"Have you written/composed something thoughtful in response to those Phelps people?" I read in a stranger's email to me last week. "They are what I picture when I think of religious people."
I immediately responded: "Fred Phelps is an inbred media monger whose 'church' is no one but his idiot family. Confusing him with religious people is like confusing Mother Theresa with someone who sells children into prostitution. Remember: All the thoughtful, sane, rational, normal Christians are in church. It's all the the crazy ones who are on TV."
And I was surprised to receive in return this heartbreaking email:
Thanks for your reply.
Some background: I was raised in a Southern Baptist household, in a small rural town in Pennsylvania. As a gay youth, I was ostracized from just about every social venue. And not just ostracized, but persecuted. I became the subject of ridicule, and of verbal and physical abuse, from the school yard to my home life -- including from my immediate family.
There are many things a human can tolerate, but when your immediate family, your support system, pulls the rug out from under you, it is so much more than a feeling of being punched in the gut. You cannot imagine the overwhelming sense of loss and pain, and then inward hatred, that this creates. I recall as a child of thirteen crying hysterically, and asking god "Why did you make me this way? Why did you give me this life? Why would you create something only to see it tortured and destroyed?" This kind of pressure can only be tolerated by an individual for so long before something gives, either externally or internally.
I believe I could have handled the incessant harassment at school, as long as I had a supportive family who loved me. But when you are raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, there is no greater abomination than what I was: a homosexual. I will never forget my father's words, "No son of mine is gay." I recall my mother's apathy, which was even more painful, her unwillingness to challenge this sentiment. I recall my brother's assertion, "You should just kill yourself." And my older sister seemingly clueless.
When this happens to someone so young, when they are being developed, it is so much more than mere bullying. It is an emotional, spiritual, all encompassing rape that leaves the victim with a perverse and distorted view of oneself and the world in general. All of this was done in the name of religion or what the Bible says. I was taken to a christian counselor, who was supposedly able to condition the abomination of homosexuality out of me. My parents took me to the Pastor of Open Door Church (what irony), who told me I could expect to burn eternally in a lake of fire, forever and ever.
You cannot imagine how this experience has shaped every aspect of my life, for better and for worse.
I realize it is not your place to argue or correct the many evils that come from those who profess to be Christians. I know it is not fair to ask all the thoughtful, sane, rational, normal Christians who are in church to step outside of their congregations and actually apply what they profess to believe in. I would never expect that, any more than I would expect sensible Muslims to step outside of their mosques and argue against the vitriol spewed from their extreme equivalent.
The point: I think what you are doing is important. I hope you continue your writing and exploration of these issues. Your "Smith Family Chronicles" [see here] created such feelings for me, a reliving of something exquisitely painful. While I have strong reservations about god, and Christianity (can you blame me?), there was some small quark inside me that somehow refused to be destroyed, some small seed that has been gathering evidence in all of my years on the planet. And although I may never meet you, or see your face, I am thankful that you exist. It is so important that there are voices of sanity and truth out there, voices that reach out to all those who are suffering. There is one thing I know, in my heart of hearts, that we humans are on this planet to learn from one another and love one another.
Thanks and I wish you continued success in your writing and creative endeavors.
A little while ago someone wrote to ask me why I'm so interested in the "gay issue." I replied that my primary interest isn't in "the gay issue." My primary interest is in the abuse of power.
Look how this guy was treated by his family. Look how he was treated at school. Look how he was treated by his church.
With what shameless ease does malevolent power adorn itself with the rosy mantle of piousness.
Christianity has institutionalized the most base, cruel kind of bigotry. It did it with slaves. It did it with women. It's doing it with gays.
Will we ever run out of fools pleased to confuse the purity of their own hateful fear with the purity of Jesus' love for all of God's children?
Join me in praying to God that we do.