Harding University Queer Press Series: A Digital Illustration

This post is one in a continuing series for the month of March that aims to examine the American Church’s response to homosexuals in their midst, whether they be believers, agnostics, or atheists. This month’s series was spawned by the Harding University Queer Press publishing a zine on March 2 featuring the voices and stories of past and present LGBTQ students at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, my alma mater. The zine can be downloaded in its digital entirety at http://www.huqueerpress.com.

A lot of the blogosphere and its commenters during this whole zine event have been pretty insensitive in their speech, which isn’t all that surprising since the internet affords people the opportunity to be anonymous and say whatever they want to without having to stake their claim with their name and, thus, maintain any sort of ownership on their opinion. I had always assumed, though, if people had their name attached to their comment they would think twice before speaking (or typing, I suppose). And actually, I do still think that’s usually the case, which is why the following situation was so disturbing; some people surprisingly are not afraid to publicly proclaim how they really feel about this issue of homosexuality, even if the end result is them looking seethingly spiteful.

I won’t copy and paste the entire digital illustration here because it’s just too long, but here’s a shortened explanation. A year ago a close friend of mine, who is a fellow Christian and student at Harding, posted a Facebook status simply stating he could never support attempts to legislate against homosexuality. What ensued on the comments board was ridiculous; people began to go after one another with their words, and my friend eventually deleted his status because it was getting out of hand. There were so many interesting subplots within this online conversation.

The first noteworthy facet was how this all started as a political topic, and yet once the commenters took over it instantly turned religious. My friend was talking about legislation against homosexuality, and only one—yes, just one—commenter realized that and responded to the its political nature. Everyone else immediately started bringing in the Bible, Christianity, and God, even though my friend never mentioned such things. I then watched in disgust as the Christians started getting militant, and naturally the gay supporters didn’t take to that too kindly and responded with an equal measure of vehemence. This eagerness to delve into the religious aspects of the debate (that were nonexistent until someone dragged the elephant into the room) seemed to speak to two things.

One, it felt as if we were all witnessing just another example of how so many Americans blur the lines between their Bibles and voting booths and come away with the politicization of religion and an environment where everything political is religious and vis-a-versa. My friend stated nothing religious in the initial Facebook status, and yet it just seemed natural, fluid, and—dare I even say?—legitimate for religion to float in and make its appearance.

Two, it also felt, to me, as if this was a reminder (in case anyone forgot) how people are very angrily indignant under the surface and are just waiting for an outlet that will enable them to blow a gasket and let off some self-righteous steam. What’s interesting, too, is the eagerness with which this took place. During the afternoon when this online conversation occurred, comments were being posted mere minutes after one another, meaning these college students were sitting at their computers waiting to see the next comment appear so they could get their response in as quickly as possible. And this was in the middle of an afternoon on a school day. Didn’t they have better things to do? In their minds probably not, especially when you consider how people are ravenous for an argument. We always want something to attack.

But there are times when it’s difficult to attack your “adversary,” and this is the second subplot. There were two students in particular who were really going at it near the beginning of the litany of comments, and I’ll refer to them as Martin and Whitney—the former not agreeing with the gay lifestyle and the latter backing up the LGBTQ community. Martin did not have his actual photograph as his profile picture; instead, it was a celebrity from some television program. For whatever reason Whitney stopped berating him to suddenly ask if that picture was who she thought it was. Turns out both of them loved the same television show. In the middle of all the verbal haranguing these two people found common ground, which was beautiful, embarrassing, and hilarious all at the same time. Unfortunately, the arguments between the many other commenters continued long after that point, but Martin and Whitney found a shared interest amidst all of this bickering, and what’s intriguing is how they never said a nasty thing to each other again (and they had been going at it pretty heavily). My theory is when your “opponent” becomes more like you, it’s impossible to keep throwing punches. When you see something in him or her that is reminiscent of yourself, you suddenly don’t want to attack anymore because it’s as if you’re abusing yourself in front of everyone else, and such a detrimental self-masochistic move would make anyone very self-conscious in an arena as public as Facebook.

Now that I’ve mentioned Martin I can begin to bring in the third subplot. Towards the end of the comments a random new girl jumped in on the debate, and she was Super Christian. I’ll call her Amy. She blasted everyone supporting gays. She brought in Adam and Eve as the end-all support for heterosexual-only marriage. She resolutely denounced scientific findings that support genetic homosexuality (yet she offered no reason why or any opposing research of her own). She proclaimed homosexuality harms society. She was on a roll.

But I saw something that caught my eye. As mentioned, Martin had a snapshot of some celebrity as his profile picture, so I really had no idea who he was. Being the Facebook stalker I am, I had looked at his other pictures earlier in the day to determine if I recognized the guy or had seen him around campus. I hadn’t. It wasn’t until Amy commented, though, that I did a double take, for in her picture was a guy with a familiar face. I felt like I’d seen her boyfriend recently and suddenly realized it was Martin. So, now for subplot number three (and yes, I realize this next one is conjecture): what’s going to happen with couples like Martin and Amy? Do they challenge one another, or do they only embolden each other’s distaste for the homosexual community? Will it be couples like these who have a high propensity for keeping the Church in a regressive state (perhaps not across the board on all issues, but definitely in the realm of the Church and homosexuality)? I do wonder because let’s assume Martin and Amy get married. Now you have two people sharing the exact same views of disdain together. They will probably procreate and most likely instill the same views and values into their children as any parent would—values aimed at propagating the “Lord’s work” through their family. This is frightening, though, when you consider how the “values” here are ones of disgust and prejudice towards homosexuals that will spread through their lineage. Could they become a family who, unless an intervention occurs, will continue to withhold unconditional love from their neighbors, that horrific resistance which crucifies compassion day in and day out?

Because when people see that taking place, it breaks their hearts. Or it makes them give up on Christianity, Jesus, and God altogether. And that’s the fourth subplot, exemplified by a guy I’ll refer to as Ron. He was one of the last commenters, and I’d only met him a few weeks prior to this Facebook status. A human rights group on Harding’s campus had recently hosted a three-night series with separate conversations on feminism, homosexuality and the Church, and politics and the Church. Ron came to those dialogues, and I learned there he is an agnostic. He went to those conversations because he’s a bright, intellectual guy who generally liked the Christians who showed up to those forums—Christians passionate about following the radical call of Christ who knew doing so didn’t require them to check their intellect at the door. Ron was lividly indignant at the lack of love, compassion, and acceptance exhibited in the comments on my friend’s Facebook status, and opinions like the ones shared online cause Ron to embrace agnosticism, a fact he as much admitted at one of the conversations hosted by the human rights group.

My only criticism of Ron is that he let his temper go just like everyone else, but I’m in the same boat, and that’s the fifth subplot—this massive Catch-22. It envelopes people like me, like Ron, like my friend who first posted the Facebook status. After he erased his statement from the social network, we texted back and forth several times, and we were both pretty discouraged to see such thinking proliferating amongst people at our school, some of whom are our friends. The dismay came from seeing these people being so quick to jump all over the homosexuals and trying their best to throw their verbal vinegar upon them time and time again. I was sitting at my computer watching this Facebook tiff unfold with my head in my hands in utter disbelief. And then the irony began in that I started to hate the people who were writing those things.

I don’t mean a slight aversion. I started to genuinely loathe them. And with that, the Catch-22 came full circle. I’m incredibly susceptible to falling into the trap of earnestly trying to get people to see how we need to be treating homosexuals with love while simultaneously withholding love from the people who hate the homosexuals. This is not to go against everything I’ve been writing all month, but at this point the following question needs to be asked in response to this irony: “What makes the homosexual so good?” I ask that to remind myself not to get off track; I can not focus so much on a homosexual’s humanity and need for love that I concurrently rip it away from the ones who rub me the wrong way. Because if that happens, I am no different from the Christians hating homosexuals; I’ve simply become a Christian hating Christians.

I have to pause and remember the fact that people need time. For some, coming around to loving and accepting homosexuals as people doesn’t take much convincing. But then, there are others who have decades of prejudice to unwind, which will take a considerable amount of time to happen. It may sound like a ridiculous plea to the homosexual community scorned by the Church, but it needs to be made regardless: be patient. This sort of thing will not happen overnight (obviously). Does that make it any less maddening? Of course not. Does it remove its sense of urgency and the need to speak up? Definitely not. Does it somehow lessen the severity of the injustice thrown upon you? No. But people can and do change, and some will take more time than others, and quite honestly, there may not be a whole lot you can do to speed up the process, either. A person will change when they’re ready to change, and it sure won’t happen if you or I were to try and apply some form of force.

But those five things were beneath the surface of the Facebook comments. One assumption, however, revealed itself for all to see, and I want to address it specifically: the idea or belief homosexuality is somehow on par with murder. At one point a guy stated in the comments board, “Homosexuality is as much a choice as pulling the trigger.” (It should probably also be noted when I asked this same individual if he had any gay friends, he proclaimed he would not have gay people for close friends because Scripture supports such purposeful distancing.)

This murder correlation never ceases to flabbergast me. I would love to believe that deep down people don’t really hold this to be true in their minds and hearts, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. I sincerely hope if a person were to sit down and trace out the implications of such a train of thought, he would see its inherent asininity. My friend, Brian, and I were doing some manual labor work this summer, and he fleshed this out beautifully.

What he said was explained so perfectly I won’t even try to find another way to say it. We weren’t even talking about homosexuality; I think we were talking about religious people overreacting in general, and at one point Brian—who is a Christian—said, “You know, if I had to choose between my son having sex with another man or killing someone, I’d desperately hope he’s gay. I mean, which would I rather hear when he comes home? ‘Well Dad, I screwed another man,’ or ‘Dad, I killed the Parkers next door.’” Our conversation had a tone of jest to it, but the profound simplicity of what Brian said was unmistakable. When the two are put up alongside one another, it’s painfully easy to see how ludicrous this homosexuality-is-like-murder argument is. The reason Brian’s point works so well is his willingness to make it personal. He puts the argument into an arena that would be very close to his heart: his own child, should he have a son or daughter one day.

Now, obviously Brian has arrived at a point in his maturity most people have not; he’s willing to inject himself into the scene, while many Christians try to keep the reality of life far at bay. It is not difficult to find stories of homosexuals who were rejected from their families the moment they came out of the closet. This propensity for shunning, rather than embracing, has a ripple effect that is ripping—and will continue to rip—families apart. If a married couple can not love their child no matter what, perhaps they’re the very people who shouldn’t get pregnant in the first place because from day one they will fail as a parent since their love for their child hinges on whether or not he turns out the way they want him to. I don’t need to mention again how this bastardizes love; that’s what two posts ago focused on.

I don’t know what I take away from this digital illustration other than two convictions: 1) our hearts are pretty black, but 2) there’s a way to move beyond that. I still think it’s so deliciously ironic that Martin and Whitney stopped launching verbal bombs at one another upon discovering shared interests. And yet, even that shouldn’t be so impressive. Scripture encourages us to not even look at our own interests, but to instead preoccupy ourselves with the interests of others—“interests” being that which takes care of a person and brings good to their lives.

And you can’t bring good to someone’s life without being invested in it, and you can’t do that through Facebook or e-mail, and certainly not with cutting comments. Words have the power to wrench the heart into contorted positions of torture, hurt, embarrassment, and shame. Almost every comment on my friend’s Facebook status was issued with such an aim, and people were not afraid for such linguistic barrages to be nestled right up against their name. Such attachment denotes an ownership of these hurtful thoughts and sentiments, and nobody minded that connection being available for all to see. So really, I don’t know why I’m keeping these people anonymous to you, other than perhaps because it’s too embarrassing to watch it happen repeatedly.

Many of the commenters appeared to be representing their true selves, or at least, the way their true selves were then. There’s always room for change to occur in the hearts of all men and women, but I wonder if many of those who shared their thoughts on the comments board are still as vehemently opposed to the homosexual community as they were one year ago. I think in a lot of ways many of the then fellow students of mine were attempting to achieve some twisted sort of catharsis through their malicious words.

So what is there to do? As much as I don’t like to say it, we are to also walk alongside those who are hateful. We are to accept them. We are to hope and pray their hard hearts might turn to the warmer side of life that loves and accepts without pretense, but that requires faithful patience. Many of us—myself included—would rather be standoffish to the prejudiced ones, but community is diversity, so if we are going to achieve such an eclectic family, the open arms have to start spreading with an alarming amount of regularity. (I should probably mention right now how often I have to eat my own words.)

But spreading open arms can’t happen in the digital realm. While I frequently tell people how much I hate technology, I readily acknowledge how much a part of my life it is, and while it can be a blessing, I’m not sure how much of it is a good thing. We could tell ourselves we’re somehow structuring true dialogue, effecting real conversation, or building deeper relationships through such things as Facebook or blog comments or [fill in the blank with your own technological social medium], but we’re not. My last post was a tactile illustration of how people can be hurt by teasing or bullying, but this has been a digital illustration—the point being that our words can harm others in any realm. But that same universality does not exist when referencing reparation; that can only take place in the physical realm.

The term “reaching out” isn’t just a buzzword; it has a literal physical connotation to it. It implies you or I are near the person in a bodily sense. But no one holds a gun to your head making you do that. Just as you have the free room to lasciviously destroy, so you also have the freedom to make a conscious effort towards restoring that which others (or perhaps yourself) have torn down. And may you be blessed, strengthened, and encouraged as you step away from your television, video games, cell phone, and computer to do just that.

Much love.

1 comment
  1. Zach said:

    Thanks Nelson, I have been weary of late in the endeavor of opening arms; you have encouraged me.

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