How A Play About A Shooting Helped Me Find Spirituality as A Gay Man

I am not a religious man, but I do consider myself spiritual.

That alone took many years to get to. It took separating from religion, spending years being upset by it, becoming numb, and then finding my own understanding of it. It took a while.

But lately, I’ve been finding myself having more and more conversations about religion and spirituality, and I wanted to share that conversation with all of you.

Mother Emanuel

The reason that I’ve been having this conversation? Mother Emanuel.

If you don’t know or remember, Mother Emanuel was the location of the U.S. church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina 2 years ago.

In honor of the people who died in that shooting, three artists/activists got together and wrote a play about them. It's not about the shooting, but about who those people were.

The Mother Emanuel musical play first appeared last year in New York City during the Fringe Festival to great success. In fact, it even won the award for best musical.

And now the play is currently having its regional theatre debut at Philadelphia’s New Freedom Theatre. I’m honored to be the assistant to the director for the production.

“But Devin, why are you talking about it here? On Instinct?” you ask?

Well, that’s because the play got me thinking about religion, spirituality, and community. 

Plus, the anniversaries of both the Mother Emanuel shooting and the Pulse shooting passed last week. It seems the perfect time to talk about my personal history with religion and also the gay community’s relationship with it.

My Take on Religion

You see, the people of Mother Emmanuel were devoted Christians. They were the type to go to church not just on Sundays, but on multiple days. They’d go to bible study, have fundraisers, celebrate community get-togethers, and more.

That devotion to Christ and to religion in general is something that I don’t have, and frankly it’s something I’ve never wanted.

I grew up with a family that went to a Baptist church, but due to drama with the church-goers my family eventually left. We then moved to a Unity church, an all-denominational church that looks at the bible in a metaphysical way.

But the problem was that I had already grown detached from religion. Plus, a few years later I started to discover my sexuality and realized the Bible’s take on it.

I became bitter and spiteful towards Christianity. I thought, why were so many people so hateful towards something I couldn’t control?

This is something a lot of LGBTQ people have experienced. Religious intolerance towards homosexuality due to verses in the Bible or other religious texts.

I’m lucky because I’ve only faced it online, while may others deal with intolerant families, bigoted church folk in their towns, or religious members forcing conversion therapy on them.

But as the years have gone by, religious organizations and people have stretched out their hands in welcome of LGBTQ people who wish to embrace their spirituality.

In fact, while I was in Baltimore I passed a church with a rainbow flag hanging by its door. It comforted me to see a church be so open in its welcoming of LGBTQ members.

That’s the kind of folk the Mother Emanuel people were, they were devoted to God but they were also devoted to loving their fellow man.

Religion and the LGBTQ Community

And mind you, this is not a conversation for just Christians. I only reference Christianity so much because I come from a Christian background.

This is a conversation that repeats itself in many religions. It’s something we should talk about with Judaism, Islam, and even pagan religions like Vodun and Wicca. (Far be it from me to judge).

And it’s funny to me that as I write this article I keep thinking, “Why am I writing this religious article on a gay blog?” As if the two are mutually exclusive.

Are the gay and LGBTQ communities so detached from religion that we can’t even talk about them? I hope not.


But again, I’m not religious. I consider myself spiritual.

What that means is that I don’t read the Bible (I can’t remember the last time I read the Bible), but I do believe in a higher-ness.

I believe in something greater out there. The universe, the Force, an invisible and omnipotent being, I’m not sure. But, I feel there’s something out there.

It took me years to get there. I evolved from trusting my gut/instinct, to thinking these feelings of knowing what to do in life was the universe’s command, to having conversations with God/The Holy Ghost. Now I’m just one step from outright praying.

And I cringe/laugh at that, but at the same time I’m ok with that.

I’m spiritual, and I’m gay. And that’s ok, because for me my spirituality is personal. It’s my own interpretation and relationship with (fill in your definition here).

This play in Philadelphia has made me respect religious communities so much more.

Religion can be scary, it can make people do so many horrible things, but it can also be quite beautiful too.

In All Honestly

This play is about who those nine people were. This play is about the love of a community. This play is about the love of Christ over all else. And that’s beautiful, even to someone who had no faith for many years.

In all honesty, I wanted to write about the Mother Emanuel play. I wanted you all to read and want to see it for yourselves. And, I could have done that it many ways.

I could have talked about the director/writer Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj who’s directed soap operas, directed on Broadway, and is considered by the New York Times as “one of the most talented directors in New York these days.”

I could have talked more about the play’s NYC Fringe Fest win, its recommendation for the Philadelphia Barrymore awards, or my personal experiences while working on the production.

But instead, I wanted to talk about how the play impacted me. It got me to think and share about my thoughts and experiences with religion. And, thinking about the gay community's relationship with religion.

What Are Your Thoughts?

But now I'm looking for your thoughts.

What do you consider yourself? Christian? Muslim? Jewish? Wiccan? Atheist?

What are your thoughts on religion and spirituality?

And what are your thoughts on the LGBTQ community’s relationship with both in the past, present, and future.

Let’s get talking.

(And of course, come see Mother Emanuel. It’s currently playing in Philadelphia and I hope it’ll come to your town one day. Let’s keep the Emanuel Nine alive in our words and in our hearts).

What do you think?