Walk a mile in our shoes
Being discriminated against because of traits we were born with – race, gender, disabilities – can be a deeply painful, even soul-destroying, experience. For people who are homosexual, the prejudice and the hurt is the same. And sadly this type of suffering goes on in our churches and schools, as well as in the wider world. Can you imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in their shoes? One father challenges us with that question.
Imagine you are a black child growing up in the United States in the 1960s, or in South Africa under the rule of apartheid. Every aspect of society labels you inferior. You are verbally and physically abused and feel isolated as you go about your normal life. You are not welcome to eat, travel, or worship with white people. You did not choose to be black. You cry yourself to sleep in your mother’s arms wondering what you did to deserve the punishment you are receiving.
How would you feel?
You hear stories of people fighting for your rights and you hope change comes within your lifetime. You still hurt from the death of a friend who could not bear the cruelty and literally got to the end of his rope. You have even considered what a sweet release that could be for you. Some members of the white church claim your friend could not cope with the shame of being black. You internally struggle with the desire to be fully proud of the way God made you despite what they say.
Unfortunately this emotional and spiritual pain and the experience of being treated as a second-class citizen are all too familiar for thousands of people in Australia and New Zealand in 2016 – because they are gay. My daughter is one of them. Some of our society, both within and outside of our church, tell her she is abnormal, disgusting and a threat to society. But that is not who she is to me. She is one of the most beautiful creations I have met.
She has struggled through the deepest depths of despair, wishing she could be ‘normal’ or even not be at all. She is now proud of the way God made her and I am writing this to encourage other people like her and especially the parents of homosexual children.
I admit finding out my child was gay was something I hoped I would never have to deal with. Now I am ashamed of some of the attitudes I used to hold. My background in and knowledge of science and mathematics meant I had already begun the transition from believing sexual orientation was a choice to the realisation that a person is born with their sexuality, just as they are born black or white, male or female. The first support video my wife and I watched reinforced this idea very strongly.
I previously had the notion that my child will never be gay if I ‘bring them up right’. Now I believe that was a ludicrous idea and that ours will be a better world when young people no longer have to live with cruelty and misunderstanding in their homes and schools.
It may surprise people to know how many gay people are born into our Lutheran church. You will not openly hear of the ones who have taken their own lives, but it happens. They are driven to it, not because they cannot bear the shame of their sexual identity, but because of the abuse they are subjected to. They did not choose to be gay. They just are.
Those who are brave enough to come out to their church and families are often despised and rejected. To be told you are no longer loved and welcome in your family home, perhaps because you are a mistake caused by a fallen human race, must be a gut-wrenching, heart-rending experience.
I have not personally witnessed the discrimination gay people face, but my daughter has. I am ashamed of the rallies which target homosexual people with abuse and/or physically sabotage and disrupt the activities of a minority group peacefully planning or conducting a gathering.
Whenever we realise that, through our actions or inactions, we are perpetrating injustice, we must work to create a better world. My hope is for Christian gay people to be free to live in the kingdom of God into which they were baptised and be active members of our church.
I hope my words will assure our Christian gay community that they have support. You are not alone. Many people in other denominations and the ACCEPTS group (with members from our own Lutheran church) are working on your behalf.
I want to encourage more parents and children in this situation to bravely face their family, friends and colleagues in calling for love and compassion rather than discrimination and condemnation. Disabled people are not meant to be outcast from society. Women have a right to vote, work and play alongside men. Black people are not a result of the fall of mankind into sin. Equalising the rights of blacks and women had to happen. So, too, must we now move on to the next discriminated group.