there on my screen with a message saying ‘hi’.
This was the beginning of a whole lot of weird, in my opinion. I had met a boy on grindr at the church that my ex-boyfriend introduced me to. What? I know. He told me that he and his friends had noticed me a few weeks ago and they all liked the look of me. The next week, Luke, another boy, messaged me telling me he’d seen me at the service. And another boy, John, was starting a LGBT group within the church that I should join. All of the sudden this church stopped being a place that reminded me of Matthew and became a cesspool of gay men that were all competing for my attention. It was honestly the last thing I could have expected and among all of these new relationships I had to explain that I am an atheist and that’d I’d been going to church for reasons I didn’t really understand.
It became a lot. Culminating in one of them inviting me to be his test subject for his massage therapy course as he rubbed my body and whispered innuendos in my ear, followed by an awkward kiss in a tube station and me blurting out the reason I first went to the church was because of the boy I was still in love with.
I found a community that I thought wouldn’t accept me because I’ve spent years telling myself I couldn’t be gay and go to church when in reality I found a group of men proud of who they are and ready to accept me in.