Almost a decade ago I was tentatively coming back to my church after a relatively brief–but angry and heart-broken–absence. I was newly single and learning how to be myself again while slowly putting my life back together. One Sunday evening I attended a dinner gathering for us newbies to meet some of the church leadership outside of a more formal church setting, an idea I think is kind of brilliant, actually, and wish happened more often. I was sitting in someone’s living room, paper plate of pot-luck on my knees, chatting and trying to make some new friends. That is when Gaaron walked in. Gaaron was an old friend of someone who was there, he was on a cross-country road trip and only in town for the night. His friend had invited him to come to this dinner thing for a little while.
Gaaron–a name he explained was an amalgam of “Gay” and “Aaron”–had a fuzzy Kermit the Frog backpack, a pink baseball hat, and wore a black t-shirt that said “Nothing This Fabulous Should Be In The Closet.” He was introduced to the group, and to their credit the people there were polite, if not overly friendly or kind. I immediately liked Gaaron, he reminded me of a couple hilarious graphic designers at my office. After he got a plate I beckoned to an empty chair beside me; I asked him about his travels, he complimented my liquid eyeliner and nail polish, and pulled a bottle of body glitter out of his Kermit backpack explaining that it would make my eyes sparkle. He was genuine, happy, kind, and funny. Had Facebook been invented at the time (you know, for non-Ivy League plebeians) I would have added him as a friend on the spot. After maybe 45 minutes or an hour, he and his friend–the guy in my church–left to go about their business of catching up and a little city sight seeing.
And that was when those church people I was meeting for the first time–highest local leadership included–stopped being polite. They laughed, nastily mimicked his voice and hand gestures, mocked his clothes and the content of his backpack, said a number of offensive and degrading things about his character, morality, and personality, and expressed genuine relief that he had finally left.
I was shocked, and to my forever shame I said nothing. I was so surprised at the two-faced behavior of these “Christians,” I was confused as to why they were polite to his face, only to mock him behind his back. In a world of “love thy neighbor” and the Golden Rule, how could they possibly justify their behavior? I don’t portend to know everything about Jesus, but I’m pretty sure that were He there He wouldn’t have belittled Gaaron. He would have just loved him because Gaaron is a human being and we as humans are to to be kind and respectful to other humans, and as Christians we are commanded to love all other humans, end of story.
If Gaaron was your friend, would you mock him? If he was your brother, would you laugh at him? If he was your son, would you ostracize or scorn him? Well, he is someone’s friend, someone’s brother, and someone’s son.
For several days I had all these terribly conflicting emotions about Gaaron. How could I sit there, thinking I was this reconverted Christian, embarrassed for how my new friend was being treated, yet too embarrassed to stand up for him to a room full of
bullies strangers. This was ten years ago, but I still acutely feel how uncomfortable this situation made me feel, both the comments that were made, and the fact that I did nothing. Then I was uncomfortable, now I am outraged. A few days after meeting Gaaron I typed out my experience and my part in this bullying behavior, and I sent it to the 5 or 6 gay friends I had at the time. It was so hard to admit that I didn’t defend Gaaron, or even tell his taunters to shut the hell up. At the end of that email I promised each of those friends that I would never again stand by in such a situation, that I would not be too embarrassed to tell someone to shut their mouth, to knock it off. That I would actively defend any gay person against those who mocked or hurt them based on their sexual orientation or outward appearance.
I have kept that promise–I will not tolerate homophobia to any extent. I will not allow someone to make biased and generalized judgement on someone’s morals or character based on whether or not they are gay. (Caveat: online posts I sometimes choose to disengage/defriend/unfollow/block instead of fight. Explaining to someone in-person that their behavior is not okay is very different than calling them out online. Wars have started due to the latter; I don’t fight with trolls or bigots online.)
My state leads the nation in suicide attempts of youth who identify as gay or lesbian. Almost half of the teenage homeless population here are gay and lesbian kids who were thrown out of their (religious) homes after coming out to their parents. Now, you tell me, does it seem more decent, more moral, more Christian to actively fight against this prejudice? Or is it better to actively contribute to teen homelessness and teen suicide and turn a judgemental-blind eye to the thousands and thousands who are seeking acceptance, kindness, and basic humanity? If you aren’t Christian, you don’t somehow get out of this “would you rather” scenario. If you are HUMAN, you need to make a choice: fight prejudice, or contribute to it.
I am a Christian, and despite what any religious leader says about homosexuality or homosexuals, Jesus said love thy neighbor. He didn’t say love only your white, middle-class, heterosexual, Republican, traditional-family, Christian neighbors. He said love thy neighbor, and that seems like a good rule of thumb for me. And if I get to St. Peter and the pearly gates and it turns out I am not heaven-bound because I did not make my gay/ethnic/poor/Jewish/Muslim/liberal/divorced/single-parent/blended family neighbor feel somehow “other” or “less than” then I don’t really want to go to heaven anyway. If that is the trade off, I’d rather be a decent human than be a celestial angel; if I’m wrong, I sure as hell don’t want to be “right.”
You don’t have to agree with me, but if you leave a comment you do have to be nice. If you can’t say something nice, find somewhere else to spout your feelings. All homophobic or degrading comments will be immediately deleted and the author blocked. My blog, my rules.
I couldn’t agree with you more, H. This is the biggest problem I have with many churches–the hypocrisy and false appearance of being loving and welcoming while actually acting quite hateful toward so many. I am a Christian too, and as a Christian I feel it’s so important to stand up for those who are the recipients of such poor treatment from those who claim to follow a religion based on loving one another.
I realize that large groups tend to have a longer learning curve, but I do NOT understand how so many people can harbor so much hate and disdain for a entire group of people. Ugh.
On Wed, May 21, 2014 at 9:58 AM, Feisty Harriet wrote:
I am a former Christian of the Methodist flavor, which is probably the most boring and vanilla variety of Christianity, so there wasn’t much of an extreme view one way or the other. I don’t ever recall my church making a big deal out of gender or race issues at all, so I suppose I was raised with the moderate view of “live and let live,” and “do unto others” and all of that. I have no recollection of any sermons protesting gays or blacks or women or anything really. Methodists mainly focus on spaghetti nights and church volleyball brackets, with a generous sprinkling of Jesus.
I never learned to be a racist or a bigot. I think that’s the key. My church was very much “Oh, you’re gay/black/tranny/whatever? Well, Jesus is frowning at you. Have some more spaghetti!” and that was that. Did individuals have their own conceptions? Of course. Did people talk? Of course, but it wasn’t a prevailing topic, and it never excluded anyone to my knowledge. If someone was gay, they were simply known as that “guy who dresses really well” and “he may be queer, but he’s the best server on the Volleyball team.”
That was my experience. Other’s may have different views.
There are many reasons I became an Atheist. One of them is the hypocrisy of Christianity. I don’t feel I need to get into that, because we all know about it. I couldn’t bring myself to trust in an organization which said one thing and did another on such a laughably consistent basis that all meaning was lost. But beyond that, I just couldn’t understand why what I was “supposed” to believe didn’t have any logical bearing on what was actually true. I don’t like being told what to think, and I don’t like having to bend my thoughts and actions to fit someone else’s point of view. I will be the one who judges whether I like you or not, and it won’t be because some church or religion or social pressure tells me one thing or another.
Most people never step out of the comfort of religion. It’s something they can always fall back on when they’re confused about something, because it offers strict guidelines on how you’re “supposed” to think. However, some of us are fortunate in that we can rise above that, and reach out of the bubble to understand that we are more than what we were taught to believe, and that we can form our own beliefs and opinions.
I’m glad you’re one of us. 🙂
I wouldn’t describe myself as having stepped outside of religion, I think there are many beautiful and–as you say–comforting parts about my church, and I prefer to keep those things in my life, not because it’s what I’m “supposed” to do, but because I *have* thought long and hard and critically, and my current activity and affiliations are what I *choose.* Is everything perfect? No. But I prefer to have religion in my life, even with some of it’s foibles, than to not. But I don’t consider myself a mindless drone, I am consciously and carefully choosing something, and it’s not a whole-package choice.
Your heart is such a good one.
I hope so, I feel so very flawed, but I hope I can at least continue to improve. That’s the hope, anyway.
ONE HUNDRED PERCENT YES.
It actually means the world to me that you are in so much agreement. The. World.
I’ve known you had this new blog for a while now, but I’m just now finally getting subscribed and caught up.
I’m active LDS, and I’ve definitely had some issues in the last year or so but have ultimately decided to stick around. I can certainly see why many are not.
In 2010 when I was pregnant with my first son a young gay man who grew up in Orem committed suicide. He was the first friend my husband made when he moved to Orem at age 13. Over their middle and high school years they drifted apart, but I heard about him periodically. When we got together with Eric’s high school friends there was talk about how he’d come out after high school, etc. His mother was one of my mother-in-law’s best friends. His younger sister was (still is?) quite good friends with my brother-in-law. So even though I didn’t know him personally I was acquainted with his family.
After he committed suicide my husband called me from work. He was sad. I was on Facebook that evening and saw that my gay co-worker had posted about it – through a link that essentially blamed the LDS church for the young man’s suicide. I commented on the Facebook thread how sad my husband was to hear about it. I felt a real need to put a “Not all LDS people are horrible” spin on it. A few days later my gay-co-worker asked me if I knew the info about the funeral service. I did because Eric was attending and several people from the high school choir (which was a big part of this man’s life, when he was in high school) were singing together. This made it abundantly clear to me that the family was not reaching out to their son’s gay friends. I was happy to give them the information.
Eric said the funeral was lovely, especially considering the circumstances. A brother spoke and essentially said that the family did not handle his coming out well, and it certainly contributed to his suicide. (He had also just gotten out of a long-term relationship, so that was a big player as well.)
Around this same time Eric had a gay co-worker who was formerly LDS. He told Eric a bit about his relationship with his own parents. He also told Eric about going to visit his boyfriend’s parents, who had just returned from a mission. The father had treated the son and his boyfriend with the silent treatment the entire weekend.
By this time I knew that my baby was a boy, and I made some important decisions about how I would react if my son (or any future sons) were gay. These were really tough questions for me. Really, really, really tough. But ultimately I have decided that my relationship with my son is more important than any dogma. This, obviously, starts with the way that I talk about gay people and homosexuality long before he ever considers that he might be gay.
Sorry for such a long comment. I do feel strongly about changing the way we talk about homosexuality in the Church. The family of the young man, I’m positive, will forever be sorry for not being more accepting of their son. I don’t ever want that looming over my head.