Let me tell you what Hell is.

The text read:  “Im going to burn in hell ne way.”

*beep beep*

“Life is pain.  Why live?  Pain forever, then hell.  I want it over with.”

I got his address off of Facebook, we’d become friends only days before when he’d been given a copy of my novel.  I wasn’t sure what had inspired him to reach out to me.  All I knew was that I’d stayed home from church that day because I was sick, and here he was.  Reaching out.  Not wanting to die alone.

“Don’t be an idiot”, I texted him back.  “There is love.  There is hope.   If you go to hell I’m going with you.”

Painful seconds passed.

“I’m almost to your house,” I wrote.  “Calling you.”

I will never, ever, forget the pain in his voice when he answered his phone.  When we’d met a few days before, he had been the kindest, gentlest, most soft spoken person I’d ever known.  He had been so quick to laugh, and although he obviously was living with a great deal of pain his spirit shone through.  The voice I heard through the phone was almost robotic in it’s monotone and so desperately lacking in spirit.  “Just stay alive another minute,” I told him.  “I’m turning, where are you?”

He came out on the front porch and agreed to go with me.  I took him to a mental health clinic that was fortunately only a few blocks away.  Even so, it was one of the longest car rides of my life.

“God doesn’t hate you,” I said.  “God loves you.”

“You know what they say?”  He replied, “I would’ve never been gay unless God totally rejected me.”

“For F—‘s sake, you said you’ve known you were gay since you were six!  What did a six year old do to get wholly rejected by God?”

“It doesn’t matter, does it?”  He wiped away tears but it was like wiping at the Columbia, it just kept rushing out.  “I mean, I can’t not be gay and no one cares, I mean, they don’t care no matter what.  It’s like, ‘well sure you’re depressed, it’s what comes from sin.’ And like, ‘the wages of sin is death’ so like if I kill myself, that’s justice.  That’s justice.”

“And here I took you for someone pretty smart,” I responded.  “You know homosexual acts are listed right with gossip and idle talk and drunkenness.  If your suicide is justice half that freaking church needs to put a blade to their wrist.”

“I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Well I’m kind of pissed that you almost died on my watch.  I could say more.”

He just stared at me.

“God is love, right?  You remember my favorite passage.  It’s all over the book.  The people that won’t help you because you are gay can’t be speaking for God because it’s not loving to turn away from someone’s pain.  Whatever they said it doesn’t matter.”

“You didn’t hear them, Ell.  All of the verses, and it’s like, ‘hey, it’s in the Bible.  We’re just being obedient.'”

“Shut the eff up, man, or I’ll pull over and slap you.”

“Ell!”

“I don’t want to hear that crap in my car even if you are quoting someone else.  Forget it.”

“I don’t understand, I mean, I thought you were a Christian.”

“Of course I’m a Christian, that’s why I can recognize bull when I hear it.  The fruit of the spirit is goodness and patience and love and whatever the other ones are.”

“Ha!”

“I’m a little distracted by how pissed I am and can’t do the brain thing, forgive me.”

“What were you saying?”

“Love.  That’s the fruit of the spirit.  If the fruit of their obedience is your death, it’s not my God they are obeying.”

“Oh,” he said.

“And honestly I’m feeling more Christlike right now than I have in years.”

* * *

A few weeks later we would be emailing back and forth, and I would say this.  “What you said about Hell.  I can show you hell.  It’s a kid going to a church because he’s on the brink and he needs someone to love him, and they show him the door.  I don’t know where Jesus is right now, but he is weeping.  And he still loves you.  Don’t give up.”

Here’s the thing:  I don’t care what your personal conviction is about homosexuality.  What I care about is my friend, and other people like him.  Sadly, he’s not the only kid I’ve ever heard tell that story and I doubt he’ll be the last, even though I fervently pray it’s not the case.  I’ve talked enough blades off of wrists for my lifetime.

Here’s the thing:  gay people aren’t the enemy.  Homosexuality is never singled out in the Bible.  It always appears hand in hand with other sins:  hubris, for example.  Drunkenness and gluttony.  Idolatry.  Idle talk and gossip.  What infuriates me more than anything else in the whole debate about sexuality is that you see people saying “we can’t let gays get married because it goes against the Bible” but the same people aren’t trying to pass laws to outlaw idle chatter, gluttony, or even premarital sex.  How is it okay for Christian organizations to be pursuing keeping sodomy laws on the books while their employees chat about who Julie is dating on their breaks?

I’m sorry, guys, that may strike you as an extreme example but I am being completely serious.

The Bible doesn’t make a distinction between the sins it lists.  Being gay is no worse than being a gossip, and both things are equally condemned in the church.

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  (1 Corinthians 5:11)

At the end of the day, what makes a sexually immoral person such a target as opposed to all of the other sins on the list?

And then we get into discussions about the law and about how opposing gay marriage is just obedience to God.  Let me tell you something:  God never once commanded us to make laws regarding the morality of people outside the church.  In fact, He said something more like:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12)

Their sin is none of our business.

The more Christians speak out against gay rights, the more they talk about the sin issue, the more they put out literature talking about how Gay people are sold to sin and more likely to abuse children and get drunk and have “depraved sexual relations” that “go against God”… the more I think about people like my friend, with the razor to their wrist, thinking that there is nothing to do but die.

Let me tell you what Hell is:

It’s a church so focused on sin that it’s forgotten how to love.

We have absolutely no business talking about the sexuality of those not in the church.

It goes against the Bible.

And for those inside the church, we should talk about it quietly, in confidence, not blast about it on the internet for every suicidal 19 year old gay boy to see.

Just.

Stop.

For the love of God, think about what you are doing.

It’s not a sin to be different

I’ve written this story before, but, again, time passes and new people gather and I feel the need to repeat myself.  (So, for long-time readers, apologies if this tastes stale.)

Several years ago I found myself being an assistant youth pastor at a somewhat small country church.  Our youth group was a rag-tag band of struggling teens who all seemed to have major issues.  There were a few boys who had fallen into addictions, a few who had major “authority issues”, a few girls who were raging gossips, a few fashionistas, a few of my favorites- the social outcasts.

And then there was this boy whom I’ll call John.  John was a sweet kid, into theater and show-tunes, the classic gentle heart who just never seemed to fit in.  There was another kid, Rachel, who was one of the fashionista gossips.  Rachel, it turned out, got into a highly inappropriate and sexual relationship.  And John?  John thought he might be gay.

I must point out that John’s questions were only questions- he hadn’t gotten into a relationship with another guy.  Rachel, on the other hand, was sexually active.

John was terrified.  He wondered if he was going to burn in Hell.  He asked questions like, “what about all of the good things I try to do?  What about how badly I want to have a ministry?”  He wondered why God would torture him.  He prayed and prayed to just be straight so everything was okay- but God didn’t change his orientation.  Months of struggle led to cursing God, doubting God.

Around that time Rachel was found out.  She acted somewhat repentant, and was embraced by the congregation.

John, on the other hand, was starting to be ostracized.  Part of it was his own doing, because he felt as if he wouldn’t be accepted if he was honest.  Mostly, though, it was because people felt strange around him.  He made them uncomfortable.

It’s not right.

It’s not right that people who really want to serve God, really want to be holy, really want to be pure become lepers to the faith simply because they ask questions about their sexual orientation.

It’s not right that people who barely put any effort into their relationship with God are embraced simply because their sin is more “acceptable” than having the wrong sexual orientation.

The point, through the last several posts, has not been that homosexuality is AWESOME and EVERYONE SHOULD TRY IT!  The point is that the attitude the mainstream church has taken towards homosexuality breaks the spirit of boys like John and drives them out of the flock.  It is not the hard heart of the homosexual as some would posit- John had a soft heart, one that was totally broken.  It is not the twisted nature of their sin- there is no sin in temptation and questions, only in deliberately choosing a path that seperates you from God.  John did not choose his nature- he didn’t want it.  Had I been able to snap my fingers and make him like boobs he would have been grateful.

The problem is that when Christians talk about the evils of “homosexuality”, they are talking in vague and blanket terms that leave no room for people like John, good kids who are given a grievous burden to carry.  Kids who want to do right (to be right) but are by nature; nurture; or divine providence cast out of the societal norm.  I don’t care if you think that two guys having sex is bad.  I don’t care if you think it’s base and immoral.  What I do care is if you phrase your argument in a way that makes a kid like John feel cursed by God and leave the Church.

*Any comments stating that homosexuality is a sin without addressing the actual content of this post will be redacted and the commenter verbally spanked.