Fighting Tradition

Today we’re featuring the voice of our friend who wishes to use the name Tom Merrick. Tom grew up as a gay Christian in an Evangelical Protestant home. We’ve enjoyed getting to know Tom over the past several months. At the beginning of December, we were incredibly distressed to learn that Tom’s father had told Tom he’d no longer be welcome in his parents’ house. We wanted Tom to share his perspective about living as a celibate gay Christian, entering into a celibate partnership, and dealing with his family. As always when reading guest posts, please keep in mind that everyone’s story is different, and the experiences, perspectives, thoughts, and theological ideas presented by the author will not necessarily match completely with ours. For this guest post specifically, we would like to clarify that the word “tradition” can have different meanings depending upon the context. Tom uses the word “tradition” in reference to how fundamentalist evangelical Protestants have approached questions of faith and sexuality. 

A reflection by Tom Merrick

“Tradition, tradition!” goes the debut song of Fiddler on the Roof. Tradition tells us who we are and what God expects of us. It defines us. And sometimes it binds us.

Tradition, not Scripture, holds that one cannot be gay and be Christian. Tradition says being gay is a choice. It says gay people are unacceptable to God.

That is Tradition. And breaking with Tradition means breaking with God.

That lie I have battled against. And I lost that battle.

I lost when I came out to my parents and my father counseled me to get reparative therapy to become straight, refusing to think anything but that being gay is a choice. After a long, agonizing call where I tried to convince him otherwise, I cried. I screamed. I overturned tables and desks and chairs in tortured agony, despair, and rage. All because I could not fight Tradition.

I retreated into myself, feeling abandoned, betrayed, hopeless. I drank, figuring a hedonistic lifestyle condemning me to hell was all I could do. That was, after all, what Tradition said gay people did.

I wrote, attempting to hide my writing from my parents, who were unwilling to accept me. However, they discovered I was writing, and I spent another hopeless night trying to reason with my father. But Tradition said otherwise, and, again, I lost the battle.

I found hope in a small online community of gay Christians, who welcomed me in with open arms. I found acceptance and subsequently retreated further from the unaccepting parents I lived with.

And I found love for the first time. I fell in love with a fellow man, who loved me in return, and showed me more about Christ’s love than I could have ever understood. I learned to accept myself. To look at my reflection in the mirror without seeing myself as ugly or wounded. I found what it meant to support and be supported in rough times.

But such could not be endured by Tradition. So my father confronted me about this man I loved. And again, I lost the battle with Tradition.

Two weeks before Christmas, my father asked me to choose. Choose him and Tradition, or the man I loved. I broke with Tradition and he asked me to leave.

Tradition won that battle. The stupid Tradition found nowhere in the Bible that any not straight are hateful to God. The Tradition that says cast the unrepentant from your home to their life of rebelliousness.

And so Tradition won. I spent Christmas estranged from my family and living with the man I love. And I find myself trying to make sense of a world where Tradition reigns supreme and causes me to lose the family I love. I struggle to know how I should feel or what I should do. And I try to make ends meet in the real world of job searching, loan payments and car troubles, all in a new city and environment.

Tradition has won today. But maybe someday it will lose. And maybe someday Tradition will not ruin a family like it has mine. In the meantime, I will retreat, mourn my loss, and look forward to the day when Tradition no longer defines and binds peoples’ minds and hearts.

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8 thoughts on “Fighting Tradition

  1. Tom, I’m so sorry to hear about this attitude from your father. Thank you for sharing your story here. I pray something will happen to bring new understanding and reconciliation for your family. May the Lord bless and watch over you always!

    • Thanks Julia for your prayers for Tom. He’s finding his way forward, one step at a time, trusting in God’s help.

  2. Physicist and outspoken atheist Steven Weinberg once said:

    “With or without [religion] you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    I’m not an atheist (I’m a Catholic convert), and I would probably object that only an extremely generalized idea of “religion” could account for what Weinberg is asserting.

    But knowing stories like Tom Merrick’s and Leelah Alcorn’s are out there make me wonder if he’s right after all – especially because if there’s a religion that were less susceptible to encouraging evil in God’s name, I would think it would be Christianity.

    • Thanks for reading Tom’s story Cain. It’s incredibly hard to look at the ways Christian parents treat their LGBT kids, particularly when it comes to helping their kids navigate questions of sexuality and gender identity.

  3. To quote something that I heard said in reply to those who thought that ‘Tradition’ ruled out ordaining women to the priesthood, ‘Tradition is not tradition if it hasn’t been thought about’. Inertia and the refusal to examine one’s assumptions do not constitute a healthy understanding of a truly living tradition.

    • We’d agree that it’s important for Christians from every Christian tradition to have a living relationship with what they’ve been taught.

  4. I am still learning so much about the celibate and gay lifestyle, and still sort of … baffled by parents and churches who kick out gay celibate members. L & S, do you have any posts (or could you schedule one) explaining this? I can’t understand a family or church preaching that homosexuality is a sin but then turning their backs on people who pursue celibacy.

    (Maybe I’m misreading the post. I’m getting the sense from your introduction that Tom is celibate. So I can’t get why his family hates that.)

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