I am a native son of the Deep South, born and bred in the land of cotton, Christianity and conservatism.
As a native son, I soaked up the homophobic culture in which I lived just as I soaked up a love of college football, the smell of fresh mown grass and cut wild onions on Sunday afternoons and July thunderstorms beheld on the back porch with iced cold sweet tea.
But I know now what I did not then. I know that I had friends who were gay, lesbian and bisexual, and I know that those friends overheard hate speech, cloaked in piety, fall from of my mouth as if it were righteousness. They heard me use the word “gay” as a pejorative. They heard me speak with confidence of how God condemned homosexuality. They heard me joke that God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. They heard from me what they heard from everyone else in the South and what they heard tonight in North Carolina.
I’d like to apologize to them all, because I am sorry, and I humbly repent. But let’s be honest. Right now, as the state of North Carolina codifies hate speech into a constitutional amendment, apologies don’t begin to cut it.
As a native son of the Deep South and of North Carolina, tonight, I am ashamed, and angry.
I am ashamed for being too understanding of my homophobic brothers and sisters in Christ, knowing personally just how difficult it is to unravel the hate that can be instilled by the Christian faith. I am ashamed for being too tolerant of intolerance and hate. I am angry that the moral arc of the universe has been so misshapen by so-called Christian morality. I am angry that our churches, by and large, have stood for spirit of the world — the spirit of sin, death and hate — rather than the spirit of God — the spirit of love, creation and just societies.
I’m angry that we’re still having this conversation.
And I am angry that the land I love — that I have loved — is now the last place I want my two sons to experience their childhood.
See, it took more than a decade to overcome my own homophobia, and I would spare my children from living in place where such hate and exclusion is not only accepted, but applauded as godly. Even after I became convinced that condemning LGBT+ persons was not supported by Holy Scripture, I still held onto an emotional reluctance — embedded deeply within me by cultural conditioning — to embrace same-sex couples.
It wasn’t until I left the South and joined a playgroup with gay and lesbian parents that I felt the final bindings of hate release, that I could emotionally as well as intellectually affirm equality for all humans, regardless of their sexuality.
It wasn’t until I interviewed couples remembering with fondness the February weekend they dashed off to San Francisco to finally have their relationships recognized that I saw the genuine romance in LGBT relationships. It wasn’t until I listened to those same couples mourn the rejection of their relationships at the ballot box that I understood the fundamental inhumanity of heterosexists. It wasn’t until all this that I finally realized “they” were no different than me.
Mostly, though, tonight I am angry that the vote in North Carolina doesn’t surprise me one bit.
Actually, anger doesn’t begin to describe it. I am angry to the point of rage, which is better than the alternative of despair, I suppose. I am enraged that the land of my mother and father has been turned into a den of robbers that break into people’s bedrooms and relationships, cover it in hate and steal away human rights.
Angry enough to overturn tables.
And, as a Christian, I think it is time to admit who bears responsibility for atrocities like Amendment One and all other anti-LGBT legislation.
I might want to say I’m not like those Christians over there who stood for Amendment One and other such legislation. But they are my brothers and sisters in the faith, no two ways about it. I might want to say those Christians don’t represent what Christ stood for. But I bet they would say the same thing about me. I can try to split hairs and divide the Christian community so I don’t have to think about the hate my faith tradition has spawned and let loose in the world like a legion of demons.
But I can’t say any of that with a shred of integrity.
Tonight, Christianity is to blame. To say otherwise would be a lie.
So, perhaps, on second thought, while saying I’m sorry might not be enough, it might just be the only thing to do tonight.
David R. Henson is a writer and postulant for the priesthood in the Episcopal church.
Henson blogs at Patheos.com