Deconstructing Your Faith and Reconstructing Christianity as a Queer Christian with Dr. Michael Tatonetti

Are you deconstructing your faith? Have you ever walked through a season of life where you’ve questioned your beliefs or why you believe them? In today’s episode, Dr. Michael Tatonetti joins us to share his own journey to deconstructing Christianity as an active leader in the church after he came out as gay a few years ago. Listen in as he shares how his faith has still held on while he’s walked through hurtful experiences from loved ones and revisited his beliefs.

This is Season 2 Episode 4 of Here’s the Tea with Akua

Here’s the Tea with Akua is a safe space to learn about hot topics, gain a new perspective and have a greater understanding of the people around us. You’ll hear amazing stories of everyday people like you and me. They’ll be spilling the tea and giving us an honest look into their lives. As we discuss topics such as race, relationships, mental health, and how to just figure out the thing called life, we’d love to have you subscribe on Apple PodcastSpotify, or your favorite podcast player!

Important Parts of the Conversation:

Get to Know Michael (2:15)

Michael’s Faith Journey (4:12)

Wrestling with Doubts (7:27)

Michael’s Journey with Sexual Identity & Coming Out 3 Times (10:43)

Emotions of Being Closeted in a Faith Community (18:00)

Exclusion After Coming Out (23:19)

Deconstruction Journey (27:20)

Reconstructing Journey (43:25)

Deconstructing Your Faith

Review the Transcript:

Akua Konadu
Welcome to here’s the tea with Akua. That’s me, and this is a place where we have candid conversations about various hot topics. Each week, you’ll be hearing some amazing stories of everyday people like you and me, there’ll be spilling the tea and giving us an honest look into their lives. I believe that our stories are powerful, and when shared, they can change not only our perspectives, but also our lives. No topic is off limits. So have a seat and get ready because we are going to be making uncomfortable conversation comfortable.

Akua Konadu
Hey, y’all, welcome back to a nother episode of here’s the tea with Akua. And this conversation, I’m going to be honest, it might ruffle some feathers, but I could really care less because I feel like this is such an important topic to talk about. And I feel like there’s a lot of us who are struggling with this in private, and maybe don’t feel necessarily comfortable on how to move forward or what questions to ask or you know how to navigate stuff with their faith. So I’m really really excited because today we are going to be talking about deconstructing Christianity and I am super excited for our our guests because he is fantastic. I feel like we like have kind of become like fast friends and I love it because he is fabulous. Like y’all are going to love him. And if you do not know who Dr. Tatonetti is, y’all need to get to know him. Okay, so Hello, Dr. Michael Tatonetti, how are

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
you? I’m well, how are you doing?

Akua Konadu
Good. I just love saying your name. And people probably listening like what the hell is wrong?

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
At least you said correctly, so I’m okay with it.

Akua Konadu
I feel like I have to slow down to say it. So I really want to put the emphasis and the t’s the emphasis on my last name. So yes, but I’m so excited to have you here. super thankful. And so before we hop in, like I said, we’re going to be talking about deconstructing Christianity. And so before we hop into like the nitty gritty of it, share with us who you are and how you’re making your mark in the world.

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
Yeah, so I’m Michael, and I’m a lot of things. I’m a Christian, I’m a gay man. I’m a father of five. I am a business owner, I run a consulting firm with nonprofits. You have a lot of things, a lot of things, I tap dance, I hike, I run, I do a lot of fun things. So yeah, I would say I’m making my mark on the world, by this probably sounds really, I don’t know, altruistic, but I feel like I’m just living authentically and showing who I am and all the facets of who I am. And hopefully that’s giving permission, or inspiration, at least for other people to also live authentically. So I would say that’s how I’m making my mark on this world while I’m here. I love

Akua Konadu
that because you truly do inspire me on a daily basis with how like, honest you are. And he truly is somebody that like really sticks to his boundaries, does not care how people feel in that sense, you know what I mean? Like you are really all about, like nourishing yourself taking care of who you are, so you can be the best for others. So that’s something that like inspires me about you that I’ve seen, like, as our friendship has been growing. So I love that. So let’s just dive in here. What because I like I said before, I know there are a lot of people, especially in 2020, after everything that George Floyd happened, I think a lot of people morally started to question their faith. And for me personally, before George Floyd, I already started questioning my faith. I had worked in ministry for a year. And that was not the best experience for me. So I actually had officially decided to walk away from the church, but like, it’s something that I have been struggling internally with. And I know a lot of other people have to because I’ve had personal conversations with like people in my DMs and stuff like that. So I’m really looking forward to this talk. And so let’s just take it back. So what has your faith journey been like?

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
Yeah, so my faith journey, you know, has been, I would, I would say, interesting. I grew up more like Roman Catholic, which really just meant going to church on Easter and Christmas. So faith wasn’t actually a strong part of growing up. It became very strong for me when I got to college, and that’s when Long story short, really leaned into faith and became a Christian and I would I would use the terminology that you know, I was saved I really met Jesus for myself. And from there I got caught up in kind of the fundamentalist you know, evangelical world, meaning more probably conservative, even though I would have said I was moderate and I definitely was I was liberal in some ways still, but following, you know, kind of the group think of it all Oh, so politically, I would stray from the evangelicals, but in other ways, and how I viewed marriage and how I viewed sexuality, and things like that I was very, very much so caught up in that world. And I was in it for quite a while until, you know, I just kind of couldn’t reconcile who I was with my beliefs, it felt like a level of cognitive dissonance. And I had to evaluate and make some changes. But I was all in when I was when I was in I went to Bible college, I transferred from my what we would say, you know, secular university, just meaning that a Christian, you know, school, but I transferred from that to a Bible college, got my bachelor’s degree, got my master’s degree from seminary, got my doctorate of ministry from seminary. So I was all in working in churches, writing books, speaking, preaching, all the things, and I think just probably playing the good archetype role of what a Christian should be, especially here in Atlanta, where I’m at in the South. I’m not originally from the south, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, but moved here after college and just got kind of swept up in that in that world. So yeah, so I would say that’s kind of my my faith experience. My faith was always I would say, before I deconstructed and now reconstructing, I would say that I struggled with a lot of things. I just think that we’re not encouraged to share some of those questions or wrestling’s is, you know, we’d like to use the word wrestle a lot with our faith. And, yeah, it wasn’t really encouraged. So it was more of a behind the scenes private thing. And I might discuss it with some close friends, but it just wasn’t encouraged. You know, to really wrestle, I would say, publicly and, and ask questions and ponder.

Akua Konadu
Yeah, if you like. And for me personally, like, I didn’t give my life to Christ until about maybe like six years ago, I think we’re about like, six or seven years ago now. And I always felt guilty for questioning certain things. And that’s just in general, right? Because I feel like I finally had to accept that it’s okay to question your faith, it’s okay to question. Everything that you’re seeing, because a lot of what we get, like a lot of what we’ve been told to come from people and man is broken, right. So I guess for you like, did you kind of feel similar in that sense, where like you felt really guilty a lot of the time with whatever it was that you’re wrestling with the questions that you have regarding your faith?

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
Yeah, I mean, I think that for me, the types of things I wrestled with, were mostly social issues, social justice issues, right? So for me, like, I’ve always believed that black lives matter. And it’s, I don’t want to get too much into the politics of it all. Of course, that’s not the focus of this episode. But I would say that, even though a lot of my white friends meant well, they just don’t get it right. Like, like they don’t. And I would say, you know, again, being a gay man who was closeted for so many years, wrestling with that wrestling with, just for me, it always felt hypocritical that we would spend two or $3,000 to send someone on a one week missionary trip to basically colonize truly, like give white Christianity, instead of just giving that support, because we’ll send 20 kids on spring break, without thinking and that can cost 40 $50,000, instead of just giving that relief directly to the place where maybe they could do more good work on their own, or we send one person, but let’s also send medical need food need not just spiritual need. And I know that’s controversial, because again, we think, well, our kingdom, you know, it’s about heaven. It’s not about here. But we have practical needs in Scripture also says that if you see someone who needs food, clothing, and you’re able to help, don’t just say, I will pray for you, you actually help them? Yes. So, for me, I wrestled a lot with that. I also wrestled with that then with systematic theology, I’ve always looked at systematic theology as Jenga, like you can have all these beliefs, and they’re kind of stacked on each other. And they’re, they’re interdependent. And when you take out one, it can make them all collapse. So when I start questioning things, like sending missionaries, willy nilly, and it really is just to make these, you know, these kids, usually it’s high schoolers feel good about themselves with these adults feel good about themselves. Come back, like, oh, God’s bless me as if that’s favor. And that’s it. Because really what that saying then is, Does God not favor those other people who are living in conditions less than you? So when you start opening up that can of worms and asking these questions, then it produces guilt, it produces a lapse in theology. And so it’s better to not question and just keep going, right. Yeah. So I think for me, I questioned a lot of social things, more than hardcore theology, like biblical interpretation. And but but then it kind of became Jenga and everything kind of fell apart. Is that good questions? Yeah.

Akua Konadu
Yeah, yeah, no, I think I just love that you touched base on that, because I feel like especially in 2020 it was a lot of socially like socially. I mean, I’ve always I’m African American, I believe my life matters shit. Like, you know what I mean? And I’m an ally of the LGBTQ plus community, like, you know, like those things, human rights and stuff like that is something that’s super important. And so like, I think there’s a lot of people that are struggling with that. But to me, like human rights shouldn’t be a political issue. But that’s a whole different conversation anyways, and same thing with white savior ism, that’s a whole different conversation. But I love that you were able to bring those points up, though, because I think a lot of people are struggling in many, many different areas regarding their faith and like this is you have every right to ask questions and don’t feel guilty or shame about that. So I love that you touched base on that. So going back to your sexuality, what has your journey with your sexual identity been like for you?

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
Yeah, so I mean, I’ve known since I was like, four that I was gay like that. It was never a question for me. I came out multiple times, I like to say I came out three times. And you know, third time was the charm for me. So I’ve always known that I was gay, again, growing up in a home that wasn’t super religious. But I would say a little bit more conservative, especially when it came to views on being queer. It wasn’t encouraged, I came out when I was in ninth grade, it wasn’t encouraged, I have a sense of therapy, like, No, we’re gonna change this. And then I went back in the closet. And I was like, okay, great, it kind of conditioned me like, Okay, I can’t be out, you know, it’s not a, it’s not going to be loved and embraced. And I still dated like, guys in high school, and I just kept it on the download. And then when I got to college, and I became a Christian, that’s when I start getting this message of it’s a sin, and it’s a choice. And there’s this terminology, I won’t name names, because I don’t want to, you know, like, penalize anyone. But there’s definitely thought leaders who I used to love that, you know, promote things like saying, well use the terminology that you’re same sex attracted, and you’re not gay, don’t use that term, because that’s your identity. That’s not your identity in Christ. So don’t say that, you know, just say that you struggle with same sex attraction. But if you can find a woman that you’re attracted to then marry her have kids, like, that’s God’s design, and if not be celibate. And for me being celibate, like alone, like no kids, no partner, no love, no affection, no one to come home to at night, like no one to build a life with and build memories with that sounded so depressing. And so, you know, with respect to my ex wife, you know, I won’t go too deep. But, you know, I did get married, we were best friends, we had been for years. And we still have love for each other, we’re still best friends. And it’s very amicable, which is not always the case. But you know, I followed my faith, like, I followed duty, and what I thought I was supposed to do. And so I got married. And so it wasn’t, you know, we loved each other, we supported each other, we, you know, we had a great marriage outside of the fact that I was gay. I feel like we had an amazing marriage, all of our friends loved it, like, all of that it really was good outside of that. We had kids together, you know, and even that’s a question sometimes gay men, gay women, of course, as well who get married. But especially gay men typically only have one or two kids, you know, they don’t have five. But to me, that’s not an indicator or makes you any less who you are. Right? It’s, it’s, it’s, you’re doing the best with what you know, at that time. And so I struggled a lot with it. Before we had kids, there was a moment where, you know, I really struggled and I was like, I don’t know and we had a conversation about it. This was probably cuz we got married young, we were 19 Why just turned 20. So we were young, you know, evangelicalism is very much like, get married at a young age, purity culture, don’t have sex before marriage. So we got you know, we were, you know, burning with desire, as they say, right? Well, you know, maybe not both of us, but

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
I had desires. Maybe this will solve it, maybe this is all. And so, you know, probably probably around 26, we had a conversation and and we had a few months where we, I would say we’d lightly separated like we stayed in the same house, but we kind of withdrew. And we had conversation. But another thing I think that people don’t talk about enough, especially for queer people who get married to someone that they it is not in alignment with their sexual orientation is you you know, think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This person becomes your belonging, your safety, and so you have physical resources tied up with finances home, right. And it’s hard to walk away from all of that. It’s very hard to disrupt and break up a home. And so even if you don’t have kids, and so it kind of becomes this no, let’s make it work. And then faith I think reinforces that of, no like, make it work, make it work, whatever it takes sacrifice, right, die to yourself. My needs don’t matter my desires, my desire for love. My desire for companionship with a man my desire to be intimate with a man does not matter. I need to run my race stay focused on Jesus. And this is what that looks like. And I just don’t think there was enough representation. You know, I don’t even blame like my family for their reaction. You know, when I came out the first time it was 2000. And you know, you’re thinking, we just came off the height of the AIDS epidemic and how gay men were literally, the government did not care about us, literally just being left to die. And, you know, they were fearful, you know, Matthew Shepard who just happened, like, I think, too, before I came out, so they’re thinking of that, like, here’s my safety, and am I going to be killed or hurt? So so I get sociologically, how we get to this point, and people maybe are not as accepting and faith is not as accepting. But then I came up for the last time about three years ago now just over three years ago, and I was 32 at the time. And, yeah, I came out that time, and I just, I knew I couldn’t go back in the closet, like I do. For me personally, even outside of my faith, I knew that I was at like a fork in the road where either I was going to continue to overeat. Because that’s how I coped, I was stressed, I was angry, I had high blood pressure, I had anxiety. And I felt like, if I don’t change this, I’m not going to be around for my kids, like by 40, or 50, I’m going to have a heart attack, I’m going to die like something my mental health is not there, I’m going to get depressed, something I’ve struggled with depression, with suicidal ideation, all that. And I knew either I’m going to make this change or not. But then the hard part was, then I had to deconstruct my faith. Because the faith that I had in my foundation, my secure foundation, was not in alignment with where I was going. And so it was a very hard, it felt like, I was going to possibly die either way, I was either going to physically die, because I was lying to everyone around me and not being authentic, or I was afraid that I would spiritually die that I would go to hell. But I would be allowed to live authentically.

Akua Konadu
There’s just so much to unpack within that, like so good. And just hearing your perspective is super eye opening, because I I’m not gay, you know what I mean, I don’t identify a part of the LGBTQ plus community. And so just realizing how I can get up every day, single day and live out my truth and live out a life that feels alignment to me and not have to worry about what people are gonna say, or what people are gonna do or worry about the dangers of any of that, in that sense. You know what I mean? And so, it’s for the fact that you knew since you were four, and then all the way out, it’s like, it’s, it’s clearly a journey, like coming out, it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a brave, courageous thing to do, especially in a faith community, you know what I mean? And so, did you feel like a lot of like, self hate? Like, what were some of some of those emotions that you were experiencing? Throughout that time, especially when you gave your life to Christ? And and you’re hearing like, well, this is completely wrong, but this is who I am. Like, how are you feeling throughout that process?

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
Yeah, I mean, why cringe because one memory that I have that I literally will cringe every time I think about it, is you know, after I gave my life to Christ, within a year, I was giving a testimony. And literally, I remember one time that I gave it on my college campus. And I had two friends who were gay, who had come to the campus ministry stuff. And I remember giving a testimony of you know why I struggled with it, and I’m not gay anymore. I’m straight. And I said that and I cringe. I like my heartbreaks, right now thinking about that, because I saw the disappointment in their eyes. They were people of faith, who were coming and hoping for change. And they respected that I had chosen to get married and not be with a man. And they weren’t my friends before all this, like we met at that, you know that that academic year. But I carried I mean, I did damage, I definitely did damage. In my own ignorance. I also carried my own feelings, like I carried a lot of guilt, especially after, you know, choosing to leave my marriage and break up my family, right, like choosing to raise my kids in a divorced home. With two separate homes and all of that, I carried a lot of guilt. I genuinely was afraid that I was going to go to hell, like I struggled a lot with, what’s my identity going to be? One thing that I also struggled with this is where representation really does matter. You know, the queer community is not a monolith. Like, even being gay, like forget that there’s, you know, gay and bi and lesbian and transgender and pansexual, and asexual and arrow and all these different identities under our rainbow. There’s, for me growing up, like, I rarely saw gay people on television. And then when I do, it’s mostly like party scene. And so again, like that only reinforces this stereotype in my mind, that if I choose to live my life, openly as a gay man, that does that look like marriage again, does that look like stability like and now I know that now there is representation and I have friends like in real life, and I’ve been in healthy relationships with men, and I see that I can be gay and be a Christian, and I can have a healthy life a loving life that I want. And I’ve also realized there’s nothing wrong with people having different experiences in life that I have friends who are polyamorous that I have friends who are monogamous that I friends you don’t like, and everything works for everyone. But again, like growing up, it was very much this you get married, you move to the suburbs kind of mentality. And that’s what’s reinforced. So yeah, there was a lot of fear. There was a lot of being afraid there was a lot of me damaging my kids. Am I damaging my ex wife? Am I going to love my life? Like I have this fantasy in my head of what it’s going to be. But is it going to be that? Am I going to regret coming out and leaving my marriage? Or am I going to find happiness? And yeah, there’s a lot of a lot of confusing feelings, a lot of conflicting feelings. It’s hard. It takes a lot of resilience to come out at any age. I mean, I’ve had experience coming out in high school, I’ve had experience coming out my 20s and my 30s. And I didn’t stay out every time. But like it all of it takes a different level of resiliency, I think of like the Trevor Project is a nonprofit, I really love to support and they work with LGBTQ youth. Because when you come out in high school or middle school, you might lose literally your home, your your parents paying for things, what if you’re in college even and they’re supporting tuition, and you feel like you have to stay in the closet or you can’t or your housing or your food, like your basic needs may not be met. So it is it is a very courageous thing. And yeah, there were a lot of conflicting feelings, but you push through, it’s like, like Maya Angelou said, you know, Still I Rise, like, like, it’s I’m still like, I’ve learned resiliency, and I’m here and, and my faith is still intact. Now, that’s been a journey.

Akua Konadu
But yes, that’s all of this has just been so good. And your story is just so powerful, because I just wanna make this point quick before I just hop into this next question that just came to mind. But like, I don’t think people realize what you’re asking people especially like, with being gay and being involved in ministry and the church and asking them to be like, Well, yeah, you just go ahead and marry somebody else. Or, you know, you just stay alone. Like, you’re not alone. You know, you know what I mean? Like, that’s a lot that you were asking somebody to do to suppress who they are the way that God has made them. It’s a big ask. And I think a lot of times, it’s addressed in the church as if it’s like a little speck all the time, which drives me crazy, even like, a lot of churches, they’ll be like, yeah, all are welcome. But then they’ll kind of subtly put it in like their their sermon, like, oh, homosexuality, you know, like, God, you know what I mean? They’ll do it very subtly. So like, yeah, of course, you can come and come to church if you’re gay, but I’m not gonna marry up but we love your attendance. And we love you know, your money and all of these different types of things. And I’m like, but not everybody is welcome. So let’s have a real conversation about it, you know, they need or like the church that I was working at they I was, I had heard from the youth ministry, because there were some kids who identify were part of the LGBTQ plus community. And they weren’t even allowed to be a part of like the volunteer team. I’m like, Sunday’s with like the main service and stuff like that. And I was like, we all deserve to be in a space where we are celebrated not tolerated. So sorry, I’m I’m like a tangent there. But I just getting real

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
annoying. Oh, yeah, but no, but that, but that was my experience. When I did come out. Three years ago, I was leading to different small groups at one church. I was on the preaching team, like, like helping develop sermons and all that I wrote the entire Christmas, like five part Christmas series. For the six months after I came out, I came out in May of 19. I had already written like, this entire Christmas series, they still use it in December, but I was no longer allowed on stage to help teach it. And it what the dissonance there becomes, before you knew that I was gay, you saw the Holy Spirit in me and you saw the fruit of my ministry, I say that I’m gay, then it all goes away as if that wasn’t there. And it’s for me, it was very mind blowing it it’s very confusing. And again, it’s these are your people, this is your community. These are your friends. So it’s not just oh, now I don’t have a church to go to on Sunday for an hour or two or four if you’re Pentecostal, now. It’s, I don’t have my friends. I don’t have my network. My kids have friends that they played with, but now I’m not friends with their parents anymore. So now my kids lose their friends. Or it’s awkward now when I see you down the street. And so or if I see you at a restaurant, or when you’re behind me in line at the supermarket, so it’s it’s it’s your entire life comes crumbling down when you choose to walk away from the church, but yes, the church is absolutely willing to use you. Well, yes, follow what they want. Outside of that, that’s it like, I actually I’m just gonna leave it there. But that’s that’s absolutely what it’s like.

Akua Konadu
Yeah. And like you have worked way longer than I have in ministry, but the year that I was there, I hated it. And so because it’s like you literally sacrifice your life. like your whole network, your community, everything you are at the church, seven days a week, no days off, like, you know what I mean? It truly is all that you know, and then to have it just be stripped away now and all of a sudden, it’s like you’re not even anointed anymore. That’s, that’s extremely traumatic like it’s

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
is, especially when you’ve invested like your degrees, history and all of that. And the thing is, I loved ministry, I didn’t like the ugly side, you see all the ugly behind the scenes. You know, people talk, you see all that, but I still liked it, because I believed in it not not like for evangelism, but just I really believe I believed and still believe, for me, knowing Jesus, I feel like makes me a better human, just not in the way that other people have presented Jesus to me. You know, this, this systematic theology that I was given this package theology, but for me, I believed in it, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s it kind of almost at that point is like a cult, where your entire life is wrapped up in it. One of the things I want to say randomly, everything I’m sharing right now is my experience. And so I might say something that might offend someone, because it’s not their experience, or I’m using the wrong terminology. And there’s grace for that. Like, I’m not saying, Oh, well, I’m saying, I’m always open to learning. But likewise, my experience may not be everybody else’s experience. So other people might even hear what we’re saying right now and go, Oh, it’s not that bad. And maybe for you, it wasn’t, and that’s reforming churches. I’m now finding affirming churches, but that but so everyone’s experience is unique. And like, it’s almost like quick disclaimer, like what I’m saying, is my experience, not universal truth for every person, or everyone’s experiences, but like my experience, right? Yeah. So I just I feel like saying that, as well, as we’re having this, like deep conversation, ya know,

Akua Konadu
110%, like, you know, to your point, like, my experience is extremely different, obviously, and my experiences working in ministry and whatnot. And I’ve made the decisions that I’ve chosen to make and whether people stay or whatever, like, your spaces are still valid. Absolutely. And I’m happy for people that find a church home and like they feel invested with their faith, and they’re in a good, good place. You know, there’s so yeah, I love I love that you brought that up. And so let’s kind of get into it, too. So what has your deconstruction journey been? Like? Like, what are some core things that you felt like you had to really like, break down?

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
Yeah, so it’s been a journey is the right way to put it. And it’s been a hard one, it’s been a long one, it has not been an easy one. But it’s a worthy one. So for me, I really, I would say I lightly was starting to deconstruct my faith before I came out. So for me, even back to Trayvon Martin, that was something that really shook my core that was I believe, 2617 are?

Akua Konadu
Oh, my gosh, you’re

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
probably right. I feel like it was actually like, 2012 I think you’re correct. Yeah. Or was it after? I apologize, I off the top. I can’t and it’s unfortunate, like, I can’t remember it, because we’ve had so many damn killings of black and brown people, especially just to the degree that it’s been televised, or social media side, I would say, but the point is, you know, you know, Austin Brown, like, just like all these men that have been, but Trayvon for me was a big turning point. Also Tamir Rice. I’m from Cleveland. I wasn’t living in Cleveland at the time. But but but that young boy, I mean, for me, I already started deconstructing in certain ways, because of what I would say is a clear institutional assault on black and brown bodies by our police force in America. And for me, I had already started deconstructing, of hearing what I would say there is like I was hearing my white evangelical friends. Use logic that for me, just did it. The math didn’t math. Like they’re like, Well, maybe they were doing the wrong thing. Or maybe like Geraldo Rivera, right on Fox was maybe you shouldn’t be wearing a hoodie. It’s like, What the hell are hoodie? That’s all we wore in undergrad to class was hoodie and pajama pants around the 2000. Fours. Like, that’s what we did. Like, what are you talking about? What are you talking about? It didn’t make sense. And the fact that we could disregard life, when what I’m being told is that we’re pro life and like, abortion is a sin, like we, you know, shouldn’t be doing that. And, but I’m like, But what about what about life after, after coming out of a woman’s body? We care about like this formula shortage we’ve been going through, do we care? Like, I hear so many people like, well, moms can breastfeed. No, they can’t like, again, I’m not a woman. But I’ve seen enough having had five kids and my ex wife go through the struggle of trying to breastfeed every single kid and with some she did it with some she did it and she I mean, like, it was a painful experience to watch her go through. And her anxiety and postpartum depression was so high with it, and I know it exasperated it, it wasn’t the cause of it, but it exasperated mental health issues. And I mean, just so I’d already started deconstructing to the point that I was already seeing issues of, of inequality with women of just so many different things. So I’d already started deconstructing because, to me, everything wasn’t in alignment. then I’m like, okay, wait like this is not making sense, right or we have the token, we have the token woman that can make announcements which can’t preach, man, like the black man can’t be the the pastor, but we’ll let him preach once every month or two so that we look like we’re diverse. And we’re gonna stick them over the website, but really like, you’re not going to see him on stage. But once every four to eight weeks, like I like I saw things like that I saw how divided the church was, especially here in Atlanta, where it’s really black and white churches, it’s very rare that you see a truly inclusive Church, and then even beyond black and white, but especially black and white being here in the South and in America. So I’d already started deconstructing and saying, Okay, some of these things are not making sense. But I still had a lens of what my faith was. And it was more like I was trying to make minor adjustments. So almost like tailoring an outfit like the outfit might be ugly, but you’re at least trying to like tailor it a bit, make sure it fits a little bit better, but you can’t change the color maybe like your I was doing what I could. And then when I came out, when I was making the decision to come out, I wrestled for almost a year before I came out. Like I would say that around June or July of 2018 was when I really started to think I don’t know if I can do this. And really started looking at that fork in the road and saying, for me, it’s one path or the other. And I don’t know what lies on the other side know what lies on the side, I think of me staying in my marriage and staying in the closet is probably early death. But I don’t know what lies on the other side if I choose to be authentic, and come out. And I’ve wrestled with it. And I started to become a bit jaded. You know, with my faith, I think that’s probably a step most of us go through. You know, we start questioning everything that we hear. And we kind of just feel like walking away and giving up, we lose a level of hope.

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
But for me, I think because I had gone to Bible College and Seminary, I also had enough knowledge of my own accord that I think helped made helped to make deconstruction easier. And then when I came out, of course, I got very hurt in the first like three months, like, within eight weeks of coming out, I gotten pulled from four different ministries that I was a part of all of them sat me down, like, you know, you can’t like if this is what you’re choosing, you’re out. But again, they were also using my stuff, I wrote a curriculum, a six to 12 grade curriculum that was my doctoral research projects for a private Christian school here in Atlanta that I’ve been a part of, for over 10 years now 10 years ago, and they still use it. Wow, I’m just not I’m not I’m not allowed to train the teachers anymore. I’m not allowed to write like, but they still use this, you know, hundreds and hundreds of pages of theological, you know, curriculum that I wrote. So again, they were okay with the fruit of it, just not me anymore. And I lost relationships, like people who were like moms, to me who kind of were like adopted family, we would go there on holidays, because our family were from Ohio. So we didn’t really have family down here in Georgia, you know, you lose all that. But from there, I did take a step back from church at Indeed, I kind of would go a little bit then COVID happened, you know, less than a year after I came out, and then everything shut down anyway, and it made it easy to not go so I kind of stopped going to church, I got tired of trying to fake it. I stopped for the most part reading my Bible, not because I didn’t want to. But because I felt very disconnected. I didn’t feel like I was getting the downloads the revelation, right? Like, like, I didn’t feel alive reading it like I used to.

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
I would pray but it was more crying out like, What the hell am I doing? I don’t know what I’m doing. And if I fuck this up, help me figure it out. But like, I just got to try something different. Because what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years, almost as an adult is not working. And I just I had to breathe, I had to take a step back, I had to stop talking with a lot of my friends. Any friends who were willing to talk to me from church were more like, really, they were just keeping in touch to say like, I’m praying for you. And to see if I had changed. They weren’t genuinely interested in relationship with like, knowing where I was, and sitting in it with me and having conversation. I would say that honestly, I’ve probably only kept, I would say like, three friends I can think of off the top of my head that I had three and a half years ago. And the majority of them just they just couldn’t they couldn’t do it. And some of them were even okay with me being gay. They were affirming, but they had a hard time with my ex and I getting divorced. That was mine. I’m like really like a and we’re cool. How are you? We have two friends that we just finally like just it just had to let go like, like just so it’s interesting people’s reactions and their own triggers, right their own life experiences, and then how they show up in the relationship. It really is true that most people’s reactions to you are about them, not about you. And so I took time away. And then I would say about a year ago so about two years after I came out. I started to feel strong enough to try to re engage in the face community, but I did it differently. I found a queer Christian. We were still, you know, kind of in COVID, right, like a year ago, like, not necessarily on lockdown, but like I was still in the house and I wasn’t going to church churches were just kind of starting to reopen last summer. So it was kind of like, okay, am I going to go back? What am I doing, and I did find a virtual like queer Christian Bible study. And I started going to that that was really eye opening to be around other queer people who were at all different points of their journey. Some were not reading their Bibles, some were some were going to church, some are not some lived in remote areas and couldn’t find affirming spaces. Some were in metro areas where like they could find community. So I started to do that. By September of last year, I started reading my Bible again every day. And I actually started with the Gospels I literally did from September 27, last year to May 27. This year, so eight months of the day, I read through all four gospels in harmony, and I wanted to reread the Gospels and try to re meet Jesus, I really was like, Okay, I’m gonna take off every preconceived notion that I have of the gospel, and I’m gonna read it. And I also went as far as like, posted on my Instagram stories every day to share my thoughts. Like, here’s what I’m wrestling with, here’s what’s hard. Here’s, here’s how I’m seeing something differently. And I really did see that Jesus really did lift up women, he lifted up lepers people with medical conditions, he did, we don’t we say we don’t see gay people, or queer people, I should really say in the Bible, but but we do. There are there are some homo erotic type relationships in the Bible. There’s also queer people in the Bible. And that’s a whole other conversation. But but that actually is there and you do see Jesus interacting with them and loving them. unike is one term that is a bit vague. Some people were Unix because they were born in a way where maybe they didn’t have what we would consider just male genitalia, or just female genitalia. Others were Unix by choice, maybe they were maybe they were queer of some sort. And they, you know, chose not to have certain parts. So maybe more trans or non binary. Again, it’s a bit vague, but But you know, biblical researchers know enough to have an idea of it. But we do see Unix in the Gospels and acts as well. And African Unix. So a black queer person was one of the first people it was Philip in Acts Eight, I believe, was one of the first people to really hear the Gospel outside of like, the, what I would say, Middle Eastern Jews, and really bring the gospel what seems like one of the first people that’s documented according to the Bible, bringing the message to the continent of Africa. So that would have been, of course, a black person, you know, but also a queer person. And what I realized reading and studying and also reading more progressive commentaries, not just the ones written by white men, in the 20s, or 1800s, or 1970s, with the rise of like Jerry Falwell, and the, you know, the right and all of that, what I realized is that there is academic literature and research that’s also progressive, not just conservative, and how we read Scripture. There’s different ways of reading scripture, and there’s different understandings. In fact, one of the biggest things that I learned that was liberating is that our Jewish brothers and sisters don’t even read the Hebrew Scriptures in the same way that we do. They wrestle a lot. They tend to ask questions like in their services, they wrestle, they ask questions, they turn to gemstone, if you will. They look at it from different perspectives, they don’t enforce a monolithic view of their scripture. And that’s my best understanding that being a Jewish person. But having met now Jewish people have had conversations, and some are more conservative, some are more progressive, the same with Christian or maybe any other faith. But the point is, I started to see scripture in a new way. I’ve really wrestled with it myself, I found more affirming communities. And five years ago, I would have told someone like me, well, you’re just taking in what you want to hear. But what I’ve learned is if God has not changed me, and I mean, I prayed about it. I can’t even tell you how many nights I cried, and I prayed. And I would have given almost, you know, given something of substance in my life, you know, to, quote unquote, be strange. If he really has not changed me that I have to reevaluate my theology and say, maybe that needs to be changed. Maybe he did create me this way. And therefore maybe it’s my understanding of theology that needs to change. So deconstructing, and I would almost say reconstructing in a way, like became this really hard mission. There were days where was easier than others, and there were days where it was harder. But I expanded my thinking, my mind my understanding, and I hadn’t go in asking, Is this worth it? Like, I also had to go and saying, Maybe I’m wrong. But I still feel like I’m finding Jesus in a way that is more social, social justice oriented, more progressive. Still, some things maybe more conservative, like, I still have a hard time trying to justify sex outside. of marriage. For, you know, theologically, I’m not saying I don’t believe in it. I’m just saying, theologically, like I do have a harder time. But I also see again in the Old Testament where men had multiple wives and they were having sex before marriage, and you know me, Solomon was born out, you know, David cheated on his wife, with a with a married woman like to have Solomon, yet Solomon becomes this great king, like, he’s not treated as Ambassador child, if you will, right. And so, so I started to try really try to look at scripture from I think, a different lens, a more human lens, and put myself into it and really look at Jesus, not look at Peter and his writings not look at Paul in his writings, because I think they’re much more conservative. And I think they still hold on to their tradition and try to fit Jesus said, it’s almost going back to that tailoring I was talking about earlier. I think that as I read the Epistles in the New Testament, I think there’s a bit of tailoring, even though they say they’re taking off the old and putting on the new, I think there’s still a little bit of tailoring. But what I found was that Jesus compared to the theology of the time of the culture of the time, he was actually extremely progressive. And if he is a progressive God, then who’s to say that he wouldn’t continue to be even more progressive today, and continue to push the limits. I think what matters most is love, kindness, gentleness, patience, the fruit of the Spirit, not, not a checklist, not rules, and definitely not fitting into a white centric, patriarchal colonization type view of the world, which to me is a lot of what Western Christianity is. Oh, my

Akua Konadu
gosh, this is a long rant. So it was a long rant, but it was so good. Like, even just hearing just how you have been able to really take Scripture and understand it from a different perspective. It’s helpful for me even because I think one of the biggest struggles even with reconstructing Christians, like just reconstructing was that like, for me, I was like, like, I do not trust the person that is up there. And this was just from working in ministry. I do not trust this pastor that is up there preaching on every Sunday when I know XYZ is happening in the background. And so I’m like, I don’t trust anything that you’re saying, or how you’re interpreting this Bible, or you know what I mean, or anything like that. And but then there was another sermon that listen to that another pastor, and it was really good. And he said this, and that’s when I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is where I’m at, like, where he was just like, I could get up here and tell you about the Bible XYZ, and for you to interpret it, like XYZ. Just be like, You know what he’s like, but do you actually believe it? Do you know who he is? And for me, that’s where it clicked. I was like, I don’t know, it has just been based on what others have told me. And so I just love everything that you shared, because you stopped based on what other people were telling you and you went to see for yourself. So like, now you are so grounded in Jesus, that no matter what, like you still are bearing the fruit of the Spirit, right? Loving, being loving, kind, gentle, all of those things. But like, nothing can like your set now, like as an anchor, nothing can sway you, which that’s what it just speaks to like living authentically in who you are in your face. So this was amazing, like, so good. And like, I feel like you’ve talked a little bit too about reconstructing as well. But is there anything else that you would like to add? Because like, oh, my gosh, we’re already at like, 4043 minutes. I was so dang good.

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
Yeah, yeah, no, I would just quickly say, I mean, I think we talk a lot about deconstruction, which is taking away the things that aren’t working in your understanding of your faith. But then reconstructing How do you rebuild in a way? Like, what are your core values that what do you believe? Do you have a faith? If so, what is your faith? And how does that impact how you operate? How you show up in the world? So reconstructing I think it’s not enough to deconstruct and just walk away and, and have nothing for some people that might be right. And so that is a valid route. But I do think I would love more discussion now on Reconstruction, which then is what Now what does this look like? Which parts do I want to keep? Am I rebuilding a Christian faith? Am I rebuilding something else? Am I incorporating Buddhism in with my Christianity, like, what? Like, I’ve gotten very big into personal development. I’m very big into guided meditation in psychology, and it’s sold to me in alignment with my faith as a Christian, but it’s just again, a more holistic approach to who I am, you know, therapy, mental health, all of that. And so, what does it look like to rebuild, and it does take work, but to what you just said, your point Akua like when we’re just given a packaged belief system by somebody else, than the second they fall, and they will, because we’re all human, then our world is shaken. You do the work when you decide that faith is important to you and you decide to show up and study and make decisions for yourself and wrestling community and wrestle alone, and sometimes the community might sway Do it sometimes it might not, or you might sway others. But when you can really own your faith, whatever your faith is, to me, that’s when you can find, like real peace, real contentment, real satisfaction and joy in your faith, and have a level of confidence. And I would also say, now, I feel like my faith is able to weather any storm, like, I’m not so stuck on one belief, like, now I can see faith evolving, and God moving. And that even for my kids in you know, 50 years when I’m maybe gone or at an old age, and I have grandkids, possibly, you know, them having their theology stretched, maybe in ways I couldn’t even imagine. And like, I know, when I was a kid, I just wanted like, gay and lesbian representation and bisexual. But in the 90s, I feel like we raised by people a lot, we still can. Now it’s like, no, I want to see more NB more trans representation more like my motto is if we can’t protect black trans women, then who are we going to protect? From exit like the you know, the most disrespected person in America is the black woman. And now, I mean, I’m not going to add words to Malcolm X. That’s not my place. But I would say that, if I can’t protect the black trans woman, who am I protecting in this country? And who knows what that will look like? How much further will we progress? You know, in the next 5100 years, etc? So yeah, to me, reconstructing is about figuring out what are your beliefs and doing the work at your own pace in your own time and your own way, but figuring out what his faith and belief look like for you,

Akua Konadu
yes, oh, it’s so good, too. And it’s just a reminder, that’s just not linear, like this is truly your own. It’s a very personalized journey. And as you are breaking things down and rebuilding them back up, like have grace for yourself, because this is not just hearing your own journey. It’s, it’s definitely not easy. But I love what she said. Like it’s a hard journey, but it’s a worthy journey. And I just love that so much. And so do you have words of encouragement for people who are like struggling with their faith in general? And then specifically those in the LGBTQ plus community?

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
Yeah, I would say that if you’re struggling with your faith, in general, lean into it, like it is okay to struggle, it is okay to question. I mean, Doubting Thomas, like, Abraham did not have any scripture, he was just walking with God and figuring it out. He didn’t know what the hell he was doing. You know, the Israelites didn’t know what they were doing an exodus like Moses was still allegedly Moses was still writing, you know, those historical books. So that was real time for them. Like, there, there are so many instances where people are crying out to God in Scripture and saying, I don’t know what to do. And I’ve prayed that I pray that yesterday, and today myself, I pray that often, it’s okay to struggle, like lean into it, it just means that you’re thinking, and you’re owning your faith. And specifically for my queer siblings, I would say that, from my experience, being a Christian, and being queer and proud, and out is not two opposite things are two things that cannot coexist. But I would also say, do whatever is best for you. If you’re not in a place to relook at Christianity, for your mental or emotional health don’t like, I believe God’s still there and loves you no matter what. So who cares, like you don’t have to perform. And if you look at a new faith, look at it, like, do what’s best for you. And take your time. But also know that if you grew up Christian, or you’re interested in Christianity, and you are clear, it does not have to be one or the other. You can absolutely be clear and Christian, and live in your full identity as a human being.

Akua Konadu
I’m speechless, because it’s just so dang good. Oh my gosh, this, this episode has been absolutely amazing. And I am so thankful and honored that you came onto this podcast. And just to be vulnerable to be raw, to be honest, like, this has been absolutely phenomenal. So thank you. Thank you so much, Michael, for being on the show.

Dr. Michael Tatonetti
Of course, thank you for having me. And I hope people get something from it. And again, remember, it’s just my experience. So if you disagree, that is okay. That is okay. It’s okay. I’m glad I could share my story. Because this representation matters. There’s probably someone out there who’s gonna hear it and resonate with it and get hope and that’s the best thing.

Akua Konadu
That’s the best thing. So I love it. Well, y’all, thank you so much for listening. I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. And until next time. Thank you so much for tuning into here’s the tea with Akua. If you are loving the podcast, I’d be so honored if you’d go ahead and hit that subscribe button on your favorite podcast player and leave me a review This helps grow the podcast so more people can be impacted by the story shared by powerful guests like in today’s episode, until next time, go make uncomfortable conversations a little more comfortable.

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