Ed. note: When we asked our friend Michael Oleson if he would be willing to write something in support of lgbt-BJU.org, we were astonished because he wrote back the same day with this moving treatise.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – The Most Rev’d Desmond Tutu (b. 1931)
This might be one of the most unusual essays I’ve ever written. Maybe that makes sense after having spent some time at “The World’s Most Unusual University.”
I was a bit surprised to be asked to write this. The only thing that really directly connects me to this blog is my BJU background and having friends who are part of this community. I don’t have any gay family members and really didn’t have any gay friends growing up — or maybe I did, but because of the hostile environment, they probably tried to hide their orientation.
I think one area in which I do strongly relate to the LGBT community, though, is in experiencing ostracism and hatred to a degree that was far beyond what many people experience. I know I’m a bit different from many people. My thought processes are different, my sense of humor is different, and my sense of empathy toward other people is different. I feel the pain of others that goes beyond trying to empathize and understand. It is a literal sense of feeling those emotions in a very powerful way. I’ve not really told anyone about that publicly because I was afraid people would think I was crazy. I always thought it was very odd, but now I’ve met a couple of other friends who have that same response to others and realize that there is a very small set of people who share this quality.
There was a point at which I started to hate feeling things so strongly. That weight can be crushing at times. It drove me to defend other kids when I was younger, which often directed bullying my way.
I told one of my closest friends that I wished I could change that trait about myself because I was so tired of all of the hurt that it brought with it. She refocused my perspective by telling me that it was one of my best qualities and it was part of the uniqueness that she loved about me. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before and I still cling to that conversation when I feel different and alone.
Sometimes I wonder about the origins of that facet of my personality. I think this “hyper-empathy” or whatever term could be used for it stems from some of the pain in my past. I was the victim of some incredibly vicious bullying as a child in my fundamentalist church/school. It was far beyond the typical words and teasing.
I was quite shy and somewhat of a loner because of changing schools and churches. I didn’t know anyone. Terms like “gay wad” and “faggot” were thrown at me at first, so in some ways I felt some of the pain of the LGBT community in the fundamentalist culture even as I was growing up. The physical violence soon followed. This was in a “Christian” environment, but now I think it was anything but.
I’m not going to go into extensive details on everything that happened to me, but I will mention a few of the highlights. I still have pencil lead embedded in my right flank from where I was intentionally stabbed with a pencil. I remember being grabbed by the shoulders and having the posterior of my head bashed against a cinder block wall. I still wonder whether I sustained a concussion from that, but I didn’t tell anyone for fear of reprisal. I remember being dizzy and seeing stars for a couple of days. I was pushed through a glass window. I was pushed down a cement stairwell multiple times, one time sustaining an ankle fracture in the process. Of course, I covered for my tormentors because I feared things would get worse. Turns out I was right about that, but that’s another long story.
If anything, all of this forced me to withdraw more and more, which only fed the fire of those that chose to come after me. To this day I don’t understand what I did to bring on this torment. I was quiet and kind, nothing more. Now that I think about it, I’m hoping those would be the same words that could describe me today: quiet and kind.
I think I’m including all of that because it had a major impact on my understanding of what it is like to be abused. Abuse comes in many forms, and I think I experienced just about all of them with the exception of sexual abuse, in the fundamentalist environment.
Somehow even as a child I knew something was wrong with the fundamentalist world, although I couldn’t put my finger on it. All I knew was that my heart was in the right place and I tried to do all of the “right” things, but there was still something that felt wrong. I think my time at BJU helped me see that even more since it took the works-based Christianity to an extreme. Even though I left after two years, I can tell my thinking has been crippled by so many years in what I clearly see as a cult. I wonder what my life would have been without that history getting in the way.
I am going to write an argument intended for those who take the position that homosexuality is a sin. I am hoping that in doing so I can at least drive some compassion and kindness toward people who have suffered so much at the hands and mouths of those who do not show love toward others.
There are so many flaws in singling out a subgroup like the LGBT community. James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” If that passage is taken with one of the key verses of Romans that we all were taught indicating “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23), then in God’s eyes, we all are as if we have committed every sin, so for someone who takes the position of homosexuality as sin, they are accountable for it as well.
The Pharisees (who I think were the fundamentalists of that day) tried to trap Jesus with some questioning about a woman who had been caught in adultery. The Pharisees were going down the path of using OT law to justify stoning her. Jesus made a simple reply of “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) It makes me wonder how Jesus would respond to Bob Jones III call for stoning of gay people. I find it deplorable that anyone would call for the stoning of another human being. How in the world does this not strike people as absolute evil? [Does Bob Jones III not follow the Jesus of Christianity?]
My biggest complaint with all of this hatred though has to do with the failure of the fundamentalist Baptist community to see the evil that is inside their own gates. Jesus addressed this as well, saying “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:42).
I am not going to name names, but I will list a few of the qualities of senior pastors I was exposed to in that environment. Two of my former pastors were caught having affairs. One was caught stealing from the church’s offering. One stole a considerable amount of TV equipment from the church after he claimed that God led him to start another ministry using it.
There were other people in leadership positions that were evil as well. I saw and heard child abuse that haunts me to this day and brings me to tears. I’m not speaking of spankings, although plenty of those went way too far. I am talking about horrible physical beatings.
Of course, there were also all of the other false gods that were almost the pinnacle of that world that we were taught to revere. You don’t have to dig too deeply to learn about the character of people like Jack Hyles or Lester Roloff, both of whom I was exposed to repeatedly.
I have been bothered by so much of this for many years now. Until this point, there was no real way we could start connecting the dots of the damage that these environments have done. The internet and social media is changing that dynamic. I just learned of another senior pastor who is alleged to be molesting children in his church. This isn’t yet in the news media, although there are plenty of similar examples to be found in the press. These stories are coming out of the woodwork.
My question to the pastors of these churches is “why in the world are you making the LGBT community the target of all of your hatred? Can’t you see that people’s personal lives are really none of your business?” My hunch is that this is an easy topic to preach about, just like the other things that are banned in their subculture. They shame people into following all kinds of arcane rules in the “non-network” and preach about them. When they don’t address the things that are really wrong within their realms and hit all of these peripheral issues, I suspect that they are simply trying to make sure that they don’t offend their members TOO much, because losing members could impact their bottom line in the offering plate. I have come to the conclusion that most of them are running a business that is nothing more than religiosity. Cultural norms don’t let them tackle it from a racist standpoint anymore, which is clearly the historical incubator of much of fundamentalist thought, so now they have moved to another subculture to unleash their vitriol.
I am also beginning to wonder if this variant of fundamentalism is truly Christian at all or simply an evil decoy. John 13:34-35 says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I don’t see love in these churches; all I see is division and hate.
I think I first started waking up to this about 10-15 years ago when I realized that the number of people who have done anything hurtful to me from the fundamentalist subculture is far too numerous to count. However, even though I have had gay friends for at least 20 years now, I can’t think of one of them that has ever done anything mean-spirited toward me or ever tried to hurt me in any way. Oddly enough, the largest number of gay friends I’ve gained has been through BJU, and I am proud to be able to call all of them my friends.
My final thought to those who lead these churches and schools is simple. Instead of spending so much time preaching and teaching your interpretation of the Bible, why don’t you start living it as stated in John 13 or I Corinthians 13? Actions speak louder than words, especially when your actions are incongruent with what you claim to believe.