For a godless homosexual, I'm unusually interested in the religious faith of LGBT people who are believers. This comes, in large part, from my own religion-infused upbringing, where churches played some of the most pivotal roles in my small-town community.
When I interviewed Chely Wright just prior to Capital Pride, her description of her own life in a churchgoing small town felt instantly familiar. Just as familiar, unfortunately, was her story about a present-day experience in such a church where a minister stood before the congregation -- including Wright's sister and other family -- and proceeded to preach against the ''sin'' of homosexuality, equating it with murder.
It's a powerful story for me because it rings true.
I remember sitting in the wooden pews of my church, a small Cumberland Presbyterian congregation, listening as the preacher told the story of Sodom and Gomorrah -- a version that included the tale of how ''researchers'' who discovered the city found that the very walls of city had been pounded into the ground by the power of God's holy wrath.
And, yes, it was made clear to me during many sermons and Sunday school lessons what Sodom's sin was presumed to be.
So it's rather unsurprising that the right-wing media watchdog NewsBusters picked up on Wright's story, flagging it under the headline ''Her Sinister Minister.'' The post quickly attracted a rash of commenters bent on pointing out that, hey homosexuals are the equivalent of murderers, 'cause the Bible told us so.
A friend wrote to me, ''I cannot believe I share an America with people who are arguing over whether homosexuality and murder can be equated under their invisible god's list of 'sins.'''
Oh, I can believe that. It's the other stuff I have problems believing.
My distancing from church and faith began well before I came out -- although since I knew I was gay from a very young age, that played a role as well. What first drove me away was the simple problem that to believe in the Bible as the literal word of God, as I was expected to do, is along the lines of believing six impossible things before breakfast.
What kept me away was the knowledge that the religion of my youth considered me an irredeemable sinner regardless of what good works I might do in the world or what love I might achieve.
I was for a long time aggressively hostile to religion and it's likely only my relationship with my husband, a strong believer, that has kept me off the Christopher Hitchens's path of proselytizing atheism.
Of course, my husband is a Buddhist, which is a radically different set of beliefs from a small-town Protestant church. On my first visit with him to a temple, my eyes were shocked by the exuberant gaudiness on display -- golden statues, mounds of brightly colored fruits and flowers, glowing sticks of incense, even strips of neon. For someone raised in wood-paneled churches so austere that I considered the more highly decorated Catholic churches to be the discos of Christianity, it was a revelation.
Now I live in a home with an altar and offerings, where rituals are observed and I respect them. Sometimes, I even find comfort in them. There are multitudes of ways to believe -- or, in my case, to not believe -- and respect the lives and faiths of others.
If only those whose lives are devoted to literalism and wrath could find it in their hearts to believe that.