On Wednesday, May 2, CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 broadcast Pastor Sean Harris' sermon in which the spiritual leader of the Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C. told dads in his congregation to "man up" with their 4-year-old boys who "act effeminate." Pastor Harris' recommendation to dads was to give their little guys a "good punch" and crack their "limp wrists." He told dads to make sure that their little girls don't get "too butch" and to dress them up and perfume them "like girls" and make them objects of attraction. The most chilling moment of the recording of Pastor Harris' sermon was the audible "amen!" chorus from the men in the pews. Sadly, I did not hear a single mom just say no.
Pastor Harris has been retracting his recommendation for child abuse as rapidly as possible, but frankly, it's a dollar short and a day too late for the little boys and girls in his church. He stands by his condemnation of homosexuals and the effeminate.
Because Mother's Day is upon us, I want to take a moment to focus on our role as moms in protecting the sanctity of life, but with a slightly different twist than the fundamentalists may take. Let's talk about the sanctity of life for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning children.
Allow me to suggest that this Mother's Day be one of national reckoning rather than a mass delivery of flowers and boxes of chocolates. When moms step up for our children and for ourselves, the world is a much safer and fairer place. I fear that we are forgetting what it was like when women were second-class citizens and the property of men.
Without the advocacy of moms, child labor would still be the norm, girls would be absent from competitive sports and the public square, there would be no contraception, and, frankly, many citizens of the United States would still be at the back of the bus. When the voices of women and moms are absent from the dialogue and debate about our children's lives, our children lose and, therefore, we all lose.
It takes real courage to speak up in a world that seems to be tilting toward unbridled religious patriarchy, yet that's exactly what all of us need to do in order to stop the demise of gender equality and marriage equity.
Pastor Sean's church is not a novelty but one very vocal part of the rapidly expanding Christian patriarchy movement, one that we dismiss at our peril. Within this movement, women are to keep silent in the church and at home. Further, the "Biblical" woman wears modest feminine dress and doesn't speak in church or try to have authority over men. She is a submissive wife who bolsters her husband in his role as spiritual and earthly leader of the family.
On Pastor Sean's Berean Baptist website, some of the rules of the movement are further defined. Allow me to paraphrase their section on contemporary living:
- Only vote for pro-life candidates.
- Effeminate-acting men and butch-acting women will not inherit the kingdom of God.
- Homosexuality is a rejection of God and the natural order established for procreation.
- Homosexuals cannot be Christians.
- Homosexuals can be cured.
- Homosexuals cannot form families, and anyone who supports them is as bad as they are.
It is this last admonition to "gay sympathizers" that has allowed the Ugandan government, with the support of leading U.S. evangelicals like Scott Lively and Lou Engle, to draft and propose a law that imprisons or executes people who are gay, look gay, or who support people who are gay.
Doug Phillips, founder of Vision Forum and one of the most influential proponents of the Christian patriarchy movement, has aspirations that include a return to the values of 16th-century Calvinism, the repeal of women's suffrage, and the cultivation of "virtuous daughterhood" (i.e., unconditional devotion of a daughter to her father, who serves, quite literally, as her "Lord," until he helps her choose a husband who will then fulfill that role).
And before you dismiss the Christian patriarchy movement as a small segment of the evangelical/fundamentalist churches, note that the United Methodist Church, with 7.8 million members in the United States, just voted to retain their doctrinal language calling same-sex relationships "incompatible with Christian teaching." Moreover, the church's General Conference entered into its permanent minutes the recording of one of its African bishops comparing homosexuality to bestiality. That sends a clear message of rejection to little 4-year-old Methodist boys that can't be misunderstood. When you combine the Methodists with the Mormons, Catholics, Assemblies of God, and Southern Baptists, to name just a few, the world in which your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning child can find a safe space shrinks rapidly.
Without safe spaces and supportive parents, the rates of mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide escalate dramatically amongst LGBT youth and adults. The challenge for moms and dads is complex. Will they support their LGBT children unconditionally and bring on the rejection of their churches, workplaces, and family members, or will they adopt Pastor Sean's methods and hope for a "conversion"?
I know what my mom thought and did when my brother came out. Her church had convinced her that she would go to Hell and that my brother would go to Hell with her if our family didn't find a way to cure him of being gay. We rejected him, judged him, and isolated him while alternately trying to bribe him into being straight. In the end our rejection contributed to his death by AIDS in 1988. We get to live with that truth, be accountable for our actions, and choose differently every day now. May 13, 2012, Mother's Day, would mark his 65th birthday.
I would like to use this occasion to recommend a role reversal for any moms who are caught at the religious divide on this issue, or any home or church that espouses any part of its doctrine. Just say no. And I want to recommend a new book, Above All Else, which tells the story of a mom who did just that. Her name is Shari Johnson. She is an evangelical mom in Odessa, Tex. who has a crisis of faith after her daughter, Cholene, comes out as a lesbian. This book turns the tables on religious patriarchy with the notion that deeply held religious beliefs should lead parents to full acceptance of their LGBT children, rather than to rejection of them.
Mother's Day can be a national coming-out day of love and reconciliation for families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning children. Claim it, moms (and dads)! Just say no to rejection.