No Father But God: Hyperreligious Upbringing, the Orlando Shooting, and Picking Up the Pieces

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

As you all know, today is Father’s day. It is also one week since the shootings in Orlando. I didn’t expect to be talking about either Father’s Day or the Orlando shooting but the two are in some ways interrelated subjects for me.

I didn’t intentionally visit church on Father’s Day, even though my custom has been to attend church mainly on the holidays now, and I always have something to write about when I come home. As far as the sermon goes, however, there were less controversies for me to pick at than there usually are, and I actually quite enjoyed the service. I was moved to tears at the end when men gave their testimonies about how fellowship with God and people had changed their lives for the better.

Father’s Day hasn’t meant a lot to me, except this time around it’s made me quite aware of my father’s absence in my life. My father does not celebrate holidays- in response to  verses in Galatians that say that those who “regard days, months, times, and years” are in a kind of bondage. I guess that’s the same verse that the Jehovah’s Witnesses must use to support their rejection of holiday celebrations, but I’ve never been too sure.

Father’s Day has a unique “double rejection” for my dad, because of yet another Biblical passage- Matthew 23:9;

“And call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”

So for all of my life, I have literally been unable to call my dad “Father” or “Dad” or “Daddy” and have instead called him by his last name. My dad has stated more than once that he doesn’t want anything to do with Father’s day, because he isn’t my father- God is.

Of course, that didn’t stop him from doing any of the things that a father would do, such as disciplining us or making decisions on our behalf. It didn’t stop him from quoting “children obey your parents” if he thought we’d be disobedient.

I also can’t neglect to mention that my childhood wasn’t all seriousness- my dad also did the “fun” or “nurturing” things too, cooking for us, taking care of us, taking us to the park, on vacations, etc. Regardless of whether he allowed himself to be a father in title didn’t stop him from being a father in deeds, and I think that matters so much more when it all comes down to it. I knew he was my father, I just knew that God was my father too and on a higher level of importance.

Now my ideas about my “heavenly Father” have definitely shifted, and in the mean time my relationship with my “earthly father” is on the rocks. To be honest, I find it incredibly distressing to be around him. Whenever I do communicate with him things are formal and strained. I know of course that in some way or another he does care about me very much- without his help I wouldn’t be living on my own right now- but on the other hand he doesn’t have any respect for my emotional needs and tends to minimize the things that I am interested in. His philosophy seems to be, “We can talk- when you see things my way” and really any conversation “we” have is dominated by him.

Honestly, one of the first things I did when I heard about the Orlando shooting was pictured my dad sitting in his seat passing judgment on those people, saying that God was responsible for their destruction. I guess there’s nothing really that shocking about any of that, when he thinks that God wields total and complete control over every event that happens on earth. So basically anyone who dies young like that has their own sin- or some familial sin- as the root cause of it. Honestly I am sickened when I think about that.

I wonder, why, though, that it matters to me so much. I’m reminded of a time shortly after the death of Heath Ledger, when my mom and I were watching the news and we saw how Westboro church was protesting at his funeral and the funerals of gay soldiers. I told my mom, “I think that’s highly inappropriate” and my dad came down to stand at the top of the stairs and demanded,

“Who said that?”

I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I said it.”

He said,

“Take that back right now!”

I said, “I will not.”

So my dad came until he was looking me straight in the face and said that he was going to hit me if I didn’t take it back. He said,

“I said several things that would be called inappropriate after about the death of [your brother]- take it back.” I stared him down for a minute. Finally, not wanting to test him any further, I said in disgust, “Fine, I take it back.”

I think I complained to my mom and she just told me,

“If he told you to take it back, you should’ve taken it back. You might not think it’s okay what they’re doing, but it’s not alright how the gay people are making a shrine out there (Heath Ledger’s hotel room).”

I remained in a sour mood for a while and then couldn’t concentrate on anything I was doing for hours.

A few days later after battling back and forth about it, I actually told my dad that I was sorry for disagreeing with him. He told me,

“I was trying to protect you. If you say things like that that displease God, you might be putting yourself in danger and I would be in danger too if I didn’t stop you.”

I just said, “Oh” but something felt off.

Well now I know what that “something” was. I was just being told from someone who was being abusive and intimidating that he was really doing a kind thing to protect me from the wrath of God. That’s a typical justification for abuse from angry, controlling men- they’re supposedly concerned with the greater good of the women they’re abusing, when really their main concern is about maintaining control and having their own way.

Anyway, back to the events of Orlando. You have some people- like my dad- who say that the gay people deserved what they got or were being punished. Then on the one hand you have so-called “religious hypocrites” who with one breath denounce the events in Orlando and in the other breath push for legislation that limits the rights of LGBTQIA people. Then finally you have the religious (and nonreligious) people who accept the LGBTQIA community, fight for their rights and continue their longstanding tradition of support for the community by denouncing acts of hate like the shooting in Orlando. I’m going to shift focus to the “middle” group we’re talking about here- the ones who are being denounced as “hypocrites”.

As a former Christian, I’m going to be the first to say that just because I feel that my religion does not condone a particular lifestyle, does not mean that I think that any human being deserves to be murdered in cold blood. The Bible as a whole teaches that homosexuality is a sin (and don’t forget, so does the Quaran). People that argue that “Well, Jesus didn’t condemn the adulteress” also fail to mention that he told her “sin no more.”

As for the “that was the old testament, Jesus brought the new covenant” then don’t forget that He said, “I did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it”. He was said to have kept every letter of the law perfectly.

Now, even with that being said, it’s important to note that Jesus taught absolutely nothing about homosexuality. All that we know about it we know from the books of Moses and the Pauline epistles. None of us is totally sure how Jesus would’ve handled the subject if he was approached with it. We also know that despite the Bible saying that Jesus was “without fault” He seemed to have circumvented one of the ten commandments- the one regarding “Remember the Sabbath day, keep it holy” almost dismissively saying “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”. He was a revolutionary in every sense of the word and enraged and puzzled the religious authorities of his time. I think he would’ve had that very same effect on the world religious leaders of the current time had he been born and lived in our modern century.

So I’m not saying that you can’t be a Christian if you support homosexuality, or you’re not a true Christian if you don’t. I think the issue is a lot more complicated and multi-faceted than that. I do feel however that putting aside my religious constraints has opened me up to being more accepting of LGBTQIA people and of myself as a bisexual female. I no longer concern myself with whether or not homosexuality is sinful. Instead I just ask,

1) Is this something we’re born with?

2) Is this something we can change?

3) Is this something we should change or treat as a mental illness?

My research has determined that, yes, it is something we’re born with, no, it’s not something we can change, and no, we should not attempt to alter it or treat it like a mental illnesss. That being said, sexuality is something you “discover” so it makes sense if it would seem to shift or change over time, or it would be expressed in different ways in different circumstances.

Most us agree that what happened in Orlando was a horrible thing, but most people have very opposing viewpoints on why it happened. Was Omar Mateen radicalized by ISIS over the internet? Was he conflicted about his own sexuality and therefore overly hostile to gay people? Was he simply a confused, deranged individual who suffered from some kind of mental illness?

I have my own theories, but I don’t feel any need to divulge them here. The bottom line is that most of us- regardless of religious orientation- are upset about what happened there. Young people had their lives snuffed out prematurely by a murderer who claimed allegiance to terrorism abroad- but never displayed any consistency in his accounts of who he was supposedly working for. Hezbollah and ISIS are enemies- he claimed them both. His wife- who had been on the receiving end of some of his violent outbursts- says that even she didn’t see this coming. People thought they saw him fraternizing at the Pulse before the shooting, but maybe he was really just scoping the place out in preparation for the attack?

We may never know the truth, which makes it that much harder for the families of the victims to experience closure. However, the only thing we can do now is look ahead to the future. I know that’s what I’m going to be doing.

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