I was reminded of all that today when I read an article on Salon.com, “When a gay minister moved to a small Southern town,” by Brett Webb-Mitchell, a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Webb-Mitchell took a temporary position at a church in Henderson, North Carolina, a small town he described as “an old-fashioned town, challenged by these modern times.” Not surprisingly, he was immediately subjected to a whispering campaign, mostly conducted anonymously over the Internet, as such things often are.
“As a gay minister, I'd heard nasty slights about me secondhand before, but I had never encountered it so directly. How could someone who didn't even know me criticize me? How could someone who called himself or herself a Christian spew such vile rhetoric?”We might, in our prejudiced minds, think that this was to be expected in North Carolina, or that this is something Christians do, or whatever our favourite prejudice is. However, Webb-Mitchell also found love, support and a courage and strength of character among decent Christians.
I can relate to all this. I’ve seen close-up how petty and intolerant Church-going Christians can be, and I’ve also seen kindness and generosity of spirit. Still, I can’t understand what would lead someone to decide to go through all that. Did he not know, or at least suspect, what small-town North Carolina might be like for a gay minister?
There are places in a America where I would not want to live as an out gay man. Actually, there are places in Chicago I wouldn’t want to be identified as a gay man, either. It’s first and foremost about safety, about not being attacked or killed because of who I am. It’s also about not wanting to have to fight every day to be treated as a human being, first, and as a citizen and not as some caricature or monster. So I admire any gay person who can move past all that to do what they feel they must or are called to do.
Webb-Mitchell said of his experience, “I saw ugliness in Henderson, sure, but I also found love and support and new understanding.” I’m glad that he found good in all that, and that it wasn’t even worse for him. And I’m also glad that he had the courage to stick it out, despite everything. In doing so, he just may have helped dispel a few myths and lessened some prejudices. If enough people did that, then one day maybe experiences like what this article describes will be confined to the past. One day, maybe.
Tip o’ the Hat to Roger Green, who sent me the link.