Introduction to Coming Out
of Fundamentalist Christianity
By: Carolyn Baker, Ph.D.
In early 2005 in anticipation of my sixtieth birthday, I began working on an autobiography. Certainly, I reasoned, now entering my sixth decade, I should be putting in ink my reflections on life as I officially become a senior citizen. Following the publication of three books and countless articles, it seemed that my "memoirs" was the very next step.
Little did I realize that in the fall of 2006, just a few weeks after the release of my third book U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED, a bombshell breaking news story that would hit a pivotal nerve in my own personal history would compel me to integrate the almost-finished memoirs with commentary on the story, not merely from my intellect but from my personal life experience. That news item was the revelation that fundamentalist Christian icon, Pastor Ted Haggard of the New Life Church of Colorado Springs, Colorado, ostensibly rabidly homophobic, had been involved for three years in a sexual relationship with another man.
Memoirs just lying around, serving no purpose except navel-gazing, are easily ignored and postponed for "some other day." But when one's autobiography so eerily parallels breaking news on CNN, one should consider taking it out, dusting it off, and disclosing to the world that human beings do not have to live a lie in order to follow the calling of their hearts in pursuit of the sacred.
Every day of Ted Haggard's exposure in the news, I watched, listened, and read obsessively, and as the reader explores this book, he/she will soon understand why. Ted Haggard's story is in so many ways, my story, but with one colossal difference: At the age of twenty-six, I realized that I was not willing to a live a lie for the rest of my life and came out as a lesbian to myself and to the world. Had I not made that decision, I might have perpetrated almost exactly the same excruciating deception on loved ones, colleagues, and admirers as he did.
In the Appendix section of this book the reader will find my November, 2006 article "Ted Haggard And Fundamentalist Christian Soul-Murder" that was posted on a number of Internet sites, including my own. It ultimately set in motion the writing of this book.
I have taken enormous risks in writing my story, as well as my opinions regarding the American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. This book will strike raw nerves among homophobes and anti-gay members of the religious community, and LGBT folks may not appreciate my taking our community to task politically, but the story must be told, and for me, it cannot be told without dividing the book into two parts: 1) My story, and 2) Our World. The anguish of my coming out process was exacerbated by a childhood devoid of social, political, or economic justice, and my notions about them today, inextricably connected with my sexual orientation, have determined the paradigm by which I intend to live the rest of my life. In other words, for me, the personal and political cannot be polarized, and anyone who knows that at a cellular level, also knows the distressing path that consciously integrating the two necessitates.
Except for mine, the names of all persons in this book have been changed in order to protect the innocent and the guilty. Two of my college years were spent in a fundamentalist Christian bible college which to this day I deplore, yet without its painful evisceration of my innocence, I would not become the person I now cherish. As most fundamentalist colleges are, in my opinion, it was nothing less than a hothouse for blossoming homosexuals which it delighted in confining in the closet then castigating when impetuous latency could no longer be repressed.
This book is entering print as one of the most corrupt and conservative political administrations in the history of the United States is about to leave office. For me, it has been excruciating to witness its machinations for the past seven years, mirroring to me so much of what was an inhumane upbringing and what was so emotionally and spiritually eviscerating in the first half of my life. Yet, it is one thing to have grown up in a household terrorized by it and quite another to watch the same dogma, hypocrisy, and neo-fascist ideology perpetrated on an entire nation.
Approximately six weeks after the resignation of Ted Haggard from New Life Church, youth leadership minister, Christopher Beard of New Life, also resigned in disgrace over "sexual misconduct" the orientation of which at this writing is unknown. On Monday, December 11, 2006, the Associated Press broke the story of the disclosure and subsequent resignation of Englewood, Colorado's Rev. Paul Barnes, pastor of another Rocky Mountain mega-church who confessed to his congregation that he had been involved in a number of homosexual relationships and was stepping down. I winced as I heard one sentence from Barnes' mea culpa, so reminiscent of my pre-coming out years: "I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy. ... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."
Was 2006 just a bad year for Colorado Christian fundamentalists? A series of coincidences, perhaps?
Or maybe December, 2006 was a bad year for fundamentalists in general as the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported on the 20th that church leaders announced that Rev. Paul Williams, a Bellevue Baptist Church staffer for 34 years, had been placed on paid leave pending an investigation regarding a "moral failure"-a disgustingly vague and abbreviated description of the pastor's alleged sexual abuse of a relative some seventeen years prior. Supposedly aware of the incident, Senior Minister, Steven Gaines, had done nothing and complicitly assumed that "the incident had been resolved." Fundamentalists would have us believe that only in the Roman Catholic Church is sexual abuse rampant and that only there does the non-offending clergy collude with it by moving priests from one location to another, thereby protecting their dirty little secrets.
On the contrary, I have for decades believed and publicly stated that there is something inherent in Christian fundamentalism that attracts individuals who are fleeing the impact of coming to terms with their sexual orientation, dealing with their own experiences of being sexually abused, or confronting other issues regarding sexuality and that fundamentalism not only draws such individuals but fosters their hypocrisy, thereby exacerbating their suffering and the suffering of everyone close to them. While a thorough exploration of this hypothesis is yet another book in itself, this book will endeavor to shed light by offering my own experiences and reflections on them.
In the Appendix of this book I have included an extraordinary article "The Psychology Of Christian Fundamentalism," by Professor Emeritus, Walter Davis, Ohio State University, in which the author's brilliant insights into the emotional underpinnings of fundamentalism address that "something" in it that backfired, and in my opinion always does, on the three Colorado clerical homophobes and one Southern Baptist sex offender. "Morality for the fundamentalist," says Davis, "is not about a life of charity or the pursuit of justice or the need to open oneself to the depth of human suffering. It's about avoiding certain sexual sins and fixating on that dimension of life to the virtual exclusion of everything else."
Because I am also an historian, I want to emphasize that fundamentalist Christianity as we know it today in the United States is a relatively new phenomenon in the Christian religion. From the official establishment of the Christian Church dating from the fourth century until the present time, myriad doctrines, traditions, practices, and biblical interpretations have existed in the Christian religion. Within the past two hundred years, the so-called mainstream denominations that were born in America's Great Awakenings and some that evolved from the religious communities of European settlers-Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran-have experienced diminished membership as the evangelical or fundamentalist factions of Christianity have skyrocketed in popularity and enrollment.
In this book I use evangelical and fundamentalist interchangeably. Both adhere to clearly delineated, strict "fundamentals" resulting from a literal interpretation of the bible, and whether one identifies as an evangelical or a fundamentalist, evangelizing or attempting to recruit believers into one's religion is pivotal in accomplishing the mission of fundamentalism/evangelism, namely, enlarging Christ's church on earth. "Fundamentalist" is a more nineteenth-century term associated with specific "fundamentals" that conservative Christian literalists believe are the backbone of Christianity whereas "evangelical", a twentieth-century word may have been chosen to cosmetically alter the presentation of fundamentalist teachings, thereby making them appear more contemporary and less stodgy. Not wishing to evoke images of sweaty, red-faced Victorian ranters such as William Jennings Bryan or Billy Sunday, evangelical ministers adorned with blow-dried hairstyles and Rolex watches, their sermons preceded with hip-hop rhythms, synthesizer extravaganzas, and digital light shows, may not be any less theologically pedantic than their predecessors, but they are decidedly more marketable.
This book is not merely an autobiography-one woman's coming out journey, but is intended to facilitate confluence between the integration of sexuality and spirituality and how individuals in the LGBT community struggling with that challenge influence the society at large and are influenced by it, endeavoring to discern our limitations, our infinite opportunities, and the difference between them. In the Appendix the reader will find in addition to my article on Ted Haggard, an extensive list of articles, books, documentaries, and websites pertaining to sexual orientation research, spirituality, and issues social, economic, political, and biospheric justice.
On February 6, 2007 , our collective intelligence was profoundly insulted with Ted Haggard's "official" pronouncement that he is "completely heterosexual." Even graduates of repulsively-onerous, long-term "ex-gay" therapy implied that this declaration by Haggard didn't even pass the laugh test. Not only was American fundamentalism doing damage control, but once more, Ted Haggard opted to wallow in the same lie he has lived for over five decades.
Dr. Robin Meyers, United Church Of Christ minister and author of WHY THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT IS WRONG: A Minister's Manifesto For Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, Your Future, states in his chapter on homosexuality:
Religious fanaticism itself is a symptom of compensatory behavior. The most rigid, the most compulsive, the most paranoid religious devotees are often hiding their own dark secrets. They seek the rigidity of authoritarian systems in order to cope with their own feelings of shame. Their inner conflicts are turned outward, and the collateral damage is all-too apparent….In my own ministry, I have noticed an unmistakable pattern, and it is more than mere coincidence. The most homophobic people I've ever met do not live comfortably inside their own sexual skin.
I am well aware that despite the vast sums of money and energy spent by Christian fundamentalism to convince its followers and the rest of the world that its dogma holds all possible answers to every human predicament, there are countless women and men within its fold whose souls, like Ted Haggard's, and mine at the age of twenty, are eviscerated with conflict between their innate sexual orientation and a religious system and attendant community that proclaims them the worst of sinners for their impulses. Some have repressed their desires, some have shoved them into unconsciousness, some live double lives as Haggard did, and some have graduated from "ex-gay" therapy programs that promise a biblical transformation into lifelong heterosexuality, only to discover that they cannot annihilate a God-given, yes I said God-given, part of themselves. Others have become alcoholics, addicts, psychotics, or suicide statistics.
It is for those individuals, as well as those who are authentically content with their orientation, that this book has been written. As a tormented fundamentalist Christian in the second decade of life, I might have found liberation, comfort, and affirmation had I had access to a book that blessed my sexual orientation as compatible with, rather than at war with, my unquenchable heart's desire for the sacred. Inexplicable suffering and a couple of suicide attempts might have been averted. And, I might have loved myself and others more attentively had I been able to love and honor the most forbidden aspect of all in my psyche.
At this moment, planet earth is headed for cataclysm unless its inhabitants very quickly address daunting issues of climate chaos, hydrocarbon energy depletion, and global economic catastrophe. (I hasten to add that I am not referring to a Rapture/Tribulation scenario.) Such issues are far more comprehensive than sexual orientation-or are they? Yes and no. Perhaps they are macrocosmic mirrors of how humans have conducted themselves in their span of years on the earth. War, greed, and patriarchy-that is, attitudes of power and control, have put earthlings on a fast track to annihilation, and persecution of diverse sexual orientations has been an integral aspect of humanity behaving badly.
I hold little hope for the aversion of civilization's collapse, and in fact, it may be the only process capable of reconstituting humanity's priorities. Much anguish will ensue, and when humans are desperate, they tend to blame someone-anyone for their misery. I therefore expect the LGBT community to be one scapegoat, among many others. But if our community is capable of transcending so-called LGBT politics and addressing issues that affect all humanity, we may decrease our vulnerability. Likewise, if the heterosexual community is capable of increasingly repudiating fundamentalist Christianity's ghastly condemnation of all forms of diversity, civilization's collapse may facilitate the creation of small communities of individuals who are willing to move beyond mainstream society's media-manipulated, fundamentalist-fed culture wars and experience themselves on a cellular level as one human family.
Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is the author of Coming Out Of Fundamentalist Christianity: An Autobiography Affirming Sensuality, Social Justice and The Sacred.
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