So, I have this friend, Jeromy Carpenter, who is also a San Francisco-based contributor for PQ. Five years ago, I only accepted his lunch invitation because I was living in South Florida. He had just moved there from Alaska. I was partnered at the time, and we only met for lunch because I had always wanted to meet someone who moved to Florida from Alaska. We have only met twice in person. However, we have collaborated on several occasions. Jeromy continues to surprise, impress, and amuse me.
His latest venture admittedly bemuses me a little bit. In the most truly wonderful sense of the word. ProudQueer spoke with the newly ordained Rev. Carpenter and Supreme Leader of the Church of Gay to learn about his new...decidedly iconoclastic idea.
“I was originally inspired to form the Church of Gay in my Sexuality Law Class with Professor Julie Nice at the University of San Francisco School of Law in 2017,” Carpenter told me about his inspiration. Although, his recent trip to Rome may have further inspired him. “We discussed a number of cases such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and the Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the discriminating party used a religious freedom argument in their defense. It occurred to me that there was a growing trend in federal court of people seeking to use their personal religious beliefs as a defense to use their business to discriminate against LGBTQ people, or women who want their employer health insurance to cover contraceptives, as was the case in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The scary part is that these arguments were increasingly winning in the eyes of the court.”
Professor Nice then suggested jokingly, that one of her students ought to form a gay church to combat the use of religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people. “Churches” or religious communities made up of gay people are not a new thing. The St. Priapus Church, for instance, is a sex-positive church based in Montreal with its largest congregation in San Francisco. The fundamental difference between the Priapus Church and the Church of Gay is that the Priapus Church was born in the height of the AIDS epidemic, when the disease was killing gay men in the thousands throughout Canada and the United States. They sought to help each other, when others would not help them. That's practically a "beattitude."
“While HIV and AIDS are very important issues to the Church of Gay, we now live in a time when AIDS is not the biggest concern of most gay men,” he explained, based on medical advances. “The mission of the Church of Gay is to help bridge the divide between religion and the queer community. "Religion" does not need to be a dirty word and neither does "gay.” That’s why we're putting them together, in one place, to celebrate the cornucopia of diversity that is the world in which we live.”
“We worship many pagan Gods, but hold none as almighty,” he explained.
Carpenter, and his would-be curia, are currently in the 501(c)(3) application process. They are trying to raise the funds via a Gofundme campaign to pay the filing fees. Once incorporated and obtain nonprofit status, the Church can begin applying for grants to fund the public interest work they want to accomplish. Some of their immediate intentions--their Holy Works, if you will--are feeding, clothing, and housing homeless queer youth. This could be a great source, someday, for the many homeless youth we encounter in large cities.
Those are the short-term goals; especially funds for filing paperwork. In terms of long-term goals: Carpenter says he dreams of growing the congregation to reach a global audience. The way “mainstream churches” have done for centuries.
“We’d like to use the Church to bridge the divide between all religions and the LGBTQ+ community and that means expanding to non-Christian majority countries as well as Christian and Catholic countries. Some parts of the planet are already quite gay friendly,” he reminds those of us who worry about our own country’s eradication of Obama-era, gay-friendly policies. “So we would begin by focusing on those countries and working our way into the more conservative ones as we build our following. But, of course these are really long-term, future goals. We are just begining to preach!”
We live in times when the gay spectrum has evolved. First to GLB, then LGB, then LGBT, then LGBTQ, LGBTQ+, LGBTQQA+?, and other initials. I had to ask him, “Why the term gay? Do you feel it’s a blanket term?”
“I chose the name Church of Gay because globally, the word "gay" is much more well-known and understood than more politically correct or inclusive terms like "queer" or LGBTQ+," one could argue especially in the more conservative countires Carpenter mentions above. "I feel that people are more likely to find us if it's simple and easy to say our name. Also, the word "gay" is equally applicable to lesbians, queer people and trans people. It may not be as specific as some would like, but we're thinking big picture. We're trying to unify people, not divide them.”
The Church of Gay, Carpenter points out, differs from other gay friendly sects or congregations in that the celebration of queer diversity is a core tenet of the religion. It is the very heart of what the Church of Gay is founded on. Namely, gayness and the celebration of it, is what makes his group the Church of Gay.
Carpenter has been pitching the church by telling people he’s "turning religion on its head.” He seeks to erase the stigma of being both gay and religious. The Church's spirituality is based on the belief that we were all created equal in the eyes of the Goddesses. In fact, like some Native American tribes, the Church believes that gender-nonconforming people are prophets, sent by the Goddesses to lead us toward a more beautiful world. Carpenter says the Church of Gay doesn't intend to charge membership fees or make people go through any kind of authentication process; no “sacraments” as do some religious groups. However, they will pass around a basket for donations at gatherings to pay for refreshments, and venues for gatherings.
“If the Church grows too quickly, this may change, but for now, it is a rather informal payment structure,” Carpenter said. He then went into describe what beliefs they will incorporate into their belief system.
“We identify closely with the pagans who worship the Nordic Gods and Goddesses among other pagan beliefs. Our holiest day is the full moon nearest to the spring equinox. This is the holiday that celebrates the Germanic Goddess, Ēostre, after whom the Romans named Easter. On this night, usually around March 21, we go out into our gardens under the full moon, naked, and spill our seeds in the soil so that we may grow our fruits and vegetables tall and strong for the Fall Harvest Festival in October.”
Nudity as part of religion? Something tells me Rooster Rock may become a place of pilgrimage for Church of Gay congregants in Portland. Perhaps as early as this summer! However, at the core of any religion or dogma is how beliefs are reflected in actions, and how those actions contribute to the betterment of the world. Think of it as those golden rules you learn as a boy or girl scout. (Granted we live in times when our children are more and more becoming “just scouts,” but this is so recent I am sure most of readers were once stuck into gendered scouting groups.) Carpenter had a beautiful response to this “morality question.”
“The ideal Church of Gay member would demonstrate kindness towards all living creatures. Much like that of St. Francis of Assisi, after whom our Mecca San Francisco, is named. The Archdiocese of the Church of Gay is located in San Francisco, so the church embodies the values of St. Francis. We celebrate diversity and we treat each other, and all life with dignity, kindness, and compassion. These are the values that a typical member would embody."
These are values we should all embody. In the spirit of full-disclosure, Carpenter asked me to be part of his curia, the court of prelates who surrounds the pontiff or pope. He has named me Prince-Archbishop, something I've always wanted to be called. This article has ended; go in peace.