On Sunday, the pastor of Fayetteville’s Berean Baptist Church preached about why his flock should vote for Amendment One, which would impose a constitutional ban on marriage equality in North Carolina.
Many have heard and seen his shouted exhortations about “squashing like a cockroach,” the first signs of gender-variant behavior in children. Fewer have seen his searing denunciation of transgendered persons as “an affront to God.”
Voting for Amendment One, he declared, was their Christian duty. To do otherwise, would be “S-I-N. Sin.” It would give aid and comfort to homosexuals and open the door to same-sex marriage.
The pastor preached for an hour, barking almost every sentence like a military order.
I have counseled at least three GLBT young adults who have attended this church. They all said they heard similarly hateful messages there, which not only drove them away, but also pushed them into depression and self-harm, even suicide attempts.
I know this destructive pattern well. As a bisexual woman with a call to the ministry, I heard many similar sermons declaring this to be wicked and impossible. They drove me to undergo “reparative therapy” in a well-known “ex-gay” ministry.
It didn’t work and left me both “un-repaired” and bearing numerous physical and psychological scars.
My own recovery and self-affirmation led me in 2011 to launch a service group, Operation Bullyhorn, for those affected by the lethal epidemic of bullying.
Originally, I thought it would be only an online support group. Instead, it has blossomed into an international network. Chapters have sprung up in several countries.
I spend 40 or more hours weekly counseling youth and family members. I contact schools, groups and child protective services. I put together literature, events and rallies.
The good news: This work is spreading and has helped save many lives.
The bad news: It often comes too late. I have had to console many families and friends of those whose lives were cut short by bullying — like Kenneth Weishuhn, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, a gay teen hounded to death in early April by Facebook hate groups and cellphone threats
Or 10-year-old Jasmine McClain of Chadbourn, who hanged herself last November after being tormented about her clothing and shoes.
There aren’t reliable statistics. Yet that it’s an epidemic seems clear: I talked with families of at least 50 teen suicides last year, and 80 percent involved anti-gay bullying.
Tragically, extreme religious views like those shouted at Berean Baptist Church last weekend figure in all too many of these cases.
By themselves, their stories are hard enough to hear. What’s even more disturbing right now is how passing Amendment One – which, after all, was what the Berean Baptist sermon was about – will encourage and give “a special dispensation” to ratcheting up such verbal and physical violence against those condemned as living outside “God’s plan.”
I know all too well where such “pro-family” preaching and legislation ends. Too often, it brings a family together – at the morgue.
The Epistle of James, Chapter 3, says, “a large forest can be set afire by a tiny flame! And the tongue is like a fire.”
By Monday, facing criticism for his violent tirade, the preacher insisted that all the talk of punching and cracking wrists of children was just a joke.
But I’m not laughing. Are you?