For local businessman Eric Kanagy, religion isn’t a large part of his life now.
Though there were many factors, one of the major reasons why he doesn’t attend church is that he doesn’t feel welcome because he is homosexual.
“There’s a belief that gay people aren’t equal,” he said. “It’s something I fundamentally disagree with.”
Kanagy, who grew up in a Mennonite church, said he feels like many religious individuals express their opinions as based in religion, though in reality he feels like they are based on someone’s opinions.
Though he’s found a welcoming community in Goshen from Goshen College and other outlets, he said he still has difficulty with organized religion’s approach to homosexuality.
“What turned me off (from organized religion),” Kanagy explained, “is that I would be different because this part of me is fundamentally sinful.”
Kanagy was involved with the proposed amendment to Goshen’s civil rights ordinance voted on in September 2009 by the City Council. The amendment, which did not pass, would have added sexual orientation to the city’s nondiscrimination clause. Kanagy was a major voice in support of the ordinance, and he spoke at the open hearing of the City Council meeting that filled Goshen High School’s auditorium to capacity.
“I was really angry for about five minutes (after the decision came down),” he said. “I was upset about the decision, but then I realized that I had finally said that this is what’s important for us. We had pastors, and old people, and young people, and us, all standing together.”
Kanagy said he would like to ask people who are in opposition of homosexuality if they know anyone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT). It’s often with this first-hand knowledge that opinions change, he said.
“It’s transformative, on a level,” he said. “A lot of times it takes a family member or close friend coming out. It’s the same as race or gender — you are born that way. Why, if you can choose, would you choose a path that’s more difficult?”
Fighting for souls
Having “same-sex attraction” isn’t a sin, according to Patrick Mangan, the executive director of Citizens for Community Values of Indiana (CCV), a statewide organization of “pro-family” citizens that fight special rights for homosexuals, pornography and other issues they find sinful or harmful.
The sin, Mangan believes, comes in acting on those attractions, whether in thought or deed.
“If you approach this thought as Scripture determines it, it’s sexual sin,” Mangan said. “Jesus soundly and roundly calls it a sin.”
Mangan said he has been involved with helping and talking to people for help with “same-sex attraction,” as Mangan puts it.
Since his time as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, Mangan said he has helped many people come to Jesus and be able to free themselves from homosexuality.
“In the course of my experience,” he explained, “I would say 70 percent of the people who have approached me for help with same-sex attraction were exposed to it through same-sex molestation.”
Mangan said he places some blame on the “political” GLBT movement of outspoken activists for making people stay homosexual.
“These people are told by the political aspect of the movement that, ‘This isn’t a behavior. This is who you are — you have to be homosexual,’ Mangan said. “... There isn’t any scientific evidence for this.”
Mangan said his first experience with homosexuality was an acquaintance at college that he helped break free from sin and come to God.
Through this experience, he said he learned how to handle this attraction, as well as ways to address it in the community.
“Jesus said (to the adulteress after he saved her from a public stoning death), ‘Go and sin no more,’” Mangan said. “This is what Jesus says to homosexuals. If the GLBT movement will not tolerate Jesus saying, ‘Go and sin no more,’ then they are on a collision course with Christianity... We can totally reject this behavior, but not the person.”
Linda Arbogast isn’t a lesbian.
However, she sympathizes with those who are GLBT because of her own perspective, through experiences she sees in her own family and in those of the members of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart (UUFE), where she attends.
She said that her daughter, Lisa Hunter, is bisexual — and that’s OK with her.
“The joy in this church (UUFE) is that everyone is precious,” she said. “One of the problems I have with Christians is that they go racing back to the Old Testament to justify their opinions. What happens in this congregation is complete comfort.”
Arbogast has been a member of the UUFE congregation for more than 40 years. She said her daughter, who was raped by a family member at a very young age, has empowered her support of the GLBT community.
“My daughter has had challenges all of her life. She’s also extremely gifted,” Arbogast said. “She was intelligent in math in college, and she majored in art with a minor in math.”
Hunter said she was affected by a gay hate crime in Kalamazoo while she attended college at Western Michigan University during the mid-1980s.
On May 25, 1985, Harry Wayne Watson, 32, was beaten to death with a sledgehammer, according to Kalamazoo County prosecutors in 1986.
His accused killer, Terry B. Kerr, 17, said that Watson “made a homosexual advance” to one of his friends, and it was self-defense after a fight started, according to a Jan. 18, 1986 article from the Kalamazoo Gazette, which ran during Kerr’s trial.
Kerr claimed that the weapon used was not a sledgehammer, but rather a log found at the scene. He was later acquitted.
“I was a part of a group, called Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Support,” Hunter said. “We went out and protested at the trial and verdict. I was in the group before then, but after I took a much more active role.”
Hunter said she even led the group for a semester after the two founders, her close friends, graduated.
“It’s still going on the campus,” Hunter said. “Back then, it even had non-college members, including people from Kalamazoo and local high school students.”
Arbogast said her daughter gives her hope for acceptance and understanding of the homosexual community.
“My daughter inspired me,” Arbogast said, tears in her eyes. “Instead of the mother inspiring the daughter, it was the other way around.”
Arbogast said she turns to her faith and her church to find a place of peace.
“This is open and nonjudgmental,” she said. “I can still have a deep respect for my Christian roots.”
With the Lord’s help
Struggling with a drug addiction, Barbara Curlett turned to Spiritual and Personal Adjustments (SPA) Women’s Ministry in Elkhart in December 2005 for help.
Within the walls of the six-month residential program, however, she found much more than she originally came for — including the ability to break free from her homosexuality.
Curlett said she lived a “lesbian lifestyle” from the ages of 29 to 55, with time spent in bars and participating in other behaviors she now finds sinful and distracting from God’s path.
“SPA accepted me knowing I was gay,” she said. “I struggled in that, because I went in saying, ‘Being lesbian is OK because God loves me and made me this way.’”
Through personal devotions during the program, Curlett said she didn’t question her sexuality at the beginning, but grew more and more “unsettled” in her status as a lesbian.
“I said I wanted to follow the Lord, so I said I would be gay but wouldn’t practice it,” she said. “I would be celibate. But I still felt unsettled.”
Curlett called her behavior “belligerent,” saying she didn’t want to give up that lifestyle because she felt she didn’t need to.
“But God wanted me to be living in my full potential... Eventually, I got to the point where I said, ‘Lord, if you don’t want me to be gay, take it away from me because I’m not sure if: A. I can do it on my own, and B. If I want to,’” she said. “Eventually, I woke up one day and realized I didn’t have those attractions to women anymore.”
She said the strangest thing about her heterosexuality is that she wants to have a normal marriage.
“I never wanted that,” she said. “I told my mom when I was 7 that I didn’t want to get married or ever have kids... In a snap of God’s fingers, He removed my desire for all those perverse desires. Now, the thought of myself with a woman turns my stomach.”
Now, several years out of the program and after her transformation from God, she said she is happier.
“You can’t choose against God. He’s the Creator, you’re just the serf, so to say, the child,” Curlett said. “As a Father does, He wants the best for you. He doesn’t want you sitting in your own mire, which was my drugs and homosexuality.”
Curlett said everyone needs to look and see where God wants you to go in life.
“I can’t even claim that I gave (my homosexuality) up,” she said. “I think he removed it from me.”