Coming Out

No, not like that. Despite the recent media hoopla surrounding NBA center Jason Collins' public discussion of his homosexuality, I am not following suit.

(As Kelly occasionally notes, rolling her eyes all the while, I am The Straightest Man On Earth. It's not that I'm traditionally hypermasculine in terms of belching, eating raw meat, and beating up people smaller and weaker than I am; it's just that I just don't find guys attractive. I'm not opposed to the IDEA of finding men attractive, but they just don't do anything for me. I love the idea of a banana, too--a sweet, nutritious fruit that travels well and comes in its own biodegradable wrapper? Brilliant!--but when it comes to actually eating them, yuck. Sorry, guys.)

I did, however, have a similar experience this evening when I delivered the sermon at our school's weekly chapel service. What made it similar was that I chose, for the first time, to reveal in front of the public what has long been known to me and those close to me. In fact, I chose to reveal it in the first sentence of my sermon:

"I am not a Christian."

The topic of the speech was doubt, and how the possibility of doubt is the only thing that allows faith to exist. I threw out quotes from Blake and Chesterton, from Andre Gide and Douglas Adams, and even whipped out a bit from the book of Hebrews to make my point, but I decided to go with the big reveal for the simplest of reasons: because it's true. And frankly, I was tired of passing.

Because of my first and last names, I've always been able to pass for a WASP, though Moses would have recognized me as a Jew, and when I came to Woodberry, which hosts a required nondenominational service every Sunday evening, I didn't bother to disabuse anyone of the notion that I was a Christian, though I haven't been one for a long, long time. Though I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church when I was 12, it wasn't long afterward that I started having significant doubts about my faith. I'd never been able to believe that the Bible was literal truth, but I kept believing in the book's metaphorical power. Eventually, however, I came up against the core of Christianity: the belief in Christ's divinity, death, and resurrection. And ultimately, the more I considered the whole issue of the Incarnation and God's plan for our salvation, I found myself having to choose: Either I could admit I didn't believe in the central fact of Christianity, or I could continue to profess belief in a God so manipulative and so callous that I couldn't in good conscience worship him.

Honesty won out. For the last 18 years at WFS, I've gone to chapel and sung the hymns and recited the prayers and responded to the call-and-response readings, but not because I'm a Christian. I've done it because I believe there's value in one of our school's main tenets: that our students should have "respect for things sacred." I have a deep and abiding respect for our nation's First Amendment; as Sarah Vowell puts it, to some degree the Constitution IS my religion. But though I fervently support your right to worship as you see fit, I am equally fervent in my belief that you must respect that same right for others. And the longer I stayed at Woodberry, happily passing as a Christian despite no real effort on my part to keep up my cover, the more I realized that I wasn't doing anything to teach our students about that respect.

So: tonight I came out. In doing so, I hoped to give every student who's wrestling with his faith or lack thereof a chance to see that he isn't alone--and that the struggle is worthwhile, whether you end up a believer or not. I'm no Jason Collins; I won't suffer any indignities for my proclamation, and I don't have the responsibility of serving as a symbol to millions of fans. But after long years of hiding in plain sight, I have to say I understand the appeal of speaking a simple truth about yourself aloud. To be honest, it feels good to be honest.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on May 5, 2013 10:36 PM.

Dedicated was the previous entry in this blog.

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