Patrick Saunders: My complicated relationship with God

I pray every night, but I don’t know if I truly believe in God.
I know that might sound odd, the idea that someone would talk to someone night after night, year after year, when they’re not sure that the other party is even out there. And I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember, going back at least 15 or 20 years and perhaps my entire life.
It’s become more of a ritual at this point rather than an action rooted in pure belief. I pray for the safety and happiness of my friends, my family and, of course, my dog. I pray for our troops. Those are the mainstays.
More and more in the last year or two, I’ve been praying for our country for many obvious reasons. If someone is sick or going through a particularly rough patch, they get a prayer. It makes me feel a little like Oprah every night.
Sometimes the list gets really long and that’s when it gets tricky because, at some point, I have to decide when to take someone off of it. What if I stop praying for them one night and something happens to them the next day? I’m not foolish enough to think I would have really had something to do with their bad fortune, but I’ll admit it messes with my head a little bit.
As to how I got to this point in my “It’s complicated” relationship status with God, I was raised Presbyterian and went to church and Sunday school every week until my early teens. The churchgoing became more sporadic at that point, down to an Easter and Christmas Eve thing, to eventually just Christmas Eve. I rarely ever go now, but I realize that you don’t have to go to church to prove you believe in God.
I can’t pinpoint any falling-out point with God because I was never really all-in on the deal in the first place. But I can say that the anti-gay sentiment coursing throughout much of Christianity didn’t help matters.
It was a particular source of anxiety for me when I came out in my early ’20s. I knew my family loved me, but what would happen when I told them something that might go against their interpretation of the scripture that they’ve held for their entire lives? “How do I compete with that?” I remember thinking to myself. I lucked out though, and they accepted me just as I was, but I never asked what their beliefs were on the subject.
Though my family didn’t use God against me, that didn’t keep others from doing it. It’s the little things that pile up over the years and stick with you. Like the co-worker at an office at which I worked who, overhearing someone mention someone being gay, said “The Lord don’t like that.” Then there’s the spiritual assault inflicted by so-called Christians – pastors in particular – who casually use God against the LGBT community.
I get an interesting view of this working in LGBT media. We get the occasional Bible-thumping email, but we most often see it in our comments section online. As the moderator, I make decisions on a regular basis on how inflammatory a new comment is and whether to let it through or trash it. Is it a simple “I believe it’s a sin” or are we talking a “You’re all going to roast in the pits of hell” kind of day? As anyone in the LGBT community knows, those kinds of comments are a part of our lives. I’m almost numb to it at this point, but I have to think it chips away at me on some deeper level.
I found myself in one of the more bizarre circumstances two years ago this month in the rotunda of the Georgia State Capitol. I was covering a rally in support of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who a week earlier was fired for distributing an anti-LGBT book he wrote to city employees.
Pastor after pastor stepped to the microphone and used God to ridicule LGBT people, and hundreds of Cochran’s supporters around me shouted back in agreement, holding aloft anti-gay signs in the process. It was bad enough what they said and, this time, it coming not from behind a keyboard but right in front of my face.
But the other part that bothered me was that for them, they saw that as love. They were expressing love and support for Mr. Cochran with their words. How could someone consider that love? As a journalist, I’ve spoken with some pretty nasty people from time to time, but by far the most angry, hateful people I’ve covered were that group of folks that day who called themselves Christians.
But you move on. You go home, you decompress, you keep going. All of us in the LGBT community do it. And I haven’t even mentioned “religious freedom” bills.
So while I don’t really understand yet what my relationship is with God, or if we even have one, or if he’s even out there, I’ll still pray tonight, and probably the next night after that. And all of you will likely be a part of it.