A saddening amount of us have been hurt by people in church or know someone who has been. This is such a sad deal because the church is somewhere we go to feel safe, loved, and secure. It is the last place we expect TO BE DEALT DAMAGE.
My personal story of pain caused by members of a religious organization happened when I was a volunteer at Lakewood Church in Houston, Tx. What’s important here is the fact that this sort of thing happens regularly not so much where it happened. I was fired from volunteering for being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. I was a tenor in the adult choir and sang in the Saturday night service as well as both English services on Sunday mornings. Aside from this, I was the volunteer supervisor (over about 20 other teachers) for the Wednesday night kids service in KidsLife. At this same service I also was a worship leader and I taught a group of 3rd grade boys as well. At this same service I was in charge of managing the kiosks where each kid was checked in at the beginning of service and then checked back out at the end of service (a few hundred kids by the way). This was roughly 10 hours of volunteer time per week. I will be upfront in saying I should not have lied on the KidsLife application when they asked if I was homosexual. Yes the application to volunteer in the kid’s ministry stated that if an applicant was homosexual then they were not permitted to be around children. I shrugged this off as I already had my mind made up on what I wanted to do and I knew I was no threat to children. Plus I was bisexual at the time so technically I wasn’t lying. What I should have done was turn and run at the sight of this ignorance. But having just served 6 years in the Air Force during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had me acclimated to hiding my true self and so I figured this question was much like the military and I could proceed as long as I didn’t act too gay at church or bring any guys around.
The suspicion started to become apparent to me one day when one of the KidsLife staff members called me into her office. She asked me if I had a girlfriend and questions about my personal life. She informed me that the parents of the kids in KidsLife had some concerns about my mannerism and the way that I dressed. Yes parents were not focused on the fact that I was willing to work for free with their children so that they could go to the adult service and not have to keep up with them themselves. KidsLife parents begin to nitpick at me personally. (A part of what I think drives churches to act this way is that churches don’t like to fuck up their cash flow. Kids want to go to churches that have attractive kids programs (which is a part of the church business model) which means parents go to church. Parents bring the tithes and the offerings. In this respect the parents were looked at as stakeholders/donors and I was potentially threatening their cash flow.) The way I dressed was like I did when I lived in California. True Religion jeans over cowboy boots and a tee or button down which no one could see due to the brightly colored KidsLife jerseys all volunteers were required to wear. I was interrogated like I was a criminal suspect. Some people feel like if a guy is anything other than straight then he must be a pedophile. There is no science to base such claims on. This is fearmongering at its worst. I once volunteered at a different agency in Houston that had to do with children and as part of the training they showed me photos of local registered sex offenders. To my complete and utter surprise there were just as many women’s faces projected onto the screen as there were men. In all my years I had never received any of those wretched pedophile post cards they send out to neighborhoods in the mail that had a woman on it. Again I should have quit right then but I shrugged it off and kept on doing what I felt I was called by God to be doing. I thought to myself could this be a test of some sort? Am I being attacked by the devil through these parents? Who in the hell would go through all the screening it took to come up in this huge church to harm a child? This church literally had every vital document and everything even on me as a volunteer so why would I give up all my information and then come up in there and commit a fucking crime? Not to mention the fact that there were cameras everywhere for which I was thankful because therein lay proof of my innocence. The more I thought about this foolishness the sillier it sounded. This interrogation made me feel very awkward volunteering for a while but eventually I was able to put it out of my mind. I figured no one is perfect, no church is perfect so I will overlook this offense. I continued to excel at Lakewood and win awards for my KidsLife contributions. The next step I had in mind was to apply to be on staff at Lakewood Church because I was so bought into everything that ministry stood for. I was TOO bought into it. I was worshiping that ministry, its presentation, and its leaders and didn’t realize it. Once I applied to be on staff at Lakewood they did a check on my social media to check and see if I had good character. You would think 2 to 3 years of volunteering side by side with someone would suffice but church people must rely on social media to make important decisions since churches are run like businesses after all. They checked my Myspace page – yes this was back when Myspace was still huge and the other platforms were just taking off. I had on my profile pic a pretty much nude photo of myself wearing these little undies, sleeves from a torn shirt, and a Dos Equis cowboy hat the shot girls had given me at some nightclub. I had taken this picture after a night of many cocktails and dammit I looked goooooood and so on my profile cover it went!
I’m sitting at work one day and I start to notice my Myspace profile views increasing sharply. I mean I had the Myspace page but it’s not like I really promoted it or anything so this struck me as odd. I had a terrible feeling in my gut and so I made my page private. I get a text from the lady who was in charge of KidsLife and the Kids Choir to come to a meeting that upcoming Saturday before I would usually arrive to volunteer. I asked her straight up if I was in some kind of trouble. She said no “we just wanna talk.” I’m thinking this is gonna either be really really good or really really bad. So Saturday comes and I arrive on time in my volunteer jersey hoping I’m about to get hired. I am greeted by this woman and also the pastor for the adult choir and they escort me up to the 5th floor which at Lakewood is for staff only. We sat at opposite ends of a rather long conference table just the three of us. They then proceed to tell me they found my picture on Myspace during the HR screening process. Apparently I was being considered for employment at Lakewood until they came across my social media account. They then passed said account around to other staff members and this is what accounted for the sudden spike in views I saw before I made my page private. They were appalled that I identified as bisexual which is what was listed on my Myspace page and that I hung out in Montrose which is Houston’s gay district. I’ll never forget the words that woman said to me – “You can’t be doing THAT, hanging out THERE with THEM.” It was a total “Karen” moment. In fact this entire meeting was one huge “Karen” meltdown on their part. I was thinking bitch why the fuck are you referring to my people, the members of the Alphabet Mafia as “They”? I say I was “thinking” because there really wasn’t anything to say. This decision was made before I even pulled up at the church. They made a whole scene based off the possibility that one of the kids might have looked me up on the internet and could have seen my scandalous (in their opinion) photo. I was thinking um well I’m not anticipating being Googled when I come to volunteer. There were far more high profile people for them to be looking up on the internet other than me. Plus if social media etiquette was so damn important they should’ve added that shit to the litany of paperwork, background checks, and training that it took to even get my foot in the door to work for free. What they did offer me was some conversion therapy. Yes CONVERSION THERAPY. These fools said effective immediately I was fired from all aspects of KidsLife and the adult choir as well which has absolutely nothing to do with children. They also informed me that I was not the first person they let go over such reasons (and yet they were always hollering they needed more volunteers). They said I could become an usher and that if I read their pre-selected books on becoming straight then in time I might could find my way back into their graces. I had two decisions: whip they asses or get up and walk da fuck out. I choose option 2. As the elevator opened they just looked at each other like they were surprised, shocked, and even confused at my reaction. So there went 2 to 3 years of volunteering out the window and the worst part is I never had a chance to say goodbye to those amazing kids who probably wondered what happened to Mr. D? God only knows what they told my volunteer staff, my KidsLife class, my fellow adult choir members if anything at all. I cried some of the most bitter tears I had ever cried in my life after this. In fact I didn’t cry that hard again until I found out I had HIV a few years after this all happened. I tried to attend a couple services at Lakewood but it never felt right after this incident. What I do know is that not one person I had volunteered around for all that time bothered to contact me after I disappeared and that hurt almost as bad as being fired from something I loved and dedicated my life to. So I lost my church home as well and since I wasn’t as grounded in God as I thought I was I let this experience cause a rift between me and Heaven for over 5 years. Yes after having had attended church my entire life up until I was almost 30 years old after this incident at Lakewood it would be over 5 years before I would walk into a church again. I should have licked my wounds and took my ass to a different church – a LGBTQIA+ affirming church where my gifts would have been appreciated and I would not have ever be tossed to the side like that. My spiritual identity was tightly wound up in Lakewood and it should not have ever been. It should have been Me and Jesus and all churches, religions, pastors, worship leaders, and denominations as a option but not a necessity. In the 2 to 3 years after Lakewood when I wasn’t attending church at all I sought community in places I felt I would not be judged like bars and dance clubs. I had been going to clubs and what not but I had never looked at the nightlife crowd as my community. With my church community taken from me I automatically replaced it. I did not understand at that time just how much we all seek out community in one form or another. I ended up trying drugs for the first time when I was close to 30 years old. I became a drug dealer, contracted Hep B and HIV, was homeless, and got arrested three times (4 felony charges). I cannot overstate how important it is to deal with trauma of all kinds and to not try to deal with pain and suffering on your own. I wish I had gotten counseling after I got kicked out of Lakewood and maybe things would’ve turned out differently. But at the some time I’m glad I was fired by Lakewood because that’s what it took for me to pull my head out of their asses.
My audience is not church people unless they are humble, open minded, and are willing to take second look at things. That’s a tall order to fill when dealing with conservative church people. I am called by God to those who have been hurt by church people, to those who know someone who has been, those who have witnessed bullshit go down at churches and just cannot with them, and those who look at Christianity today and wonder what the fuck it’s supposed to be. We are all on a spiritual journey and my aim is to be transparent and spur conversation and spiritual research among people, especially those who may have stopped trying like I once did. There isn’t anything wrong with God but there is a lot of shit wrong with churches and church people. Often times it’s very hard to see the difference.