God hates figs?
Hello and welcome to Episode 11 of This Little Light Of Mine. My name is James Powell and I’m glad that you’re able to join me for today’s episode, God hates figs?
If you’ve been following me on IG or FB @MyLightShinesBright we’ve been having some deep and powerful healing work as we reclaimed our inner infants, inner toddlers and are onto our inner pre-school selves.
I continued to be floored by my own inner child healing work. For so many years I tried to pretend that my past didn’t have any impact; and wondered why all the “work” that I was doing in therapy on trying to stay and heal in the present didn’t ever seem to be enough for me. You know the saying “putting lipstick on a pig?”… that was me before I learned that I needed to go all the way back and address the trauma and all those emotions that I’d stuffed away over the years. It’s not easy but I’m starting to feel some of those feels… and MAN is it ever uncomfortable breaking some of the “good feelings / bad feelings” rules that I was raised under.
One thing that I’m finding really helpful is being on this journey with so many of you from around the world. Thank you to all of the people that are travelling alongside me and doing some of this inner healing in their own lives. Your courage and encouragement is an unexpected gift.
A special thank you Zara and little Zara from Lahore, Pakistan for digging in and showing that ‘we can do hard things’, Chad on Canada’s East Coast for sharing part of his transformation, Simi in Ottawa for asking the big and important questions, Zahra for spreading love from Venice Beach across the world, Kibbi.spills.art for creating beauty out of her pain, Mike doing big things with his inner child in Atlanta, Rachael for her loving support and constant reminders that my breath is my medicine from Sweat & Tonic in Toronto and for Miriam Bronski for sharing her haunting and beautiful vocals that score the first part of today’s episode.
It has been amazing to hear stories from this community about your growth and healing as you learn to create a healthy sex life on YOUR on terms. The stories and comments that have been coming in around purity culture, addiction and sexual shame within the queer community show me how needed Matthias’ work is.
And speaking of his work… congratulation to Mark from Toronto who won Matthias’ new book Beyond Shame. Your copy is in the mail along with a HUGE congratulations to you and your new fiancé Robbie.
In today’s episode, God hates figs? I’m taking another stroll down memory lane that share some of the messages that I learned around homosexuality as a young boy growing up in a fundamentalist church background.
I’m hopping by the title of this episode you’re expecting this trigger warning for some of the hate speech and toxic shame that will be shared. To get really honest, the deeper I get into these episodes the more uncomfortable I get. I’ve spent a lifetime playing nice and hiding this ugliness inside of me. Parts of me still want to protect my family, my church, my youth group leaders and my schoolteachers from sharing this truth. As I continue on my healing path I’m growing and honouring other parts that know that I no longer need to hold this toxicity inside. We heal when we come together and share our stories.
And with that, here’s today’s episode “God hates figs?”
Entering into the later grades of elementary school the strange feelings inside of me started to take form. I kept hearing messages about homosexuals in our church and within the broader church community. As I heard these messages, read the stories, saw the headlines… I knew they were talking about me.
- God Hates Fags
- Homosexuals are an abomination in the eyes of God
- Gays are uncontrollable sexual perverts
- AIDS is Gods cure to gay filth
- The homosexual revolution is a symptom of our nation coming under the judgement of God
- Homosexuals do not reproduce, they recruit!
- We have to stop the militant gays from transforming our country into a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.
- Homosexuality is preventable and treatable
- The homosexual agenda is looking to destroy the church. They must be stopped.
And these were just a few examples of what my religion taught that God thought of kids like me. There were many more examples when our ‘non-political’ churches would raise a fury over the gay marriage debate and discuss how giving full rights and freedoms to LGBTQ people was really part of a ‘gay agenda’ to abolish religious freedom and bring an end to our very own church.
Fear from the pulpit
The fear mongering from the pulpit, from Christian radio talk shows and whispered amongst adults was along the lines of “if THEY are allowed to get married OUR pastor would be FORCED to marry THEM and if HE didn’t he could be imprisoned.” Cue the clutching of pearls and the conservative gasps that would activate the church machine that would see letter writing campaigns and petitions sent to local politicians by the thousands. It was the duty of all God loving Christians to help ‘save our country and protect our children’.
Gay people were made out to be seething monsters. They were out of control, sex hungry, mentally ill, deceitful and they were out to recruit the children.
At our church we weren’t taught the extreme of hating gay people but we were taught that being gay was a choice, a sinful choice and one that must be stopped.
I felt like a spy
I felt like a spy and a traitor in my own community. As I heard these messages, heard people speak with disdain about homosexuality, heard youth group leaders, friends and family members use words like faggot, flamer and fairy; I knew they were talking about me.
I was trapped. And I had nowhere to go. These were the people that told me that they loved me. These were the people that were supposed to protect me.
These were other Christians that told me that I was ‘saved’ because I had accepted Jesus Christ into my heart… and yet they were talking about me as if I was subhuman.
It was now more important than ever that I didn’t show any signs of who I really was. I learned to watch every hand movement, every word that I pronounced, every decision that I made. I couldn’t afford a limp wrist, a lisp or anything else that could be perceived as gay by anyone. It was this type of initial “hiding” to protect myself that morphed into my internalized homophobia, obliterated my self-worth and self-esteem and was the accelerant for my self hatred.
The head of Exodus International, the now debunked conversion “therapy” (and I put therapy in quotes because there was nothing therapeutic other than the word they chose to use), happened to go to our church. Pat was regularly welcomed to speak, share her testimony and talk about the transformative work God was using her to perform.
Each time she would speak I would sit frozen like a deer that knows that it’s being hunted in the woods. I couldn’t fidget, move an inch or nervously bite my nails because I KNEW all eyes were on me and that they were waiting for my reaction. I’m my grade school mind I believed that my entire church was part of this elaborate scheme to expose the secret that I knew I had to take to my grave.
Each time she spoke the story would be the same. She was abused by a man when she was young. She met a woman, felt safe and protected and fell in love. Her story would include the caveat that she always knew how sinful, evil and dirty it was to be a lesbian and that it was her choice to continue. One day something changed, she cried out to God and begged him to take her same-sex attraction away. God answered her prayers and she is now in a loving relationship with a man. Pat’s story was PROOF that every single living being who suffered from ‘same-sex attraction’ can be cured.
Her personal story would then morph into her talking about her current mission. She would share the incredible work that Exodus International is doing by working in the margins of society and helping to cure and save the lost, confused and wayward children of God from their sinful same-sex attraction.
Doing God’s work
We would end those services with our pastor joining Pat on stage to pray over Pat and commission her soul saving missionary work. After that prayer we would sit through another hymn while the offering plate was passed around for the second time to collect money that would go directly to Exodus International. As that offering plate was passed person to person I would watch as members of my own church family would give money to have the sinful parts of me erased. Every dollar dropped into those plates was another vote that the people in my community believed that I was a sinner that needed to be cured.
A COUPLE OF SIDE NOTES HERE –
- Reparative therapy has ZERO scientific or medical support. The American Psychiatric Associate now warns of the destructive psychological, mental and emotional effects of reparative therapy. Many states and provinces have now enacted laws that ban the practice of reparative therapy. Our governments needed to get involved to say “stop, this is killing kids”
- I make no judgement on Pat’s personal life experience and know nothing about the fluidity (or rigidity) of her sexuality. Where I take huge exception is how she used her personal experience, pseudo-science and the name of God to lead an organization that abused, damaged and killed children of God.
Back to our story…
When Pat’s service ended, I would see her talking with my parents in the church lobby. I wanted to vomit and yet there was nothing I could do but wait for the day they would show up in an unmarked van, haul me out of bed, throw me in and take me away. In my mind I was CERTAIN that the only reason for Pat to speak with my parents was to make plans for me to be sent to one of her “de-gay” camps or programs.
Some of you might be thinking, ‘wow, this kid had a very vivid imagination, why would you create such an elaborate story in your head?” But for me, back at that age, I knew that’s how things happened. I knew that’s how gay people were dealt with or at least what Focus on the Family wanted fundamentalist Christians to believe was the truth for that ‘curable but wayward sinner with same-sex attraction’.
Focus on the Family
If you’re not familiar with Focus on the Family they are an American based fundamentalist Christian organization that lobbies and promotes social conservative views like creationism, abstinence-only sex education, adoption only by heterosexuals, school prayer, and traditional gender roles. It opposes pre-marital sex, pornography, drugs, gambling, divorce, and abortion. It lobbies against LGBT rights, including LGBT adoption, LGBT parenting, and same-sex marriage. Led by James Dobson, their daily content reached more than 220 million people in 164 countries.
Adventures in Odyssey
To us kids they were positioned as a fun family loving company that produced incredible bedtime stories called Adventures in Odyssey that we would love to fall to sleep to each and every night. And while we slept, our parents would read James Dobson’s book ‘Dare to Discipline’ that advocates the spanking of children up to eight years old when they misbehave (but I think my parents forgot to underline the “up to eight years old part” when it came to me) , he notes that “spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely” but draws the line and by warning that “corporal punishment should not be a frequent occurrence”
What I didn’t know as a kid was that Focus on the Family had been criticized by psychiatrists, psychologists, and social scientists for misrepresenting their research in order to bolster its religious ideology and political agenda; but this was the content that our churches and my family supported financially and looked up to as having the highest biblical authority. Their content and teaching became new compliance standards in my world; after all what could be wrong with “focusing on the family?”
Love wins out
There were countless articles in the Focus on the Family magazines or on daily radio shows that were a staple in our family home on our drives to and from church and all around our church. Those “news” stories would talk about families that had their children saved by through conversion therapy programs like ‘Love Wins Out’ or ‘Exodus International’. These stories quoted other moms and dads who helped do the hard thing, but the loving thing to save their child from choosing to live a sin filled same sex attracted lifestyle. I didn’t realize the impact of this alt-right toxic theology as a child, because back then… this was the media that we were taught to trust, love and obey. And it wasn’t media, this was our church, this was our family, this was an extension of what God wanted us to do.
I now fully agree with the words of Amber Cantorno, another queer survivor of Focus on the Family, writes in her memoire ‘Refocusing My Family’ that Focus “teaches toxic messages of rejection instead of embrace, judgment instead of love and fracture instead of unity.” And I can now see that it was the pre-teen me that took on the full and unbearable load of toxic shame and hate from this massive, tax-exempt, parachurch organization. I took on that load while keeping a smile on my face because I was too terrified to let anyone see my fear. Another example of my personhood and my beingness being attacked by the people who claimed to be offering God’s unconditional love.
Pray away the gay
And while my young mind anxiously awaited being shipped off to my de-gaying experience; I started to give up. I tried to resign from my fear and anxiety by starting this inevitable reprogramming on myself. I spent years crying myself to sleep while begging God to take away my evil homosexual thoughts. I would promise God everything I could think of if only he would take my disease away. No matter what I promised, no matter what I said, no matter how hard I prayed; he never answered.
Why would God take other people’s homosexuality? Why would he take it away from Pat but leave me with mine? After years of praying, reading my bible and doing everything that I could it was confirmed. I was a sinner. I was broken. I was unlovable by God.
Play things cool
My internal and spiritual world was crashing but I still knew that I had to do everything that I could to keep my outer world bright and sunny. I convinced myself that if I could play things ‘cool’ and be as perfect as possible maybe I would be granted a stay of execution… and maybe, if I was really good God would still take pity on me and take my dirty gay feelings away.
I stuffed all of my feelings deep down inside of me and pretended that they weren’t there.
I wanted to belong
This was a terrible way to live. But with nobody safe to share my feelings with I didn’t see any other way. I desperately wanted to connect with others, I wanted to love, I wanted to belong and I wanted to feel.
I was angry but had nowhere to direct this anger but inside. My little light was starting to fade and there was nothing I could do about it. There was nowhere I could go and no one I could share my feelings with; except my little dog Toby. He was the only person (or dog) that I ever felt comfortable sharing any of this with… until now.
What about you?
Did you have any similar experiences growing up? Were you ever taught that who you were was wrong, evil, sinful or less than? Or maybe it was you that was teaching those things? How does that land for you?
Maybe you’re not part of queer community, but perhaps you were taught some of these same toxic messages because of the colour of your skin, your gender, the shape of your body or different abilities you may have.
Sadly, we live in a world where so many feel the need to sooth their own insecurities and feelings of inadequacies by demonizing or control others.
We are all designed for love
We are all children of God and every single one of us has been designed to love and be loved. No man or organization has been giving the authority to speak on behalf of God to tell you anything that contradicts this message. As an adult I can now see that all of these messages of fear, exclusion and hate are all manmade, they are not of God and they are not real. Just like there were never any monsters under my bed.
I am thankful that I can look back at some of the homophobia shared by my church and can see it for what it really was. It was fear, hate and desire to control. While we have made several strides forward since I was a young boy we still have a way to go.
Churches hiding homophobia
As I look back and examine the hate-filled homophobic messages that I received growing up in the church I can’t help but see the connection to the epidemic of brokenness, sexual shame, addiction and my own fear of intimacy despite my deep desire for that connection. The church created the system of oppression that so many queer people now find themselves enslaved. The church created much of the pain that they now point to as examples of sin and separation from God. If you teach a child that they are unworthy, unlovable and sin filled for their thoughts and for part of their I AMness; what do you expect the fruits of their lives will look like?
While this level of hate is rarely spoken as publicly as it has been in the past; the fear, hate and desire to control is just below the surface.
Evangelical Christian churches like the one that I was raised in still believe and teach that I am not allowed to love. C3, the Christian hipster global megachurch just THIS summer sent out a new 9 page “lifestyle contract” that includes denouncing homosexual relationships… and some of the brave allies who refused to sign have been removed from their leadership positions. They continue to shame and mame queer children as they teach and preach only one way to have a loving union under the eyes of God.
What I hope to pass along with this podcast is that even though we may have toned down on the vitriol of the 90’s the damage continues to be passed down to our next generation. I believe it is our role to be cycle breakers and to stop this hate from being passed down to further generations.
If you support a church or organization (either financially or through your attendance) that doesn’t openly affirm, encourage and celebrate the right of all God’s children to love, be loved and be in relationship you might as well be screaming and holding up a poster on a busy corner saying ‘God hates figs’.
To those of us who have been hurt and abused by the church your silence on this issue is deafening. For some; your words, your kindness and your friendship say that you support the queer community (that you support me). And yet, you continue to support, to build up and promote institutions that continue to say that I am less than. To me, this is the same as someone claiming to be anti-racist yet continuing to be a member of their white-only country club because that’s part of your family history and where all of your friends go.
Is that the message you want be sending? If not, maybe it’s time to for you to stand up for love. Maybe it’s time to use your voice, your wallet and your feet to bring more love into our world for all people. Sound daunting? Sound impossible?
Next episode I will be joined by best-selling author, columnist, Anglican cleric and former nightly television and radio host, Michael Coren. Michael and I will be talking about his book Epiphany and “what went wrong” on his journey from being the posterboy of Catholic conservatism towards his profound spiritual and personal change of heart towards the queer community.
Join me in two weeks’ time as Michael talks about how as a middle-aged, very white, very straight, very Christian man, he was obliged, first reluctantly and then eagerly, to explore the complex dynamic between faith and homosexuality and to work out a new narrative. His new narrative: God is love and you are loved… no matter who you are. I couldn’t agree with Michael more.
I’m really excited to share Michael’s heterosexual Christian’s “coming out” story and I want to give away a free copy of his book ‘Epiphany’ to a listener of This Little Light Of Mine. For your chance to win all you need to do is subscribe, rate and leave a review of This Little Light Of Mine on Apple Podcasts or on IGTV. Next episode I will choose one of the reviews and send you your very own copy of Epiphany.
Thanks for joining me today and before we go…
Your story is important. You were designed with a powerful voice. We need to hear what you have to say. You matter, you are needed, you are wanted, and you are loved.