Sunday, I sat through a presentation by Jeff Chu, author of Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. He had come to at the behest of my church: Coral Gables Congregational as part of our ongoing dialogue exploring and better understanding our faith. He was a journalist for Time and Fast Company and his book was recommended by the New York Times Book Review.
His story is a common tale of overachieving boy born of fundamentalist parents realizing he's gay and then trying to reconcile the subsequent conflicts between him, faith and his parents after he fully acknowledges his homosexuality. In classic millennial generation style, he, being exceptional, finds the grace to forgive those who hurt him and realize that they are hurting him out of "love." Now on some level he's right. A good Christian should "turn the other cheek" and offer an unconditional surrender to love and forgiveness.
However, Mr. Chu takes it to another level. He decides "as an objective journalist" - (his quote on Sunday), to spend time with the followers of the Westboro Baptist Church of the "God Hates Fags" fame. Here is my first critique: how exactly is a personal pilgrimage objective journalism? He proceeds to describe them as "really nice people" who do what they do "out of love". Who he broke bread with, and made "funny jokes about cool-aid." Who were just like you and me in their day to day lives. He mentioned casually later on in his presentation that he had never met anyone who's family funeral was marred by one of their protests.
So I'm going to say this to Mr. Chu: I have been to two funerals where they have appeared. Prior to the tactic of going to Military funerals, they would scour the obituaries for men who had died of AIDS and show up there. Grieving for a loved one is probably the hardest thing anyone has to go through. Especially someone young who left too soon. Then at that moment, that sacred moment, a band of hatemongers have attached themselves to the memory, your memory, of that person....and hopefully you can forget, that when you were at your weakest, somebody pulled an emotional sucker punch on you. So Jeff Chu asks us to find the Grace, to forgive them for what they've done to your family, friends and community because they're just "regular folks who eat cereal in the morning".
Sadly, Mr. Chu has touched evil and didn't see it for what it was. As a gay man I have encountered evil. It always comes in the guise of "regular folks". Did he think the Nazis had horns? Did he think that the KKK didn't go to church on Sunday and love their children too? Yes, as Christians we have the duty of Grace, but don't we have a duty to call out evil when we see it? What Westboro does is violence of the worst kind, do we look inside ourselves and say "oh well, they're just "regular folks" who are misguided, let's just forgive and move on. "
Grace, forgiveness, comes very hard to me and to my family. It's something that forces me to dig deep and try not to hurt someone physically. (I am seeing a therapist about anger management) To tell me that someone who goes up to a grieving mother and tells her that her child will burn in hell, at that child's funeral, is certainly not deserving of God's grace regardless of what they had for breakfast that morning.
Fred Phelps, the founder of this Church died today, March 20th, 2014.....Grant me the grace.