It’s complicated

Several years ago, my mother’s brother married a black lady. His parents (my grandparents) were racist, so whenever the family would get together for Christmas or birthdays, she was never welcomed. My uncle attended these family functions for awhile, but eventually got fed up with the way his wife was being treated and stopped coming altogether.

I was just a young’un when this was happening, but I was already old enough to recognize that it was wrong to treat another person that way – especially when that person was so nice and loving themselves. Although my mother worshiped the ground my grandfather walked on, my memories of him are somewhat muddied by recollections of his bigotry and intolerance for anything different than himself.

As the years passed, my grandparents eventually seemed to figure out that if they wanted to spend quality time with their son, they would have to also invite their daughter-in-law, but years of painful rejection had already hardened her heart to the point that she had no interest in a relationship. It was only after the health of both of my grandparents had failed that she was able to truly become part of our family.

Although my grandfather passed away and the years have marched on, things can still get very uncomfortable in my family. While my uncle may have been the proverbial “black sheep” a few decades ago, the position has apparently fallen on my shoulders. Now, I’m the one who can’t bring his significant other to most family functions.

Since becoming an adult and having romantic relationships, Christmas has always been difficult, complicated, and painful. My immediate family runs the gamut from an accepting father to a non-accepting sister. Mom seems firmly lodged somewhere in between.

Every year, my dad has to wrestle with how to handle Christmas get-togethers. He knows if he invites me and my partner that my sister and her family won’t attend, yet he also realizes that asking me to come alone isn’t the right thing to do. This year, he decided to have two gatherings; one for us and one for them. This would mean that my sister and I would have to get with Dad and his wife an additional time to give him the presents that are coming from both of us. After talking it over with my partner, he told me that I should just go alone and be with my family.

For the past several years, I’ve also went alone to my sister’s on Christmas Eve, spent the night, and gotten up the next morning to watch the kids open their presents. While no one has ever specifically stated that my partner isn’t welcome, it’s more than obvious. Once again, my partner insists that I spend this time with my family, explaining that he wouldn’t feel comfortable there even if invited.

I am terribly torn in both of these situations; torn between wanting to spend the holiday with my lover, remaining true to my beliefs, and spending time with family members. I know without a doubt that discriminating against others is wrong, regardless of the reason, and I feel like I’m letting my partner and myself down when I cave to peer pressure from relatives. I also realize that spending time with family is important, and that depriving them of my company in an attempt to pressure them into doing the right thing would be futile. There just doesn’t seem to be an easy solution.

It’s tempting for me to blame Christianity, or at least my family’s interpretation of Christianity, as the root of their intolerance. I could have titled this post something like “Christianity: Destroying Families for 2,000 Years” and ranted about all the hypocrisy in the pro-family rhetoric that fills Christian radio, but I know it isn’t so simple. Christians might be tempted to blame my sexuality for tearing my family apart, but, again, too simple.

The truth is, this type of thing is happening to families all across the world. Being religious isn’t synonymous with bigotry, and fear of what is different can arise anywhere and at any time. What separates the bigots from the rest of the crowd is how they react to that fear. Do they recognize it, study themselves for a sign of what caused it, and try to get beyond it, or do they let fear paralyze themselves to the point that they shut out the very people that they should be having meaningful relationships with?

I hope against hope that my family will eventually see the light and open their arms and homes to the man with whom I’m privileged to share my life. Only then will I have a truly merry Christmas.

I’ve come a long way, baby!

One of my friends from school recently moved back to the area, so Honey, Liz, and I got together with her last weekend for dinner and a movie. Since all but one of us had attended the same Christian school, we spent pretty much the entire night reminiscing and laughing our butts off.

Our Baptist school was small and often dysfunctional. Along with standard subjects like math and English, we were taught that the earth is only 6,000-8,000 years old, rock music is of the devil, and the Easter Bunny is the pagan god of fertility. Seriously.

While the history books in most schools might cover such topics as World War II or the writing of the Declaration of Independence, our history books devoted chapters to the oppression of Protestants by the Roman Catholic Church. Graphic descriptions of torture were included to cement our distrust of the world’s largest denomination.

One of the teachers seemed to dislike the fact that my Pentecostal religion differed from hers, so during class one day she informed us that John the Baptist was the first Christian and therefore the first Christian was Baptist.¬†“And, Brian, that’s the truth whether you believe it or not!” she exclaimed, even though I hadn’t uttered a word of dissent. Even then I knew that he had acquired the moniker simply because he baptized people.

Instead of being taught the core elements of Christianity, like loving and helping others, we were trained to fear those who were different. One of my friends was even denied a letter of recommendation by our principal because the college she was applying to was of a different denomination.

Over the years, as I’ve experienced life, read books, or simply talked to people, I have discovered that things aren’t nearly as black and white as I was made to believe during my school days. It’s hard to fathom how much I’ve changed or how far I’ve come since then, and I know that everything I’ve went through in my life was for a reason – if for nothing more than to give me perspective.

Still, I resent the fact that my parents sacrificed so much financially in order to send my sister and I to a school that provided a so-called Christian eduction. False advertising if you ask me.