POSTED ON MAY 23, 2012:
For the Love of God and Neighbor
A perspective on the gay issue
I grew up in a very conservative Black Evangelical church that taught me to view gays as sinners and social misfits. Ironically, our church membership included several young gay men, all of them trying desperately, awkwardly, and unsuccessfully to feign heterosexuality. Although clearly gay, they were never openly or comfortably gay; instead, they were trapped by our religion in a closet where their only hope was to keep praying for God to make them "normal."
My church-imposed view of homosexuality first began to crumble in high school, where one of my best friends experienced a living hell because he was "different." Mercilessly teased, harassed, bullied, and called "fag," "sissy" and "queer" on a fairly regular basis, my friend persisted nonetheless, coming to school each day unsure of which abuse he would face next. And as he endured his own struggles, I encountered an inner conflict of my own: My church taught me that I should hate his difference, and yet I found myself loving him just exactly as he was. I felt guilty that he was my friend, and yet I would have it no other way. Maybe we were both going to hell.
The conservative perspective that my church taught me continued to crack in the face of my exposure to the broader world. I had been brainwashed by many years of sanctified hatred, and it took a long time for me to see how hypocritical and irrational it was to congratulate myself on my own holiness while keeping track of everyone else's sins. My church taught me the skill of cherry-picking Bible verses to support my denigration of the "other" while nonchalantly passing over the verses about loving our neighbors and resisting the temptation to judge. I was taught that the Bible was the infallible Word of God; but nobody in my church ever mentioned that the Word of God had been used to justify the enslavement of my ancestors, the incineration of millions of Jews, the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, and the oppression of women. Either the infallible Word of God had failed miserably, or those of us who read it failed to understand its meaning.
As a music teacher for my entire adult working life, I have become increasingly connected to the gay community through my students and my colleagues. I meet many precious young people who remind me of my high school friend, the one whose place in my heart transcended the scriptures that marginalized, demonized and damned him to hell -- the friend that I felt guilty for loving just as he was.
One of the sadder stories that I recall is that of a young black student who came to my college from a religious background very similar to mine. An extremely talented singer, this young man was clearly gay. Yet he desperately craved the Church's approval; and so at their urging, he got married in the naïve hope that his gay "problem" would be cured. But as Ted Haggard can attest, it not only doesn't work, but it forces the living of a lie that ultimately does more damage than good. Needless to say, the young student was divorced within six months, his young bride heartbroken and psychologically damaged forever, and he is still gay. And I love him just exactly as he is, wherever he may be today. I have no doubt that God loves him much more than I do.
Hatred dressed in religion and decorated with Bible verses is still hatred. The fear and demonization of difference doesn't make the difference go away; instead, it creates its own self-perpetuating cycle, one where the self-righteous Christian digs in his heels and goes on an ever more desperate cherry-picking search for Bible verses that will suffocate him inside of his own narrow views.
I am the first to admit that I don't completely understand the Bible. In fact, I find much of it confusing. The one message in the Bible that appeals to me personally is the story of God's boundless love. The rest of it I don't have much use for. Maybe I would understand more of the Bible if more of it had been written by women.
I teach and work alongside gay people on a regular basis -- dear, brilliant, wonderful people that I love, value and accept as beautiful children of God. While too many Christians decorate hatred with religion, these gay friends of mine decorate our prejudiced and bigoted society with their talent, their brilliance, their strength and their goodness.
Maybe I am a lost soul. But despite everything that I was taught as a child, loving others makes the most sense to me. When I see any of God's children suffer from the hatred of others, compassion is my natural response, and maybe I will pay for this perversion in the afterlife. But I would prefer this afterlife to an eternity where people in long white robes flap their angelic wings to rejoice for eternity on successfully hating everyone except the unborn. A heaven like that is my idea of hell.
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