A couple of weeks ago I posted a response to To Kill a Mockingbird in which I said that as an adult I am more like Maudie than Scout. Here’s one way I am like Maudie. I’m not out there actively fighting over the social issues of my day. I’m just quietly watching them, supportive in my own way of the people who are leading the charge. I’m grateful for baby steps toward progress. I don’t have any grand expectations that progress will happen any faster than that, but I am still hoping and praying for the best. That’s Maudie.
If Maudie had a blog, she would probably mostly talk about her gardening. She might post some pictures of funny things Jem and Scout were up to. She might talk about serving cake to neighbors now and then (but she wouldn’t share the recipe). She wouldn’t stir things up most of the time, but she might a little when pressed.
I feel a little like Maudie this morning, not sure how to proceed. I wrote yesterday about gay rights, which is perhaps the most controversial social issue of our day. Certainly, it is the most controversial civil rights issue. I have strong feelings about this, and I have plenty of my own ideas, but like Maudie, I’m not one to lead with my fists.
I live in Mississippi. Any talk of religion and gay rights could be taken as fighting words. Any talk could quickly dissolve into an us vs them fight to the death. But you see I am not a them. I am an us. I am part of the world I live in. I am a rural person from rural Mississippi. I am not an outsider to the religious beliefs or the social customs of my community. I am a product of those beliefs and customs.
I am us. I am here. I do not think my own community is mean or evil or backward or crazy or any of the other labels it is often stamped with. I think it is wonderful and loving and giving. I also think we, as a community of people, and we, as a community of faith, have a few realities we need to reconcile if we want to become something that is sustainable in the world we live in.
One of those realities is gay rights.
Gay rights are coming to a community near you. What’s more, they are coming because it is only right that they do. Gays in America, as much as anyone and everyone else, are citizens of a free democracy. As such, they have unalienable rights, among them, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
If we look back 50 years, we might have said the same thing about black children going to the same schools as white children. Mississippi was slow to concur with the rest of the country on that issue, and it is slow to concur on social issues today. Even in Mississippi, though, no one argues for going back in time 50 years on civil rights issues. We know now that the changes, while difficult at the time, took us in the right direction. They took us in the more spiritually right direction as well as the more socially right direction.
I really did not intend to bring this up on my blog. I did so yesterday because I have felt burdened by the gay teen suicides for weeks now–not only by the fact that they happened, but by the reactions to them and the continued declarations from people I know and love to the effect that “you can’t be Christian and gay.”
I realize I can’t say everything I want to say in one post. This is too complex. I’ll pick up that thread again of “you can’t be Christian and gay” in another entry. For now, I want to say this primarily–we were talking about kids.
If I were to write a “This I Believe” essay, here’s what I would say: “God doesn’t send children to Hell, but people often do.”
This is where I draw my own line. The musician Paul Thorn said in his “This I Believe” essay: “I had to break away from the God I was supposed to believe in to find the God I could believe in.”
I can’t believe in a God who sends children to Hell. I can’t believe God could be both a God of love and a God of retribution against children. And yes, teenagers are children. If we really believed they were fully accountable, fully culpable for their own actions, we would also believe they were ready to be responsible for themselves. We would believe we could safely send them out into the world on their own.
We know that we cannot because they are still children. They do not have the emotional or intellectual tools to make adult decisions. They are learning those tools, but they don’t have them yet, and we do not disown our children for making mistakes as they learn and grow.
Neither does God, not the God I believe in.
Thus, we have this difficult complex of realities to sort out if we are a people of the Christian faith.
1. God doesn’t send children to Hell.
2. Religious tradition teaches us that homosexuality is an abomination.
3. Sometimes children are gay.
4. Children can’t be abominations.
I can’t tell you how to reconcile these issues in your own heart and mind. I can only tell you what I think.
Children are gay in the same way children are straight. They are feeling their hormones kick in. That doesn’t mean they are sexually active. It means they are starting to develop sexual awareness at the time and in the way that biology dictates. Gay puberty is as innocent as any other puberty. It is simply a biological fact.
Human biology also dictates that most kids when they reach the age of puberty will primarily become aware of and attracted to the opposite sex. Some minority of every generation, every race, and every culture will become aware of and attracted to the same sex during puberty. This is biology taking care of the future. It happens in every species. Most, but not all, of any given species will develop strong urges to reproduce at the age that physical maturation begins.
This is why homosexuality is not a threat to society at large. Homosexuality is always going to be present in the human race, but human biology in general is never going to shift toward something that does not propagate the species. It’s why gay marriages are not a threat to straight marriages. There are always going to be some people who prefer same sex partners, but there are never going to be more than just some. Biology has a job to do, and it does it. Human laws and cultural shifts will not ever stand in its way.
This is also why gay children are just children. It’s why they are just as innocent as any other children. They aren’t defiant or deviant. They are just biological realities.
I believe this, that biology determines sexuality, to be incontrovertible. Not everyone agrees. Some definitely controvert over this. If we could all agree on this point, we wouldn’t have nearly the debate over the morality of homosexuality that we have now. But reconciling scientific evidence with religious traditions is also another issue for another post. My focus here is children, and I am compelled to assert and reassert the point that regardless of how you view homosexuality, children are innocents.
God doesn’t send children to Hell. People do when they torment them.
If there is any common ground at all in the debate for gay rights it ought to be that children deserve our protection. They deserve our protection emotionally as well as physically. They deserve our protection from bullies. They deserve our protection even from our own preachings of what we think is wrong with them.
My biggest disagreement with the way religion was taught to me is that it was taught by the church in a manner that functioned as psychological abuse. Large groups of children were herded into a big room and told to sit still in their Sunday shoes while they listened to grown men tell them over and over and over that they were all going to Hell, that everyone they knew was going to Hell.
This was viewed as compassion on the part of the adults involved because it was viewed as saving the souls of the children. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. It didn’t work because it didn’t provide a sense of emotional security. It only dished out emotional torment. The message of the consequences of sin was not balanced out with a message of love. We just heard the shouting and the fearmongering and the thousand different ways it was possible for one little kid to end up in a pit of fire for all of eternity.
As a result, everyone lost out. The church lost whole generations of children who did not stick around as adults, and those children carried with them into their lives emotional insecurities rather than spiritual reassurances. There’s got to be a better way. This I believe.
This I believe. God doesn’t send children to Hell, but people often do.
That’s not our job, my people. It’s just not our job.