An awkward ‘homecoming’


Updates at the bottom of post

Today, after seven years of attempting to build the courage and strength, I finally went back to my childhood Baptist church – the place where the stench of hatred, bigotry and oppression was, and still is, thick in the air. Grapevine Baptist Church in Lewisville, N.C., is a place where violence against gays and lesbians is honored, adored and glorified from the pulpit – a place where I heard many times, “Put the queers on a ship, pluck a hole into the side of it and send it out to sea,” or “Put all the gays in their own two states and shut the borders” (with the logical conclusion therefore being that all the gays would die out).

In all honesty, I hadn’t really built up the courage. I was pushed into going by my 14-year-old brother. This weekend was his birthday, so I came up for that, to take my other siblings to the Downtown Christmas tree lighting and to go to a performance of Handel’s Messiah today (something I won’t get to do because we haven’t done my brother’s birthday cake yet).

He was going to have a sleep over with him and two friends. One of those friends is a kid from the church. The mother of that friend stopped that plan in its tracks. My little brother’s friend told him that his mom wouldn’t let him spend the night because of me.

At the youth rally on Saturday night, visiting minister Steve Cox, told the more than 250 children and teenagers, “Put all the gays on an island and they’ll die of AIDS and they’ll all be gone” and “If you’re gay and you want to come up and shake hands with me, then you can just stay away.”

Using words like “queer” to describe gays and lesbians, Cox said that homosexuality “makes him puke.”

After the service, my brother was horribly upset by the words of his friend’s mother and by the sermon. He went up to the altar to pray (like all good Baptist boys – myself included) and Brother Matt Comer (no, not me… the son of Pastor Ronnie Comer, no relation to my family) asked my brother what was wrong.

My brother told Brother Matt about what had been said by his friend’s mother. Astonishingly, Brother Matt said, “Well, Let’s pray for Matt,” instead of, “Well, Let’s pray that Sister Ruth finds more love in her heart.”

My brother and a cousin came home that evening and told me of all this. It was at this point I decided that I must go back to that church to be a witness for my own humanity; to defend my brother from unwarranted, unloving and unjust discrimination; and to finally, after almost a decade, go to my brother in Christ as the Bible commands to confront him on how he has offended against me.

I did all three of those things at church today.

My 19-year-old brother went with me because I certainly didn’t want to go alone. We walked in and a few people said hello and shook our hands, although one person moved from sitting in the pew where we were. Pastor Ronnie Comer walked over and shook our hands. Immediately, I could sense tension in the air, as our handshaking was quick and to the point. It almost seemed more like the obligatory, Preacher-must-say-hello-to-visitors handshake rather than greeting a long-time gone son of the church – a person who had gained the respect and title of “brother” by age 10 or 11.

I suffered through the service, my nerves on end. I didn’t know when or how Preacher Comer was going to mention homosexuality. I really did expect it. I can remember hardly any times he never mentioned the subject when I was younger.

But he didn’t mention it. (He did come close, though, talking about how sick the world is and how it is in the hands of Satan – he could have very easily inserted it into the sermon then).

During the altar call, Preacher Comer asked (“with every eye closed and every head bowed”) who in the room knew without a shadow of doubt that they were going to heaven. Proudly, I raised my hand.

I stayed after the service and on my way out the front door asked Preacher Comer if I could speak to him once everyone had left the sanctuary.

A few minutes later we sat in one of the church’s private lounges. I told him that I wanted to talk to him and that I wanted him to listen, not to interrupt me, but just listen.

I told him that, first of all, we both know that we will never agree about everything… that we might as well lay that out on the table. I told him I agreed with almost everything he said on the pulpit today about grace and salvation, but that on other portions of Scripture we would never, under any circumstance, come to agreement.

With that out in the open, I told him about how upset I was over what had happened to my brother. I told him that it was one thing to hold beliefs on homosexuality against me and something else entirely different to hold it against my brother. Surprisingly, he agreed.

Secondly, I related to him how the Bible says if a brother offends against you, then you are to go to that brother, confront him and solve the situation. I told him how wrong I felt it was that he preached and glorified violence against gays and lesbians.

Immediately, Preacher Comer denied ever doing that. He said he never preached, “Put all the queers on a ship, pluck a hole into the side of it and send it out to sea.” He said he might have said, “Put all the queers on a ship and send it out to sea,” but that he never said “pluck a hole into the side of it.”

I cut him off. “Preacher Comer,” I said, “You may deny that you ever said anything of the sort, but I know and God knows what you said.”

I told him, “There are two commandments that are first and foremost in Scripture. The first is to love your God with all your heart, your mind, your soul and strength; and the second is like unto it: To love your neighbor as yourself.”

Preacher Comer nodded his head, acknowledging that he knew these two commandments.

I continued, “Jesus said it was upon these two commandments which the entire law hung, and secondly, that His disciples would be known by their love.

“Preaching exclusion to any person, at anytime, is not in accordance with these two commandments,” I concluded.

On the issue of my little brother and his friend’s mother, Preacher Comer said that all parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit.

He compared my “lifestyle” to a “highly contagious disease.”

“If you knew I had smallpox,” he said, “You wouldn’t want your children to be around me. It isn’t that you hate me, it is that you don’t want your child contracting a disease.”

In the same way, he said, Sister Ruth did not want her child being influenced by my “lifestyle.” He even said, “Who knows, perhaps your brother has even been influenced by your lifestyle.”

He concluded, “You believe that kind of lifestyle is acceptable and we and Sister Ruth do not. She doesn’t want her child being influenced by that and you believe that it is perfectly acceptable to expose children to those kind of acts. I just don’t know how that situation could have been handled differently.”

I cut him off again, “I know how it could have been handled differently. Sister Ruth could have said to her son, ‘No, you can’t go to the sleepover tonight because I want you to stay home, but ask if he would like to hang out after church at McDonald’s or something.’”

Preacher Comer nodded his head, silently acknowledging an “I guess so” kind of moment.

He said that he doesn’t hate me and that he never had… that he loves me and only hates my sin. “It is an abomination in God’s sight and I hate the sin.

“I hate it with a perfect hatred,” he said, as if he were God himself.

Preacher Comer admitted to me openly that he censored himself because of my presence. “I would have touched on homosexuality today and I didn’t precisely because I knew you were here.”

At some point – and now I don’t remember exactly when or how – I mentioned something about him continuing to “preach death.” He immediately denied such a thing ever occurs in his church (even though the night before, the guest minister plainly insinuated such).

Finally, he said, “I guess we will just have to agree to disagree.”

I said, “Okay.”

I shook his hand and walked out of the door.

My brother came home a bit later than I did, as he was riding the church bus. As soon as he came in he said his friend’s mother had said something else… That his friend could no longer be around my brother at all.

I’m going back to the 6:00pm service. Updates afterward.

Update, 4:00pm EST, 12/2/2007 – I must say that I hate my 14-year-old brother is having to learn the hard lesson of bigotry in the South at such a young age – an age where he really doesn’t have the ability to completely understand nor completely fight on his own against the immoral actions of others.

Update, 6:15pm EST, 12/2/2007 – I’ve decided, on second thought, not to go back to the 6:00pm service. I would have liked to, but I was too tired and too emotionally drained from my visit at the 11:00am service. I’ll leave it for another time. Maybe next time, we can arrange it so that some friends can go with me. I have to begin another week at work tomorrow and I still need to drive back to Charlotte. Till later… everyone take care!

READ THE RESPONSE TO COMMENTS FROM A GRAPEVINE MEMBER LEFT BELOW.

Share your own stories and experiences growing up queer & Christian; coming to terms with yourself; your faith & God and your sexuality; your experiences with religion-based bigotry, prejudice or violence; and how you have been shaped by faith. Share your story at Finding the Way, a service of InterstateQ.com


Comments
19 Responses to “An awkward ‘homecoming’”
  1. Allyson says:

    I commend you for your courage, Matt. I’m honored to call you my brother.

    You’re at the church right now, and I’ve prayed for you and for them. May there be a true liberation of the captives of ignorance and hatred. And I’ve prayed for your brother, and his friend, and his friend’s mother.

    With love,
    Allyson

  2. Kathy says:

    Matt, my heart breaks for you and your brother. I hope at some point the pastor realizes that he isn’t actually confronting “sin” when he preaches violence (physical or emotional) against gays and lesbians — he’s just enabling his congregants in their supposed superiority. That has nothing to do with true Christianity.

    I admire your willingness to confront his bigotry and ignorance with a loving spirit. Your brothers and the rest of your family must be very proud of you. I know I am.

  3. adam kautz says:

    hey Matt at this website, http://www.libchrist.com/other/homosexual/sin.html

    There is a wonderful and to the point answer to those that say homosexuality is sin I want to relate to you what it said:

    My short answer to someone calling homosexuality a sin:

    “You seem to sure homosexuality is a sin. Maybe you should let God decide that. God never said a word about it in the original scriptures. Neither did Jesus even mistranslated other than to praise the Centurions love for his slave-boy.

    Seems your burden of proof is very great. You seem to have more of an opinion on the issue than God ever expressed.

    I would rather stand before God with my teaching of acceptance of all people, just as God created them, without having to change than you having to explain why you caused so much pain with your false teaching and calling something that God never mentioned “sin”.

    You seem to want to change what God created. That certainly is a sin you may someday have to answer for not to mention all the hurt and harm Christian abuse of homosexuals creates, for simply being as God created them.”

    Matt one day even ultra-conservative churches like the SBC and Assemblies of God and Mormon Church will accept glbt people as full participating members of society, but I fear that when that day does come it will look like to the rest of the world that they were forced to into doing it rather than doing for the good of humanity.

    Heck a running joke amongst Europeans is that America always does the right thing eventually because the will have run out of options. It is the same with ultra-conservative churches in that they ultimately do the right thing because they will have exhausted all other options. And that is one thing that history never looks kindly down on.

  4. Matt says:

    Thanks Allyson, Kathy and Adam. Your comments were thoughtful and kind. They are appreciated. As I said in the update at 6:15, I just couldn’t go back. I was too tired and drained. I’m going to plan on going back (with some friends) at a later date. I will not let Grapevine Baptist Church forget the pain they have caused in my life and other lives, including other members of my family.

  5. Matt-

    Thank you for having the courage to stand for truth. I am so proud of you for the authentic Christianity you live every day. You are a genuine Christian man with a good heart toward God.

    I encountered the same kind of hate-filled rhetoric from Dr. Peter Ruckman at Bible Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL several years ago. He ranted against and name-called gays in every service every week. I left and have no intention of going back. Thank God I’m in a good church now, New Hope Christian Center.

    Through your websites you are doing something practical to counteract the false teaching from people like the Grapevine pastor.

    You are reaching hurting kids and adults with the message of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. God bless you and keep up the good work.

    Rick Brentlinger
    http://www.gaychristian101.com/Gay-Analogy.html

  6. Jarred says:

    Like others, I truly admire your courage. I don’t think I could do what you did right now.

  7. ExHack says:

    Truth to power. Stay strong.

  8. Adam G. says:

    Matt,

    Thank you for sharing that. Your courage and the respect you showed to those who were very unkind are remarkable.

  9. Lauren says:

    I found this through Jarred. This is a very interesting read, and quite courageous. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Matt says:

    Adam G… Respect is something that is always important. I don’t always get it right and InterstateQ.com contributor and my good friend Brian often corrects me (sometimes publicly) on just how disrespectful I’m being or how I’ve forgotten “non-violence of thought and word.”

    I learned a great deal from my involvement with Soulforce. I’m so grateful to have learned about non-violence and direct action. What I did that Sunday was nothing short of a non-violent direct action.

    As much rhetoric I throw out on my blog, though, I still have to admit that I am quite the good ole’ Southern boy. I usually am VERY respectful to those older than me or those in a position of authority (i.e. elected officials, ministers). It isn’t always like that in my writings, but face-to-face, I try hard.

    The contradictions between my spirit when writing and when addressing someone face-to-face is something I’ve yet to solve.

  11. Tarron says:

    Matt, Amazingly I Google’d Grapevine and look what popped up. This is Bro.Tarron from Grapevine and you forgot to mention there was a third person in the room during your conversation. It’s often said when there’s a disagreement, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. While you did express truth in your post about the comments you made. You also left out some very important points made by Pastor Comer.

    Matt, I wasn’t going to post this, but when you say our church is filled with hatred, bigotry and oppression, I felt obligated to write a comment, especially as a person who was in the room and also tried to encourage you as a youth, and I can’t think of a time when Michele or I were ever mean or rude to you. I remember taking you to many youth activities including conferences at the very church Bro. Steve Cox (who you rip pretty well) is out of.

    I’m amazed that for a church of “hatred, bigotry and oppression” we “haters” are the ones that send buses into neighborhoods, picking up kids (and adults), feeding them and trying to teach them about Jesus. Our church of “hatred, bigotry and oppression” is the ministry you were saved under and called to preach under. The problem’s started when your point of view changed, not our church’s, because it hasn’t.

    Matt, everyone at Grapevine, to my knowledge, has been kind to you. If they haven’t, please accept my apology for us. You could call Pastor Comer today and ask his councel on any matter and you know he would be there for you, he would not be rude or nasty toward you in any way.

    As far as Sister Ruth, perhaps that situation should have been handled differently, but as a father of six, I can tell you, I wouldn’t let my kids go to any activity that I thought could disagree with my beliefs. I don’t let my kids spend the night with their cousins, not because I think I’m high and mighty and they’re not, it’s because I believe differently than they do about a lot of issues. Furthermore, I wouldn’t give 5 cents for any parent who wouldn’t try to protect their children.

    Matt, I believe homosexuality is a sin, I believe their are plain teachings in the Bible against it. That’s my belief, that’s Grapevine’s belief and you know that no one their “hates” you even though your beliefs differ from ours now.

    I’m sorry once again, if you truly feel we are a church of the things you mentioned earlier, I think deep down, you know that’s not the case.
    I wish you would focus your energy as much on getting folks saved as you do on the issues you believe in on this website. (And you may! If you do, put that info on your website as well!) I wish you nothing but the best for you and your brothers as I’ve spent time with you all, and despite what you may think, I enjoyed seeing you at Grapevine and will be praying for you. Take care!

  12. Virginia says:

    I am an atheist and marvel at how a bunch of buckshot-in-the-gums bigots can just cherry-pick the Bible verses they want to enforce and ignore others. They obsess over prohibitions on homosexuality while at the same time ignoring other “holy” precepts set up by their psychotic and constipated gawd such as stoning rebellious children, staying away from menstruating women, and killing anyone who works on the Sabbath. Most atheist know the Buy-Bull a heck of a lot better than the buckshot-in-the-gums crowd. If you know how to READ the Buy-Bull, you will see it for the Bronze-age nonsense that it is. Reality trumps faith all the time. Good luck.

  13. Zeke says:

    Matt, I SO feel your pain. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church in rural Mississippi and had EXACTLY the same experience as you; and YES I most certainly would call it “hatred, bigotry and oppression.” In fact my father, in retrospect, also calls the way our church treated gay people as “hateful, bigoted and oppressive”. That may not seem like such a big deal in and of itself until you consider the fact that my father was the PASTOR of the church and it was HE who promoted this “bible based” gay bashing.

    In what can only be described as a miracle, he is now one of the greatest advocates for gay rights, gay acceptance, full gay inclusion and gay affirmation that I know and he is still 100% dedicated to the Christian faith. Contrary to popular myth, the two things are NOT mutually exclusive.

    Additionally, the church I grew up in was chock FULL of self-righteous, saccrine dripping false compassion homophobes like dear Brother Tarron. I knew literally HUNDREDS of them. They are a dime a dozen and all have the same “love the sinner hate the sin, especially CERTAIN sin” schtick.

    Your whole article brought back HORRIBLE memories for me. I had a MAJOR anxiety attack when I thought about all the times I sat in a group of kids listening to homophobic rants from people I was supposed to admire and respect. It did untold and long lasting damage to my mind, my heart, my soul AND my spirit. When I think about the sermon that Brother Cox gave to 250 kids, I can’t help but wonder how many gay kids (like I once was) were sitting there in dispair, having their heart and soul torn from them, leaving them distraught and without hope. There is NO love and NO Christianity in such abuse and torture, NONE!

    I pray for gay kids today, that they survive the abuse that is inflicted upon them in the name of a God that loves them completely and unconditionally.

    Jesus most surely weeps!

    Thanks for your courage and conviction.

    I hope the story about my dad’s amazing and unexpected journey will give you hope for your church family that I know you love, even though they have hurt you beyond belief.

    Miracles do happen. It’s just a shame that so many people (like gay kids) have to be destroyed before people’s hearts are touched and their minds are changed.

    Hang in there bubba. I will pray for you, your brother and the people from your former church DAILY.

  14. beergoggles says:

    Even as a complete stranger, my heart goes out to you and your brother. I guess you’re lucky in that you’re just visiting – your brother will have to deal with this some more while growing up and I hope he becomes a stronger man for it instead of succumbing to the pressure of his peers.

    Sometimes I wish that this ‘loving’ god of theirs is real and that hell exists so he can actually judge the evildoers and kick them into hell – but then again, if he’s a loving god, why would he not just forgive them and do away with the whole concept of hell altogether?

    Then I realize that there is no need to encourage these bigots to invent new interpretations of some book that they don’t even read in the original language or time frame to find ways to justify the evilest of their actions.

  15. cwm says:

    Tarron wrote:
    >You could call Pastor Comer today and ask his
    >councel on any matter and you know he would be
    >there for you, he would not be rude or nasty
    >toward you in any way.

    Telling Matt that the way he loves–one of the deepest aspects of his soul–is a “contagious disease”. That’s not rude? That’s not nasty?

    You don’t offer Matt the polite decency and respect properly accorded to any human being. To you, he is less than a person.

    You don’t know what love means.

    Yet you dare to consider yourself a person who follows the example of Christ.

    Do you read Scripture at all? If so, you never put any effort–of your mind, or your heart–in pondering what it means. You just replay in your mind what you’ve been TOLD it means.

    Not being a Jew, you don’t follow Mosaic law–you don’t consider pork unclean, for example–but you tear off one tiny piece of more than 500 admonitions in Leviticus, and use it to justify hatred. Of people you’ve been taught to regard with disgust and contempt.

    These are people who’ve never done anything to hurt you: although you act as if your faith is under attack, by the very fact that such people are alive in the same world as you.

    Perhaps someday, a rumor will spread, and suddenly you’ll find the members of your church all shun you: as if you were heretical, unbelieving, criminal…or a homosexual. Maybe you’ll have an illness (physical or mental), and as a consequence you’ll be treated in a manner which shows you they really do hate not only the sin, but also the sinner.

    Even though we are all sinners.

    Only then will you know.

    But it is more likely that nothing will happen to shake you from your smug superiority.

    “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

  16. Patrick says:

    Way to be an inspiration Matt! I wish you the best.

  17. get real says:

    Your kidding me right. The bible is nothing but a guide through life. Love the person hate the sin. Matt grow up. Being gay is against Gods perfect plan and you know it. Show me in the bible where gays actually were blessed by God. You can’t , it leads to the path of destruction. Gosh you make me sick ! An you call yourself an example to christian youth. Not my children. I will never associate or allow my children to associate with gay people. Had big brother Matt be more Godly, his lil brother would not be reaping what he has sewn. You really outta consider what you are going to do with your life. Brother Steve Cox was 100% correct when he preached. Too bad Ronnie didn’t have the wits about him to preach the truth when he had the chance. His missed the train on that one because if you are upset over it , it call CONVINCTION so go repent and get right. So do you wear lace on your underwear too buddy boy or should I say girly wanna be !

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