To all who follow or count themselves a part or member of Rainbow Ark.
I am Jarrell (Jeff Hall) the founder of Rainbow Ark in February 2004.
To dispel any rumors, I want to state that I am no longer a Christian. I renounced my faith in June 2016, and declared myself Agnostic. I had wavered between the labels: Agnostic and Deist at the time, but I am currently Agnostic bordering on Atheist. In other words, I see no evidence that there are deities, and for me at present, science does not disprove the existence of deities nor is that its purpose. I remain open and learning as I’ve always tried to be—honest with myself and with my friends.
I realize this comes as a shock to some. My whole purpose for founding Rainbow Ark was to provide a forum of support to those who arriving, felt they had to choose between their orientation or their faith. Seeing as how sexual orientation is not a choice, this dilemma too often ended badly for the individual who could no more change from being LGBT+ as they could change their eye color. If their faith (often of Christian origin) would tell them that God hates LGBT+ people, or more manipulating, that He loves them but requires them to change, because ‘there are no gays in Heaven’ this realization too often ended in costly and psychologically dangerous therapies in an attempt to repair their orientation, or worse, would end in suicide.
The first thing that had to be tackled to counter this problem was to show wiggle room in scripture allowing for an affirmative stance so that an individual could find their own footing and be true to themselves and try to live their life without being self-destructive. Also important was to include testimonies of those who had gone through their own personal struggles, letting the rest of us know that there are ways to navigate through and find happiness and fulfillment once again.
We were successful in doing both of those things. We showed hundreds of people that there was no need to give up their faith in order to live true to their orientation or identity. And we worked within the furry fandom, a place which itself wasn’t hostile to LGBT people, but which was also a haven for Christians who often did clash with others who were not as supposedly moral as they (as if who you’re attracted to has any bearing on how moral you are). We tried to promote peace between these two factions.
So why am I no longer a Christian? Why was I not able to live up to the standard which we tried to provide at least in theory to so many others seeking to retain the faith of their childhood? Basically, why was I not able to practice what I preached, and ultimately gave up my faith?
These are valid questions and I will endeavor here to share with you, the reader, some of the events which led up to this relatively calm decision which I made, and conclusion I came to in my life.
As a child, I had never questioned the existence of God. He was always real to me—a friend who understood me, and not just the things I did, but why I did them. Even if no one else knew the full story, there was someone who knew all, the one taking care of me. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior while I was in junior high school—it was the summer of ‘72 at the conclusion of a revival meeting during an altar call. I lived as a Christian for 43 years from that point.
I received what I believed was the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the apparent evidence of ‘speaking in tongues’ in the mid ‘80s when my pastor at the time prayed with me. What was odd about it is that it seemed to me like I was forming the sounds and phrases based on what I’d heard others do in church. But he said, ‘that’s it, that’s it, no, you got it! You’ll get better with practice...’ So it was a bit of a letdown because I thought God was going to take control of my mouth, not be something that seemed like it was all from me that I needed to practice. But I accepted what the pastor told me, that he obviously knew more about it than I did, and it was something I’d been told I needed and I’d been seeking it for a long time, and so I believed that I received it.
It was during this time that I was president of the Campus Christian Fellowship at San Diego City College. I was fairly anti-gay and it showed in the Christian tracts that I’d made available to fellow students on campus. I later learned that being bisexual (as I am) a Christian is likely to turn their personal struggle with their sexual attractions outward toward others in a kind of personal crusade to curry favor with God. In short, I was repressing my desires, which I would never have been able to admit to myself at the time. There’s some of that honesty I’d mentioned earlier, or the need for it in this case. But after all, if a person is born with the propensity for robbing banks, that doesn’t mean he has to be true to that and follow through with his plans, right? We should fight that urge. It’s our personal ‘cross’ to bear. Even Paul said he struggled with his ‘thorn in the side.’ These are the common Christian foibles which come into play during counseling sessions or personal pep talks at times like this.
As I grew older, I realized the world wasn’t so cut and dried into categories what is ‘of God’ and what is ‘of satan’ (making sure that’s a lower case ‘s’ since, as I thought, it pisses him off) that there were ambiguities, and bad decisions made for good reasons. I began to recognize empathy and goodness in creatures other than humans (the animals who I was taught had no souls and so would not be in Heaven). I still tried to make this all fit in the ‘all things work together for good, for them that love God, for them that are called according to His purpose’ but it was a rubber band that was stretched to near its snapping point. There didn’t seem to be a purpose, instead life seemed rather random. Of course, I was pushing all these things down, tucked them all in an envelope and placed upon it the fragile seal of ‘God knows best’ and ‘my mind is only finite where His is infinite.’
Later on, there was an eye-opening book I’d read called “Misquoting Jesus” which goes into how fallible the supposed ‘Word of God’ is. For the first time I was faced with the fact that we don’t have a pure original codex anymore. But even if we had one, the Jewish tradition of storytelling was what was handed down orally sometimes for decades or centuries before it was ever actually written down. Each time a story was retold in its constant state of flux, a name was changed, an event was altered. They weren’t about what was historically factual, but they were about conveying an idea or a moral. It was easy to add a ‘miracle’ here or there as needed to help preserve interest in the listener as the tale unfolded.
I don’t mean to upset anyone reading this, but I invite you the reader to consider the Bible stories in which there is only one character on the scene, and yet we have complete dialogue preserved. There was no scribe present, and the author of the book lived sometimes centuries after their subject supposedly walked the Earth. Many would say that’s the miracle, that God spoke the words to someone centuries later to record what actually took place. So there are these someones who themselves are all long-dead. We can’t interview any of them, and we don’t even know all of their names. With all of the Christian leaders who are living today, who we are able to interview, who among them—even just one of them—would you feel is qualified to pen the words of God verbatim? I can think of no one, yet we are supposed to have ‘faith’ that the Bible we read is the Word of God—because it says it is. And if we waver, we have the convenient statement of ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’ which is also... in the Bible. So the Bible is the Word, because it says it’s The Word. And we’re admonished not to waver from our faith, because if we do, God won’t be pleased—a God that I have no evidence he even exists, (at least in the way He’s described in the Bible) only the word of some long-dead authors who I cannot interview. So the god I am forced to construct is pieced together in my mind based on the descriptions in these ancient texts from a variety of different people who supposedly heard from Him. Lacking a faith in God isn’t even the issue at hand, but being forced to have faith in the authors, taking them at their word. Again, who do we know among all of the most respected Christian leaders in the world today, would we trust with our lives when they tell us that the word they wrote is God’s Word? These were the realities that hit me squarely that I could not sidestep.
The authors’ absence is only part of the dilemma. Beyond the Nicene conference which employed dubious and unverifiable methods for decisions on what books to, and not to include, there are all of the subsequent steps of translating text over the millennia, done mostly by illiterate people who were only copying the shapes of the letters. Because of this, we have evidence of what we now refer to as liner notes, becoming scripture along with the rest of the text. Also because of this, we have evidence that similar-looking characters were accidentally substituted which changed the words and therefore the meanings of the phrases. Further, there are many scenes which were created at a later date which did not appear in an earlier codex, such as the scene of the accused harlot with Jesus writing in the dust and saying ‘he that is without sin, cast the first stone’ which points to this being completely fabricated. As the foundation of Christianity itself, there is a disturbing lack of literature mentioning Jesus (or Yeshua) beyond the 4 supposed gospels, and the gospels themselves contain many glaring discrepancies between them. Jesus instead appears to be a composite of several characters both in Judea, and borrowed from earlier cultures and religions. Suffice it to say, the modern Bible we have is interesting to read from a literary standpoint, but to try to do painstaking minute word studies on something that is so completely edited, hacked to bits and pieced back together, is undoubtedly more than we should seek to glean from it.
It is thought that the more we study the Word and the more we pray and go to church, the more we grow in God and attain a supposed ‘mind of God’ in our decisions and beliefs and display the ‘fruits of the Spirit.’ I’m here to tell you that I know of no one on Earth who prays more or studies the Word more than my parents. But their Christian love they say they have falls short of loving gay or lesbian people who are not allowed in their house because allowing them would be ‘condoning sin.’ They also think Trump is a good, misunderstood person and that he’s who God wanted to be president. They also hated Obama.
Mind of God? Fruit of the Spirit? So if studying the ‘Word’ and praying to their degree results in this type of thinking, I have zero incentive to do the same because as much as they believe in it, it’s obvious to me it’s doing them no good. Observing these bigoted things in my parents was what snapped the last tenuous thread remaining which held the Christian belief structure in place for me. From there, it all began to unravel.
Further confirmation came later last year with the thousands of Evangelical Christians in America—these are the Bible-believing Christians, the ones who aren’t just playing church, but they’re serious about living for God. They believe in answers to prayer and they seek God’s face in all of their decisions. Approximately 80% of Evangelicals who voted, voted for Trump. This was their political savior and their hero, even after all of the amoral and nonsensical things which came out of his campaign, after all of their prayer and supplication, this was who they believed God was telling them to vote for? Some respected Christian leaders like Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker are even now, referring to him as a type of messiah. So as far as leadership in the Christian faith, which is supposedly managed by the Holy Spirit, I’m experiencing a total lack of role models—those who I should supposedly be trying to emulate in my Christian walk. There are infinitely more examples of common decency among lay people. But by and large, prayerful Evangelical Christians are why we are all currently enduring the horror known as Trump.
So my take-away from this thing called prayer can only be one of 3 things: either God is an a**hole who likes messing with us and watching people suffer and die, or he/she/it doesn’t exist at all, or he/she/it does exist but prayer is a man-made wishful-thinking device to somehow make us think we’re communing with the divine when there is no reliable connection.
You ask, “What about all the good people who are Christians? They’re not all like that.” No they’re not. But what I’ve observed is that there are good people and bad people who are Atheists, and there are good people and bad people who are Christians. And the people who are good, would be good with or without a religious belief. They possess empathy and that’s what makes most of the difference. They don’t feel threatened when someone else gets the same rights they have. They’re able to share in others’ joy. The lie I was taught by pastors all my life, that there is no regard for right and wrong outside of a belief in God... they’ve never witnessed like I have, an Atheist do something that was the right thing in a difficult situation, when they thought no one was watching, apart from expecting any divine reward, or divine penalty if they failed, as Christians believe.
Some would say, that just because I believe Christianity is flawed (at least what it has evolved into in the West) doesn’t mean there is no God. But I’ve observed that belief in particular versions of a god or gods is contingent upon what continent a person is born on, and into what culture they’re raised.
If you’re born in North America, it’s Christianity here, and the rest of the world mostly seems like a missionary field to proselytize and indoctrinate until all of ‘the others’ have the same view and belief in God as I do. In India, it’s mostly Hinduism. We scoff at their many anthropomorphized gods and all of the lore that goes with how they came into being and how the world was created. But we Christians, we have a garden, and a single man and woman, and a piece of fruit and a talking snake. And God walked among them because they were sinless, but of course now we’re all born into sin that we have to be cleansed from later on, so that’s why we don’t see God anymore because He can’t coexist with sin. How convenient. In China, you might be a Buddhist, in the Middle East you’re likely to be a Muslim or practice Judaism, on opposing sides of an ancient struggle which is unresolvable. You might learn of other faiths later on, but you’re likely going to go with the one you’re familiar with—the one you understand and identify with. Any one of these will seem like the one true religion or philosophy to the one practicing it and the others will seem like counterfeits, or strange, or incomplete.
Religion and a god-belief, as it now seems to me, has always been about a way of describing something before a time that there was a science to rationally explain it. In the Bible we have no indication that we live on a spherical Earth, and so Christianity was the main (not the only) religious source of flat-earth belief. When it was discovered (and finally accepted by most people) that the Earth is in fact spherical, then the issue switched to why certain heretics (read: scientists) were not agreeing with the ‘fact’ that the Earth was stationary at the center, with the Sun, Moon, and stars all revolving around us, like what is in the Bible when it speaks of the Earth’s pillars, or its foundation, or what is ‘obviously’ the case when we view the day and night skies. Galileo had to wait several hundred years after his death to receive an apology from the Catholic church because he showed us (as did Copernicus) the Sun was at the center, and that the Earth was just one of several other planets in elliptical orbits.
At each stage, religion has had to be dragged along, always the last to admit evidence in any subject while the rest of the world learned, and moved on. Religion has always had to receive some new ‘revelation’ to be able to advance, although never quite catching up with the science and the knowledge of the time. Religious leaders have started most of the wars over who of them had the best deity. Religious leaders have stifled and slowed down scientific advances which could have helped people for decades prior, before reluctantly giving in.
Religious people are also those who have provided aid in time of war and famine, exhibiting extraordinary courage and selflessness in their devotion, care, and love for others. They are often some of the most thankful people, sometimes giving all they have for the well-being of others. They’re often the most patient people, trustworthy, always ready to lend a hand.
But once again, it comes back to the person. We’re taught we’re nothing without God. But what if religious people who are good, would be good, and be thankful, and be trustworthy even if they didn’t have a religion? Maybe they discover things about themselves through studying their religion, but maybe those things were already there inside them.
So here we are, at Rainbow Ark. We started out with the triad: Christian, furry, and LGBT+, but later that Christian portion was opened up to include interfaith. Some might ask if this was a change in conjunction with me beginning to question my faith. I can tell you that really had nothing to do with it. That change took place April 2014 at a time I was still very much a professing Christian. And anyway, that was something you all voted on, and I was only overseeing it. It seemed to be the logical direction we were taking considering the homophobia that exists in other faiths beyond Christianity, and you all not wanting to turn away someone in need just because they had a different religion.
But I can imagine how I’d feel if I were wanting to join a faith group, only to find out the founder is now an Atheist. Many of you didn’t sign up for this. It wasn’t on your radar, and I can say with all honesty it wasn’t on mine either a few short years ago. I am able to say that the few friends I’ve come out to have been overwhelmingly positive and not judgmental. As far as I’m concerned, my pledge is still the same as it’s been to do all I can to make sure this is a safe space for its members regardless of religious beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities.
I would say the one thing that has changed is I can’t honestly pray with you, because I don’t believe there is a deity who answers prayer, but if others want to pray with you, they can definitely do that. I hope you consider me a faith ally. You have the right to believe in whatever you want. I know firsthand how real it can all seem and I respect that—I respect each person wherever they are in their journey. But know this, I will not stand by and suggest that someone stay with a particular faith that is obviously toxic to their well-being. If you don’t feel you can reconcile your faith with your orientation, I think you know where I would stand with that.
So if you’ll still have me, I’m still here. Though frankly, I don’t know what Rainbow Ark will look like in a year or less, considering the change in LiveJournal’s terms of service which is suddenly so blatantly anti-LGBT, now aligning with the stances of the Russian government who of course owns LiveJournal. There are currently 18 LGBT+ communities which still have a measure of activity, and I guess as long as they’re still around, we’re among them. But when the hammer comes down it might be swift. We’ll just have to see what happens.
Beyond LJ, we have this website. It’s actually been nearly 18 months since we’ve received a donation for web hosting and domain registration and we’re currently at a deficit of about $170. Of course, that’s been paid, but it’s been out of my pocket. Do I keep that up? I probably can. But the lack of donations might mean a lack of attendance or current need for us to be around. So time will tell there. I am not begging for donations, but I’m just stating a symptom which might mean that we’ve come close to the end of our usefulness as an organization.
We’re also on FurAffinity and Twitter. The former might be our next likely main gathering place if our LJ is closed. What I might do over time is to add more of FurAffinity’s watchers as admin to try to emulate the experience we’ve enjoyed on LJ these past 13+ years of anyone being able to post an entry. We’re also looking at the possibility of opening a journal on Dreamwidth. We’ll monitor these things closely over time. If you have any suggestions or comments about anything I’ve written here, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and thank you for reading.