I stood in the emergency room of a local hospital with a young man who was barely 20, who was badly beaten and stabbed. He had been working the streets to get money for something to eat and a place to stay. He was on the streets because when his family found out he was gay based on all that he had learned in the church and heard from the preachers, he “just knew” they hated him and would cut off his schooling and throw him out…so he took his “stuff” and what cash he could find in his mother’s purse and father’s wallet and left for the big city.
Prior to being on the streets for 3 months, he was a handsome young man, long flowing black hair and a smile that would cause your heart to melt.
Yet, there was no smile at 4 a.m. this particular morning, and the long flowing hair was matted in his blood from where the knife had cut his face and ear. No this day there was only a look of agony, desperation, pain and anger.
Yet, the feelings were not aimed at the perpetrator of the beating, or his family, rather it was all aimed at God. In a horse whisper he told me to go away, there was nothing I could do for him. “God is punishing me, this was my fault for being a queer!” I had prayed to God for help, to change me but there was only silence. I went to a church in Midtown once, but was told I needed to clean up to attend service.” So with tears rolling down his blood stained face he cried, “I want to be with God but God sure as hell does not want me, won’t even talk to me. I want my parents, but they have no reason to want me.”
I was stunned, I needed to say something, anything to give this child of God some hope. “Oh God, do not be silent now give me something useful to say!”
I am thinking from a relationship standpoint God is never silent when it comes to dealing with us. I think it has more to do with whether we are paying attention or not. I also believe it has a lot to do with how we have been taught to view God. A God of law and judgment, or a God of mercy and reconciliation. A God who punishes and breaks relationship or a God who will do anything to be in relationship with us.
The only thing that came to me was Luke 15:11-32 (Read slowly and then continue with me)
You see when I get stuck for answers God seems to remind me of those things that Jesus taught, those things that remind us what God is really like. Most of my friends will tell you these times turn into sermons, this was no different.
The story you just read (Luke 15:11-32) and I shared with this young man was given by Jesus to help the listeners get an idea of what God was all about in relation to God’s people. Here is the loving and caring father image of God. The two sons are very representative of our world today especially when we speak of the GLBT community and the challenges we face.
We in the GLBT community can certainly relate to the younger brother, can we not? Living at home and over the years; beginning to figure out that we are different, that we are not fitting into the scheme of things.
Recognizing the values we are being taught somehow does not apply in the same way to us.
Recognizing that we can’t talk about it at home because it would cause such an up roar that we would have to leave or be thrown out.
Recognizing the standards that are being set before us for success and a good place in society are only a fantasy we will never achieve. Ah, yes, we of the GLBT community have indeed stood where this younger brother stood. We stand where this younger brother did recognizing we would never be acceptable to our Family or God for that matter.
So we begin to visualize what it would be like in a world where we are not held accountable because of who we are. We start to dream of having a life free from the burden of feeling like our love is an abomination to our Father.
We look out into the world and dream of another place; where we can be who we want to be, do as we wish and go where we want to go. So we go to our family and claim what is ours and set off on our own.
We are excited by the anticipation of a new city, new people, and new adventures. So we slip off into the night, maybe leaving a note, maybe having one last fight about how we are grown up and can fend for ourselves.
We might even have that last angry prayer with God where we say, “if I am going to hell then I will enjoy life and all that it has to offer first.” The church and all it hypocrisy now has no meaning for us, it doesn’t want us and we don’t need it. We will do it on our own, on our own terms. As Gloria once sang, “I will survive!”
Like the younger brother in Jesus’ story we arrive at that far away destination. We are free, at last free from all that entangled us at home. We claim a great job. We see a great celebration of life – the nightlife, the bars, the groups, the clubs. We see ourselves living with great prestige and wealth. We vision great romance and untold happiness.
Yet, wait, what is this? The only job we can find is for minimum wage and the cost of housing is far from our means. The night life is filled with danger, temptation, drugs, alcohol, robbery, smoked filled bars and police hassles for hanging around all the wrong places.
The idea of prestige and wealth has become only a distant memory of what we thought we could do. Our romance is filled with fake numbers, lies, abusive sex, drugs, phone sex, alcohol, cyber sex, bath houses, and ultimatly moving from one relationship to the next growing more bitter with each change of partner. We find ourselves not being able to maintain any kind of meaningful relationship, and now we are afraid.
Suddenly, it occurs to us that we are not free but in the deep agony of fear. We are alone.
What friends we have made are killed, dying or moving away. We are alone.
We lose the only decent job we had because they “don’t like faggots here.” We are alone.
With no way to pay the rent we borrow money or maybe even sell ourselves, or worse yet start selling things that will cause us to end up in a far worse situation then the street. We are alone and afraid. Or as this young man for whom I write, end up in the emergency room fighting for our life.
It occurs to us God seems far away and angry with us. If we could just tell God we’re sorry, if God would just help us. Yet we are apart of the hated GLBT community and God will never accept us back, much less help us. Did not the church say to us; “You have no place in the Kingdom!”
As Jesus is telling the story, the younger brother decides to go back home because even the slaves were better off then he is. Remember Jesus is telling us this story to give us a picture of what God is like, how God reacts to God’s people. It is not about a dramatic change other then the younger brother deciding to come home. If you will come back to God.
Remember the first time you thought about being out and proud? Remember how you weren’t sure if this was right. You weren’t sure you were good enough? We had kicked God out of our lives, quite praying and stopped loving. “The church was right all along,” or “look at my life now” kinds of stuff.
Yet we miss the most important words of the story, “while still a long ways off the father (God) ran to greet and embrace his son.” (us).
Jesus is saying to all of us, the time away makes no difference, the wild and crazy times do not count, nor do the empty pockets. What matters is that we are coming home. God has been watching for us and is racing to us, to assure us we are welcome even while we are still yet a long ways off. Yes, we may be afraid, we may be weary, we may be heavy burdened, but God comes to us, embraces us and calls for a celebration.
Well, Jose (not his real name) let me pray with him (that’s what you do after a sermon) and when we finished the nurse was standing there with a message from his Dad, which said, “We are on the way to the hospital, your Mother and I will be there in about 4 hours. Hang on, I love you.”
At 5:30 a.m. I stood at my truck in the parking garage and cried like a baby after hearing the voice of God to one very lonely, scared and hurting gay man – “Hang on. I love you.”
Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever and Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994, have been in a committed partnership since the early 1980s and have been legally married since 2015.