My hometown has been on my mind a lot lately. It’s hard to say exactly why, but really, does it matter? That’s what hometowns are for: to remind us who we are, where we are from, where we might go to. Hometowns connect us to our families, our histories, our selves. And they remind us that we’re often WAY too big for our britches.
Hometowns have a way of reminding us of our childish ways. Like when we would drive by the brick wall fence at the end of Brannen Street, barking out the window so that Cujo would burst through the holes in the fence to eat the uninitiated rider in the back seat. Yes, this is the language of entertainment in my small hometown. In short, there wasn’t much to do.
I grew up in Statesboro, Georgia: a farming town that developed into a small college town when Erk Russell revived the football program at Georgia Southern in the 80s. “I’m going to the country . . . baby do you want to go?” The weeks were a holding pattern between Friday night football, Saturday football, and church all day Sunday.
Church actually filled much more of my time than just on Sunday. As difficult as it is to believe for many of my friends today, I was easily describable as a fundamentalist when I lived in Statesboro. Of course, I didn’t describe myself that way there. There I was just a “good kid.” It just so happened that being a good kid in the Boro, and especially at Eastern Heights Baptist Church, meant being a fundamentalist. I was well known for all the things that I did not do. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t drink. I didn’t listen to rock (unless it was Christian Rock, and even that was . . . lets just say it was questionable.)
I was so well known as someone who didn’t do things, that on the rare occasion that I did do something, like say drop the F-bomb in choral rehearsal at school, others got in trouble instead of me. (Sorry about that Brian . . .)
Like Jenny Joseph, I saw my job as setting “a good example for the children” even though I was a child myself.
This was how I came to identify and understand myself. After years of being something of an outcast at school and especially on the sports fields of the Rec Center, I found a place where I belonged, and I threw myself into that identity with abandon. I had been the outsider, the alien, the stranger for so long that I didn’t notice when Eastern Heights’ pastor began a campaign of abuse against those who were different from us.
I am grateful to Eastern Heights Baptist Church for a great many things. They taught me that I was important and loved. As Bill Moyers says of his home Baptist church, they taught me everything that I knew about democracy and fairness. They taught me the importance of standing and speaking up for what I believe in. They encouraged me to sing, to preach, to read and study (the Bible anyway), and to love. This last was the most important, and it is why it took me so long to realize that that love they were preaching didn’t really apply to everyone.
In particular, it didn’t apply to the “homosexual perverts” that Rev. Don Roberts preached against so often that we never heard one noun without the other.
Because I was on the inside, I forgot what it was to be on the outside. Because they accepted me, I failed to notice the hatred and the venom being spewed in the name of Christ. I forgot that Jesus had spent his entire life reminding people that the outsiders, the least of these, were the ones that he had walked with, talked with, eaten with, and loved. And at no time did he call them names.
Look, my purpose here isn’t to say that Christians must view homosexuality as ordained by God. Rev. Roberts was free to believe that homosexuality is a sin. He was free to preach that homosexuality is a sin. Eastern Heights was free to teach that it is a sin. (For the record, since I didn’t choose to be straight—it’s just a part of who I am and who God made me to be; I don’t believe that people who are gay chose to be gay—it’s just a part of who they are and who God made them to be.) That’s not what this posting is about. What it is about is a reminder that the words and the language that we use matters.
It’s wrong to abuse people in the name of God, and we Christians should stop.
This is one reason why I am wearing purple tomorrow on 10/20/2010: to show that not all Christians hate those who are different. I ask that you join me in wearing purple as well. Even if it means that you’re going to wear something that you don’t normally wear. It’s good to remember to identify with the outsider. It’s good to put away childish ways. It’s good to remember who you are and to stand for justice and fairness. It’s good to stand with the least of these our brothers and sisters.
Tomorrow, when I am older, I shall wear purple.