Friday, January 3, 2014

Who Cares What a Guy From Duck Dynasty Says?

I've never watched an episode of Duck Dynasty.  I'm clearly not its target demographic.  So, when I first heard that Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family showcased in the show, had made remarks to GQ magazine declaring homosexuality a sin and quoting scripture to justify those remarks, I literally thought, "Who the hell cares what that guy thinks?"  (If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I posted a statement to that affect.)  Robertson also remarked in the same article that African Americans he knew before the Civil Rights era had no complaints and a video has surfaced where he told young men at a church retreat to make sure and marry girls when they are 15 or 16 before they get older and go after your money, so considering the source of the anti-gay remarks I figured any sane person wouldn't care.  
Given that thousands of people protested A&E's decision to put Robertson on suspension, and the network eventually reinstated him to the TV show, I guess a lot of people do care and certainly many people in that group would qualify as sane.  If you went out Christmas shopping this year, you discovered, as I did, that Duck Dynasty is a big deal.  I want the agent these guys have, because they are on everything from coffee mugs to board games to the duck calls that made them rich in the first place.  Now they even have their own line of guns.  Oh, and Robertson's book sales have soared since the controversy.  
A lot of people care what a guy from Duck Dynasty says, because they agree with him, but there also are people out there who care what he says, because they are thinking about killing themselves.   

A friend of mine from college named Brian Copeland posted his thoughts on the whole controversy on Facebook (I shared it on my page).  I asked his permission if I could write about our friendship and share some of his thoughts with you.   

Brian is gay, and he and his spouse Greg have adopted a beautiful boy together.  Back when I knew Brian at the little Baptist college we attended together, I didn't really know what it meant to be gay.  I knew what a homosexual was, but I didn't know any who were out.  By that time, I had ingested plenty of "God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve" sermons by preachers, and although by college I had begun to question whether or not homosexuality was a sin (I wrote a research paper on the subject), I had no real clue about the pain LGBT people experience due to condemnation by Christians. 

Brian and I had classes together, saw each  other all the time, and even lived in the same off-campus house together our senior year with a bunch of other guys.  Jokes were made behind Brian's back about him being effeminate, but I really was clueless about his sexuality.  Brian came out a few years after graduation, and by that time I had friendships with gay and lesbian people and no longer had any questions whether or not homosexuality was a sin.  So, I e-mailed Brian and told him I had heard the news and that I accepted him as he was--and I apologized for not being the sort of friend to him in college that he needed.  We've stayed in touch since. 

I could have guessed that Brian bore real emotional pain as he struggled with his own sexuality.  The college we went to was not exactly open-minded, and it probably still is one of the last places a homosexual person would ever come out.  Also, Brian came from a small community in East Tennessee, where he grew up going to church with his family and hearing sermons not very different from what Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty would appreciate.  All that being said, I really had no idea how deeply Brian was hurting when we were in college together.  When Brian shared his thoughts about the whole Duck Dynasty stuff last week, he also shared his experience of pain growing up feeling he was bound for hell and unloved by God.  

Here's a bit of what Brian shared publicly on Facebook:
My entire childh
ood and teen life, I sat every Wednesday, most Fridays, every Saturday and every Sunday night and Sunday mornings (yes, we went to church that much) and heard the exact rhetoric Mr. Robertson said. I was not shocked by his comments. What he said was mild compared to some of the preaching I grew up with. . .  

After those weekly sermons that told me that gays were demon-possessed, that the Lake of Fire was made for the perverted homosexuals, that fags should all be put to death, I'd go to my room as a 12-year-old and weep.

I remember hearing a sermon on Job 42:6...about "if I abhor it, get in ashes." I remember sneaking ashes into my bedroom, spreading them out on a trash bag and laying in them all night crying my eyes out begging for my demons to be removed.

I remember when I was 15 calling my dad's insurance company and asking if castration was covered under the plan and if my dad and mom would ever know if I did it.

I remember the choice, yes, the CHOICE I made not to be gay (because it wasn't a choice), but rather the choice to stay alive instead of killing myself in a dorm room when I was 19, plotting on how a sheet would hang around my neck from a hook in the cinder blocks of my dorm. That choice to live was the best one I ever made. Life is amazing. Life is happy. Life couldn't be better here on this side. . .  
I really do thank God that Brian made the choice to live.  I made a mistake thinking that in 2014 the kind of anti-LGBT views expressed by someone like a TV reality star don't matter, because they do matter.  They matter, because there are too many young people like Brian out there who still believe that God is ready to destroy them because of their most basic sexual desires.  It's easy to think that in the world we live in today as opposed to twenty years ago (or longer)--that with so many LGBT role models--that with the "It Gets Better" campaign--that the days of young people contemplating suicide because of their sexuality are over.  They are not.   

I'm straight, so I am admittedly removed from what it is to be told that "God hates the sin but not the sinner" and from the pain of my family and my church rejecting me because of my sexual orientation.  Nonetheless, I like to think that I have been sensitized to the pain of LGBT people due to the many LGBT people I know personally, but I realized after reading Brian's words that I am at times guilty of only seeing what I want to see, only surrounding myself with people who believe the same way I do about LGBT people and forgetting the terrible pain so many LGBT people remain in.   

I pastor a church where there is an incredible amount of LGBT/heterosexual integration.  LGBT people have held and continue to hold every position of authority the church has, and I believe that by and large within our church community people are accepted as people regardless of their sexuality.  Yet, I believe the flip side of the grace we enjoy together can also mean that we can forget that in most churches a far different message is being proclaimed and LGBT people remain tormented and suicidal.   

So, I ask you the people of CCCUCC--both straight and LGBT--to not make the same mistake I did.  The advocacy we have done in my short time here and in the many years before I came here on behalf of LGBT people--efforts to proclaim loudly the message that God accepts LGBT people--is still not enough.  There are plenty of voices of hate coming from Christian churches and too few voices of grace.  The loudest voices promoting equality for LGBT people tend to be secular ones rather than religious ones.  Does not our faith in a loving God demand that we do more for young people in grievous pain because of the image of a wrathful God they have been taught?  Shouldn't we be doing more to declare to young LGBT Christians and those who care about them that they do not have to choose between holding onto a faith that condemns them and rejecting it altogether, because there is a third way--understanding that God accepts them as they are? 

If your answer is no, perhaps you should read my friend Brian's words again. 

Grace and Peace,


Toby Boyce said...

Chase - Very powerful words. We've been struggling with the same issue in Ohio - and it just rips my heart out. You want to make the pain go away, but having never even experienced the pain - I can't even find all the pain to take it away. Thanks again for your support to Brian. - Toby

tsp said...

Well stated, Rev Peep. I'd like to share with the Safe Ground Allies group here, if you don't mind.