I know a gay man named Don, and as I write this, he is in a hospital fighting for his life. He’s HIV+ and that, together with the fact that he’s taken drugs all of his life, has taken a steady toll on his body and mind. I was hoping that you would pray for him.
I also know Don’s family. They look at him as an as an object of pity. They feel sorry for him and blame the ‘homosexual lifestyle.’ They are very conservative and always vote for Republican candidates that denounce his lifestyle. They supported measures that made sure he would never have the same right to marry. They go to a church that would never accept people like him. And in their hearts they thank God for ‘family values.’ They feel good about themselves and their own lifestyle, because they didn’t end up like Don.
Few people know how painful it is to live in a family that will never accept you as God created you. It’s all the worse, and all the more cruel, when families superficially pretend to accept or tolerate you, but never your ‘lifestyle.’ Love the sinner, while hating everything that you stand for. They don’t reject you outright, because they don’t like to think of themselves as terrible people. But neither would they ever allow you to have the same rights – and the same chance at happiness – that they have.
I really believe it is much kinder to openly reject someone whom you cannot love and respect as an equal, rather than to dishonestly pretend that your bigotry and homophobia is love. There is nothing crueler than that. At least in rejecting them you might have also set them free, and given them a fighting chance to find out what real love is all about. Rather than teaching them how to love their family by hating themselves.
I tried to warn Don that his family would never be able to love and support him in the way that he needed. That he should stay away and live his own life, because they were destroying his self-esteem. You cannot be around people who hate what you are without some – or a whole lot – of it rubbing off. Very often, the only way to save yourself is to stay away from your homophobic family. At least until you’re strong enough, after you’ve discovered what the word “love” really means.
But Don desperately needed and yearned for the kind of love and support that only a family could give, but that his family was never going to give him. He was caught in an impossible bind where he needed for them to accept and love him as a gay man, before he would ever be able to accept and love himself. That’s really why he used drugs, just to deaden the excruciating pain of being hated and rejected by the people that he loved and needed the most.
I asked myself: How can I be a Christian when there are so many people like Don who are being destroyed by people calling themselves Christians? How can I call myself a Christian when so many other Christians are emotionally crippling their gay and lesbian children, brothers, and sisters?
I’ll tell you the truth – What I really wanted to do is call down the wrath of God upon their heads. I would have liked the Lord to put that entire family in Don’s place, so they would finally know what their hatred felt like. I was pissed-off, and I wanted to see justice done! Why is it that God allows some of the most cold and heartless people in the world – who often call themselves religious – to triumph over what is right? How could He have allowed this cruel injustice to happen?
But then I remember that He allowed it to happen to His own Son. I remember the Pharisees and what they did to Jesus. And I remember what Jesus said right before it happened:
“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 15:11)
Jesus had just told his disciples that he was going to be crucified, and yet he was full of joy. And if Jesus was full of joy it means that God must also have been full of joy; and not in spite of the injustice, but really because of it. Jesus was full of joy because he was going to the Father, and it would be like a homecoming. God was full of joy because He was about to overcome all the sins of the world through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. And His disciples should have been full of joy, in spite of losing Jesus, because they would never again need to be afraid of death or injustice. And neither should we.
That was really why I was so angry at Don’s family. I was angry because, just like Jesus’ disciples, I was looking at it as the final act rather than just the beginning. A lifetime of homophobic injustice is a hard thing to carry around inside. It ends up breaking and destroying many people. But a lifetime of injustice is nothing when compared with an eternity of joy in the presence of God.
“Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:21-26)
I suddenly realized: I should have felt even worse for his family than for Don. They are the ones who are about to miss out on all that Don will have one day. We are only on earth for eighty or ninety years at best, and even the best life on earth still has its ups and downs. But what about the life that is always up, always joyful, and lasts forever?
After thinking it over, I hope that you pray for his family too, because they’re the ones who may eventually have a much tougher time of it, and forever. So they are the ones we should pity and pray for. Though I have a feeling that, in spite of going to church, they really don’t believe in God’s righteous judgment. That they believe, like I did for a moment, this life is all there is, and injustice is its own reward. That’s really why many outwardly religious people act as if they can get away with anything. They have no shame because they really don’t believe, in their heart of hearts, that there will be consequences for what they have done to people like Don.
I strongly believe that homophobic/fundamentalist Christianity is the result of a horrendous lack of faith. They don’t really believe that God will righteously judge the world, or they wouldn’t be doing the things they are doing. Like Jesus said, “By their fruit you know them.” The fruit of Don’s family was the cruel injustice they did to him. His suffering was the fruit of their lack of faith.
When we truly believe we have joy, and we love in the right way. But when we really don’t believe in the things that we say we do, everything that we do is wrong and sinful, because none of it was done in faith. As with Don’s family, even our love really isn’t really love at all.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Mt 23:23)
The reason that fundamentalists judge and condemn lesbians and gays is because they really don’t believe there is a God who will do it – if and when it needed to be done. They persecute others to prove to themselves that they have the kind of faith they really don’t have – or else they wouldn’t be persecuting homosexuals. They need to establish their own version of justice right now, and in their own cruel way; because they really don’t believe that God will ever get around to doing it, His way. They need to force everyone to believe what they do, so they can finally believe it too. They are always struggling to hide their lack of faith by condemning and persecuting others. They refused to put all of their trust in God, and consequently, they need to prop up their disabled faith by punishing other people.
The truth is that we all struggle somewhere between faith and doubt, joy and despair, anger and forgiveness. I am still somewhere between feeling angry towards Don’s family because of what they did to him and realizing that I need to continue praying for them. Being a Christian means that none of us is perfect. But as Christians, we will either struggle to believe, or else struggle to hide the fact that we’ve already given up and refuse to believe. Hopefully, we will always remain in the first group, and never fall into the black hole of faithlessness where religious hypocrites live. There is no real joy in that kind of faith because there is no real hope for a better life to come. There is only the kind of sanctimonious smugness that too often passes for joy.
Being a Christian means living in the joy of knowing that our life will go on forever in the presence of God. And that whatever injustice we may suffer now, or see others suffer, we should think of it as a cause for celebration, knowing and believing that God is just, and that those who are unjustly despised and dishonored now will one day be honored and rewarded in heaven.
Don’s family will probably go to their graves thinking they did the right thing, and did all they could for him. Everything but love and accept him as he was. But whether they repent or not is not really the point. God is just, and the point is that now we can rest in Him.
We don’t need to waste our energy being angry, or trying to stop people like Pat Robertson from speaking lies. We don’t need to make everyone that hates and does us wrong, feel guilty about it and repent. We can wait for God to deal with them His way, and in His own time. And because we know there will be justice, we should already be celebrating, and living in the joy of our faith.
Stephen Hanchett is the author of The Good News for Lesbians, Gays and Straights.