by: Todd Andrew Clayton
On May 13th, 2012, following President Obama’s public endorsement of same-sex marriage, Charles Worley — pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church outside Maiden, NC — preached a controversial, inflammatory sermon about his proposed solution to what he believes is a vicious problem: the existence of gays and lesbians in the United States.
“I had a way, I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn’t get it past the Congress,” the pastor continues. This month has been significantly trying for the LGBTQ community in North Carolina with the passing of Amendment One — the statewide constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions. Supporters of the amendment gathered in a reception hall in Raleigh to celebrate its passing, cutting and serving wedding cakes that had been prepared in the event of victory. Each one boasted a bride and groom topper.
“Build a great, big, large fence — 50 or 100 mile long — put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals, and have that fence electrified ‘til they can’t get out. Feed ‘em. And you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce.”
As a gay Christian, Worley’s homicidal desire proves particularly poisonous to me. He has hijacked two significant identifiers of my personhood, marring them afresh on the national stage. The affront to my sexuality is easily identifiable: he has attempted to relegate me to less-than second-class citizenship; he has hoped for my death; he has made clear his belief that I — and any other non-heterosexually oriented person — should be grateful if they drop food into our prison post-confinement.
“It makes me pukin’ sick to think about — I don’t even know whether or not to say this in the pulpit — can you imagine kissing some man?” (Hint: I totally can.)
Equally frustrating and difficult to stomach, however, is the horrendous portrait of the Christian tradition that Worley has painted with his bile and hate-filled rhetoric. He has spoken authoritatively and with dangerous certainty for what is an infinitely diverse community, one in which his hostile, conservative, antiquated voice is becoming a minority. Thankfully, many religious communities — Christian and otherwise — are beginning to realize that a posture of exclusive inhospitality is fundamentally uncompassionate and — given the national trajectory — unsustainable if they hope to remain culturally and socially relevant.
You’d think rage would be the namable emotion I felt after watching his excerpt, after listening to him defile the pulpit and raid my civil rights, but — truth be told — more than anger it was fatigue that clambered into my consciousness and reclined for the afternoon. This conversation is not new, and I’m tired of having it. To roll my eyes at the idiocy, though, to marvel at the ignorance of a minister a country across from me and not raise my hands in protest is to concede defeat. Unless the cries of the oppressed are made known, the destructive script of the powerful reads on.
Even when I’m too tired to speak, even when my fingers resent me for forcing them to type, even when I’m overworked, underpaid, and a glass of wine and an episode of Parks and Recreation cuddled up next to the guy I like sounds exponentially nicer than obnoxiously airing my grievances for what feels like the seven times seventieth time, I’ll do it. Because the Worleys of the world can’t win. The people like me — the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, straight-people-who-aren’t-ideologically-Neanderthalic — who remain unwittingly trapped under unjust leadership have to know that there are richer, truer, more meaningful realities out there where the kind of person they are is unequivocally celebrated and normal.
To Mr. Worley, and anyone else who thinks I belong behind an electrified fence on account of my bedtime behavior: may you know that — so long as I have breath — I will resolutely stand in protest to your claims of truth, and can only hope that someday you’ll stumble upon the kind of compassion that has the power to bend the arc of the world toward justice and love. ‘Til then, I’ll be here to embrace the people who — by your own confession — move you to nausea.