"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
--Martin Luther King Jr.
Sometimes I forget why I am writing. When the days are too short and too full of uncompleted tasks and too little money to pay to have them done for me, I can forget. When I get one message informing me that my selfish insistence on faith in the Gospel of Christ was the cause of my son's death, while another declares that my wishful thinking and rewriting of Scripture is the reason that my child and many others will spend an eternity in Hell, those are the days when I want out -- out of this "arena" (as Dr. Brené Brown puts it) where I find myself bruised and bloody and wondering how in the heck I ended up here.
And then there are weeks like this one. This past week began with a text from a pediatrician friend in Tennessee who sent me the link to an article detailing a scandal happening in her hometown. It was about a mother who, after supporting her daughter as she and her partner fought for benefits for same-sex couples, was given an ultimatum by her church family: Repent of your sin (apparently holding the hand of your child in court has become an unholy act) or leave the church. I was shocked and horrified (and am still shocked and horrified) that a parent is being publicly condemned by her church for loving her child.
No wonder many of the parents I have come to know through this journey do not want their LGBTQ kids to come out in their hometowns and desperately fear their church families knowing of their unqualified support of their child. Among many other things, it could mean rejection by the very people who helped to welcome that child into the world. They know that their children will not be enfolded in the body of Christ but will be quickly written off as being "led astray by the enemy" without anyone ever taking the time to hear their story or learn how fervently they continue to seek God.
No wonder I sat at a Starbucks this month with a friend who told me, after revealing that her 18-year-old child had recently come out to her, that she could no longer be a Christian.
Then, this week, I was reminded of a blog post that I'd read a few days earlier that had been so deeply disturbing to me that I'd purposely disengaged from it, knowing that I would be unable to function normally with my other children if I thought about it while visiting them. It was posted on a mainstream evangelical website, and when I stumbled across it again and took the time to reread it, as well as many of the supportive, affirming comments, I couldn't dismiss the distress I felt.
Reading it, I was reminded of the Christian radio shows I listened to back in the '80s and '90s that, unbeknownst to me at the time, greatly influenced me when our own son came out to us in 2001. Their messages -- messages I see now as hate-filled, homophobic propaganda -- subconsciously but deeply affected me by planting seeds of fear and prejudice against the gay community. These seeds took root and grew rapidly after I found out that Ryan was part of that community.
If this blog post was an exception or an aberration, it wouldn't bother me so much. Unfortunately, it is not.
This horrifically offensive post has already been articulately and intelligently refuted by others,* and given that I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher nor a social scientist, I won't attempt to add my own arguments. However, what I want to do is encourage others to ask the same questions I have been asking myself since reading the blog post.
When those of us who call ourselves Christians stand by in silence as someone, speaking with the authority granted to those who are pastors entrusted with teaching the Word of God to their congregations, uses the Word to cultivate disgust toward individuals made in the image of God, we tacitly concur with his conclusions. If we do not speak up -- loudly and repeatedly -- to object to the use of homophobic, demeaning and dehumanizing tactics, just as we would do to racist, hate-filled bigotry, we are silently condoning those actions.
Rob and I have many beloved friends and family who do not agree with us about gay marriage or other gay rights issues, which we view as human rights issues, but they do so soberly, realizing that they are speaking about a topic that is not an only a current "issue" but a subject that touches the hearts and souls of individuals who were created by God and who are deeply loved by Him.
We do not have to use the language of hate, disgust or contempt to communicate our opinions. And we dare not.
If we do not speak out, the words of this pastor may reach the ears of vulnerable listeners, unquestioned and unrefuted, causing them to think that this is the conclusion of those who follow Christ, and -- much worse -- that this twisted perspective represents the opinion of God Himself.
I have not been able to stop asking myself:
How many teenagers, fervent in their desire to please God, will read that blog post and conclude that it is a virtual impossibility to please God, given that their orientation just won't change, no matter how hard they pray?
How many young adults, hiding their true sexuality from their families and church communities because of stigma and condemnation, will read it, allowing those words to add another thick layer to the already suffocating shame and contempt that they attempt to breathe through so that they can live another day?
How many LGBTQ people will read it and conclude that it is one more piece of solid evidence that people who love Jesus are also people who hate them?
How many young adults will read it never thinking that someday they might be parents who give birth to a child who realizes that he or she has, as a result of no choice of their own, a sexual orientation described by this writer as abominable?
How many parents of teenagers will read it not realizing that one of the adolescents in their own home is struggling to reconcile his or her faith with the realization that they are attracted to the same sex?
How many parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings will read it and be influenced by those words, so that when their family member finally gathers the courage to share with them the secret they've been hiding, they respond with even a little of the "gag reflex" that this pastor encourages us to attend to and nurture?
How many children, when confronted with the disgust of the people whose love they need most in all the world, will conclude that the self-reproach they've been fighting against is valid and legitimate after all? How many will decide that their families would be better off without them? How many more funerals will be held for LGBTQ children who feel that their lives are without value?
How many more parents will disown their own children because they've been told by a spiritual authority that the love that their child feels is nothing more than a perverse desire for a repugnant act?
These are just some of the questions that have been nagging at me relentlessly. And though just the thought of both the situation in Tennessee and the words of the pastor-turned-blogger have been enough to kill my appetite, they also serve as a powerful reminder of why God has kept whispering the same thing to my husband and me, over and over and over: "Tell your story. Tell your story. Just tell your story."
This week, while on a long, beautiful bike ride, Rob turned to me and said, "Even if I lose every single one of my straight friends, I cannot stop sharing what God has shown us. To do so would be disobedience."
With that blog post, I have been powerfully reminded of the potential cost of that disobedience. To stop sharing, to stop speaking out or to choose to be silent just might make the difference in whether or not another family gets to attend their child's wedding, or, like us, can only visit a gravestone.
If I could, I would shout from every mountaintop the truth that I know with more certainty than I know anything else: that our Creator God is a God of love, and that He fiercely loves every single one of His children. Our God is compelled to chase after those who feel that they don't belong, those who have been cast away and left out. Our God is the God who leaves the 99 to chase after the one -- the one whom He loves with unfathomable passion, and with whom He is never disgusted.
*One of the many well-written rebuttals of the blog post in question and clarifications of what the Gospel really is Rachel Held Evans' "Responding to homophobia in the Christian community." It includes links to other valuable resources as well. Another fabulous and thought-provoking response to the complete irony of the blog post in light of the Gospel is this one: "What If Jesus Had A Gag Reflex?"
Linda blogs at JustBecauseHeBreathes.com.