Fernando Alcántar grew up as a poor Catholic boy in Mexico and soon became a rising star in the Christian world… that is, until he came out as a gay atheist. That didn’t go over so well.
His new memoir, with a foreword by Dan Barker, is called To the Cross and Back: An Immigrant’s Journey from Faith to Reason (Pitchstone Publishing, 2015):
In the excerpt below, Alcántar details all the difficult “divorces” he’s gone through, but says he’s not angry about it:
I have never been married, and hence I have never been divorced. But several of my friends have, and I have counseled many kids whose parents have been through that ordeal. I have been witness to the emotionally catastrophic process of dividing your life into different parts that will now go their separate ways. Who will keep the house and the car? Who will keep the kids? Who will keep which friends? Who will stay at this gym? The family, the community, the finances. It’s like watching a beating heart ripped apart and seeing ventricles and arteries burst into a bloody spectacle, leaving two useless halves as a remnant.
Divorce is like that. And it works the same way when you leave a community.
Everything that I did was Christian. The church I went to was Christian. The school I went to was Christian. The job I had was Christian. The people I worked out with were Christian. The girls I dated were Christian. The people I played volleyball in the evenings with were Christian. The people I went out dancing with were Christian. Everything in my life was, in one way or another, related to Christianity. When I began to separate myself from the faith, I experienced the torturous process of ripping my heart in half — just like in a divorce.
The process was so hurtful and difficult that I considered staying in Christianity, if only to keep the community. Because who would I hang out with now? Who would listen to me?
I began reaching out to former pastors, mentors, professors, and friends, and came clean about my intentions to depart from Christianity. Most people understood, except some friends—understandably, some of them felt betrayed.
I went home and realized, this process is painful, but it has to be done.
When I left Catholicism, my friends were surprised. They talked about me behind my back and I lost contact with them.
When I became a Pentecostal Christian, church leaders had me break every CD I owned, asked me to stop dancing, and told me to stop going to the movies. For the sake of an imagined purity, I lost more than people; I lost myself when I lost the things I loved.
When I left Mexico, I left the only identity I knew. I was lost in a new land and wondered who would take me in now.
When I rose from the dead, I felt I had a fair reason to hate life, to hide myself in the shadows and plot against my own future.
When I left APU, I left the most solid history I’d yet had, and I had thought that I would always be a missionary.
When I joined the United Methodist Church, I was told right away that people would hate me because I was not one of them. And even though I’d helped lead the denomination to one of the greatest peaks they’d had in youth movement, they kicked me out. I had challenged them to accept something different.
When I became an American, I took in a new culture that I had come to love and become part of. But that came with accusations from Mexicans, many American citizens themselves, of betraying my roots, and of not loving my own people. They called me a “coconut”—brown on the outside and white on the inside.
When I left Christianity, old friends told me I was going to hell and that God told them they couldn’t commune with me any longer. Few things could hurt more than that.
When I moved to Mormon Utah, the Mormons I served with my blood, sweat, and tears took me out to the woodshed when they felt threatened by something they didn’t understand, something they were raised to fear.
When I accepted my sexual orientation, I was filled with anger toward the religious establishment. I had entrusted my mind and heart to it, and now, because of it, I might have ruined my chances of meeting the man of my dreams.
I have more than enough reasons to be bitter. I have more than enough reasons to feel vindictive. I have more than enough reasons to hide in my bedroom and plan revenge. But when I look at the story of my life, I also see I have more than enough reasons to love.
Throughout history, humans have used the God story to claim superiority over others. The innocent have fallen—been humiliated, tortured, and murdered. I see the timeline of humanity, and I don’t have it in me to add more to the bloodshed.
I have chosen to follow a lifestyle that believes in what makes sense. And I continue to be a man of faith. An unchanging, stubborn, hopeful faith that humanity can overcome its darkness, be it in our hearts or our minds.
This book may not end up changing anybody’s views about faith or reason, about immigrants, about mental illness, or about the LGBT community, but if you would give one element of these pages a chance to resonate after you put it down, please, please, please let it be this: being different from me does not make you my enemy.
We’ve bled enough, cried enough, killed enough—it is time to move on. Let us finally rise above our differences. We are religious and we are freethinkers. We are conservatives and we are liberals. We are Americans and we are immigrants. We are healthy and we are sick. We are straight and we are gay. But, my friends, we are all human just the same.
The true evidence of love is that, regardless of differences, we stop finding ways to divide ourselves and finally give tolerance and common sense a fair chance.
That is one gospel worth living for.
To the Cross and Back is now available on Amazon.
Excerpt reprinted by permission of the publisher.