Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner Doesn't Work

Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washingto...
Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washington, DC, with a LGBT banner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A friend of mine has a son, a gay son, a son who tried to take his life just a couple of days ago.  This really brought home to me just how damaging our words can be and how much we all long for not just tolerance but acceptance.  My friend gave me permission to share his son's story as long as I protected his identity.  I will share it with you below.

A few days ago, a post I made on Facebook turned into a conversation that generated close to 400 comments.  The post was a tongue-in-cheek poster that said:

If you've spent much time around Christians, you've probably heard this phrase that allows them (us) to say the most hate filled things about people and pass it off as being loving and kind because we really don't hate them, we just hate what they do. We deny the simple fact that people often identify themselves and each other by what we do.  When you meet someone at a party one of the first questions we ask is "What do you do?"  When we talk about people who are attracted to people of the same sex, we identify them as homosexuals, often as if that one aspect of their character or that one thing they do (have sex with other men) is the only thing that defines them.

This phrase, hate the sin, love the sinner,  has become particularly overused in the case of homosexuality- which is where the conversation on my Facebook turned.  A fellow universalist told me that he has several gay friends whom he loves dearly.  But, as the conversation went on and we tried to discuss what the Bible really says about homosexuality (the title of one of my favorite books), the conversation kept turning back to how homosexuals were killing each other, pedophilia, how disgusting anal sex is, the anal cancer rate among homosexuals, the spread of AIDS among homosexuals (as evidence of God's displeasure with them), how homosexual relationships don't last, etc. etc.  Every vile thing he could think of to say about the "homosexual lifestyle" (actually he was just picking on gay men, he seems to give lesbians a pass) was said about them- all the while saying he loved them. He actually accused those of us who supported encouraging monogamous, committed, loving relationships for all people, straight and gay, of lying and somehow trying to harm gay people. When I tried to talk about why gay people might experience depression, suicide attempts, drug addiction, promiscuity and other harmful and even life threatening things at a higher rate, he just would not accept that maybe, just maybe, it's because at every turn, society is telling them they are less than fully loved, fully accepted human beings.

Then, just a couple of  days later, I got a message from my friend, a good Southern Baptist who has a son who is gay.  Darren's son, now 30 years old, had decided his life was no longer worth living and he tried to end it.  Even through his pain and with the issue far from resolved, Darren wanted me to write this story and share it in hopes it might help someone else.   For anyone who thinks being gay is a choice, this story is for you.  For anyone who thinks that anything other than full acceptance of people is good enough, this story is for you. For anyone who thinks that words don't hurt, this story is for you.

Jason is our third and youngest child. We have all boys.  As early as age three, we knew there was something special about Jason.  He was an extremely loving and caring child. We now know that birth order increases the possibility of a boy being gay.  The more older brothers a boy has the greater the likelihood he will be born gay.   

When Jason got to fifth grade, he was having trouble at school.  He was bullied on a regular basis. He began acting out in class.  He was having trouble focusing on his studies.  What we didn't know then was Jason was showing signs of depression.  This behavior continued into junior high school.  We realized that Jason had low self-esteem, we think from his feeling different from other boys.  We decided to put him into karate to help boost his self-esteem.  Jason did very well in karate, earning a brown belt.  Unfortunately, the bullying didn't stop and he was forced to use some of his newly learned skills on his tormentors.  Even though he had done well in karate, his interests shifted and Jason asked to join the junior high school choir.  Jason quickly came to love singing and found he had a beautiful voice.

In high school , he excelled in choir.  He placed first chair All-State choir in his sophomore, junior and senior years.  He only missed first chair by one point in his freshmen year.   But, the bullying hadn't stopped.   As Jason matured, he had his first “gay” experience. A gay senior in choir basically raped him. I think as a freshman he didn’t fully know what to make of this. Jason received a scholarship to a local university in Voice. It was there that he first experienced “gay culture”.  Jason had a gay roommate his sophomore year. That was the year he “came out” to us. It was a very traumatic time for his mother & me. We were very conservative Southern Baptists. 

It took me two to three years to process what Jason had told me. I was going through a radical shift in my own views at that time.  I eventually realized that homosexuality was not a choice. It dawned on me "Who in their right mind would choose to be gay in the Bible Belt south? Who would choose abuse from and distancing from your family?"  Jason had to know know that when he came out it would drive a wedge in our family.  His depression reared its ugly head again and again during that time. Jason compensated the only way he knew how.  He began to distance himself from his family, those who loved him.  And, he submersed himself deeper and deeper into the "gay culture" to find solace. Even though he knew I had grown to accept him fully, his mom was having great difficulty coping with the life he was living. She retained her deep Southern Baptist faith and man-made interpretations of scripture. Jason wanted her acceptance more than anything. It's important to understand that it’s not that she stopped  loving him. That, to her, was not an option. She simply could not bring herself to accept the lifestyle and that broke Jason's heart.

His oldest brother rejected his homosexuality, saying it was a choice. His brother remained a staunchly conservative Southern Baptist.  He condemned homosexuality as a sin and abomination to God. Maybe he did so without realizing that made Jason feel like he was condemning him as an abomination.  So Jason avoided his oldest brother like the plague. His other brother somehow began to see the real Jason and accepted him fully. It was this brother who first told us that Jason was partying way too much. His mother and I confronted him.   He told us it was nothing to worry about. He was fine. He obviously wasn’t fine. We decided his behavior was a coping mechanism to deal with his poor self-image and his struggles with being gay and not being accepted by everyone in the family. When he stopped talking though, we began to worry. Even through all of this, he usually called his mom two or three times a week. Eventually, this stopped.  Jason was pulling away from the family more and more. He began having problems with his partner of eight years. His partner told us Jason wouldn’t talk to him, had shut him out. Jason would periodically call us crying but saying he did not know why he was crying.  He called to tell us his partner had left and he didn't know why.  He tried to make it appear it was his partner’s fault. We talked to him for hours on several occasions about his life and job, which seemed to be causing so much stress. Stress is not good for one who suffers depression, especially a gay depressive. He would tell us he was fine or that he had gone to a counselor, which wasn't true.

After several years of this, it  all culminated with a terrifying phone call Jason made to his mother just this past Tuesday.  He was groggy and crying.  He told her he “didn’t want to be here anymore”.  As she was trying to understand what was going on, the connection dropped.  She got in the car and raced to his house, 40 minutes away.  As she was driving, she was able to get Jason on the phone.  That's when he told her he had taken a dozen Xanax.  I was also able to reach him by phone.  Between the two of us, we convinced him to get out of bed and start walking back and forth across the house until help could arrive.  Meanwhile, Jason's partner had been concerned about him and had been trying to reach him.  He called my wife and asked if she had spoken to Jason.  She told him to call 911.  By the time we reached Jason's house both his partner and the paramedics were on the scene.  The police were called because of the suicide attempt. Jason was taken to the hospital by ambulance, under police escort. He was kept in the hospital overnight then released to a facility for treatment.  The next day he started therapy where he revealed the problem he had been having.  His depression had returned full force about either months ago.  He changed jobs about six months ago to a highly stressful job.  This, along with feelings of inadequacy, abuse he had suffered as a gay child, teenager and now 30 year old adult had been more than he could bear.  About the time he took the new job, he began drinking heavily and taking Ecstacy from Friday through Sunday.  It would take him Monday and Tuesday to recover enough to feel fairly normal.  Then, the cycle would begin again on Friday.  Finally, he just couldn't take it any more.

Jason was always the compliant son, the compassionate one, the one who thinks of others first.   He was the one buying his buddies drinks and X even while his world was crashing in on him.  He often called his mother just to chat.  He is a kind loving, lovable person who would give you the shirt off his back. Yet, at just 30 years old, the pain of his life and of not being accepted for who is he is became more than he could bear.  Tonight the family, including his partner, meets with the doctor/therapist to discuss Jason's future.  I write this in hopes it will help others understand what my son has gone through and can help us move towards putting an end to a culture that crushes the spirt of someone like my son.  His story, while of course unique, will sound all too familiar to too many families.  
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Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Great post, Brian!

I'm so glad Jason survived and hope that he will get all the love, support, and help that he needs.

You just can't tell someone "I love you, but you are an abomination" and think that's ok.

kc bob said...

I so agree with what Mike commented.

Younger folks get it. Many of my 20 something friends have told me things similar to:

"Who in their right mind would choose to be gay in the Bible Belt south?"

Our pastor told us something similar about hating the sin and loving the sinner. He said that it would be like telling a person that they loved them but hated that they gossiped or that they ate too much. The motive is not love at all but judgment.

It is neither loving nor kind to speak of another in that way. People who throw stones should remember that Jesus taught that no one should cast stones because no one is without sin.

oneperson said...

Thank you for this Brian...and thanks to 'Jason's' dad for letting you share it.

My heart broke as I read it. In the end I hope the family will be stronger, Jason stronger, and that greater awareness of this dis-ease of non-understanding can be turned to understanding.

Some have probably seen the following link from a former Southern Baptist minister regarding his study of homosexuality and the Bible. Bruce Lowe is now a nonagenarian (in his 90s).

A Letter to Louise

The_Spook said...

This is a really moving, beautiful piece. What a wonderful idea to share this story. Turning tragedy into a way of helping others. The bit about choice really does resonate.

Kaylia Metcalfe said...

Thank you for this. I have a hard time explaining to people how hurtful and condescending the phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin" can be when used to promote bigotry and continue to isolate people.

Unknown said...
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JohnnyBoy said...

I disagree. I believe you can hate the sin and still love the sinner. Now if you are saying hateful things to a gay person like "you are disgusting" and things of that nature you are obviously being a hypocrite. I've had gay friends but I never talked like that towards them, ever. At the same time I don't promote homosexuality. God hates sin and that's a fact from the Bible. He also loves every one of us. If you don't believe in the Bible that is fine, we all have free will.

Anonymous said...

I have always said to young gay people not to come out until they are old enough to go out on their own. If family and your religion do not accept you then blow the dust off your feet and don't look back on either until you are comfortable to deal with either. Find a better religion and family can be be the friends that love you as you are.