Friday, January 25, 2013

What religion is this that loves but does not love?

Another turn of another decade in the years of my life,
and still, my mother cannot openly love me, her gay son.

By Rev, Stephen Parelli
January 24
and 25, 2013
Bronx, New York

As a gay activist and son, I finally, openly reflect on my mother's inability, after 15 years, to escape her homophobic religious surroundings in which my father, her husband who is a lay-pastor, dominates her life, manipulating her landscape
through the grid of his own dreaded, hidden, secret homoerotic feelings.

Yesterday my mother refused to speak with me on the phone when I
called her on my birthday. All she could say, in a soft-spoken voice,
was "OK" to each of my several awkward small-talk comments. Then
she said "I love you, I always have," and hung up. In 15 years times -
since I came out and entered into a same-sex union with my lover in
1997 - my mother and I have spoken perhaps 5 or 6 times.

I wish she could see this present-day, 2013, video of a Parsippany, NJ, high school student coming out to his classmates and suddenly realize,
like an epiphany, that we gays – by virtue of our omnipresence, if
nothing else – are not sinners from whom to separate. Ostracism is
one of the worst forms of abuse a person can suffer, so psychologists
tell us. We gays are people to love just as we are, not off-spring to
disown and disassociate from, to discharge as if suddenly we become
still-born when publicly coming out as gay.

I don't know why God made me this way . . . but I am . . . and I wish
they could all love me unconditionally (just as they once did): That my
parents and my children and my college friends from Bible college and
seminary days, and my former clergy peers and church friends since
my childhood, and my ex-wife (who knew before we married), -- that
they could all love me now, love me still.

God is my witness: I did not choose this! So, I will live it with gusto and
thanksgiving, honoring the God who blesses me with it.

Yes, I am gay and I am blessed with a husband of 15 years who holds
me in his arms at the end of each day and is lovingly, passionately
dedicated to our union. I hurt. He loves me, oh so tenderly, when I
hurt. With sympathetic eyes, he looks deep into mine while holding me.

They - my (former) family, (former) friends and (former pastor)
associates - are missing out on some of the greatest ventures and
accomplishments of my life. I miss them, but I cannot go back. I pray
they will, with love and affirmation, at long last step into the light with
me, and embrace me, and rejoice in God's creative diversity - so
obviously, universally attested to.

"I love you, I always have," my mother said as she silently hung up the
phone, shutting me out of her life again. How sad that she cannot live
the love she testifies of: the love for her first-born, a love she keeps
swallowed up in her breast. What religion is this that loves but does
not love?

I live the love I know, the love I have, the gay-love God has given me
that I, too, should live to the fullest. The moment is mine, it belongs to
those who love. I'm gay. I love. I’m present. I’m alive.

It is my mother who is still-born, tethered to a by-gone, man-made
church-based heterosexist moralistic era from which she cannot now
escape, forever closed-off to her son, knowing only the heart-beat of
her own lonely heart, making the choice to never see, or hear from,
her son.

She hurts.

And who is he who loves her, my mother, oh so tenderly, when she
hurts; who with sympathetic eyes looks deep into her own? It is my
father who late in life became a popular lay Baptist pastor in Central
New York, who became enamored with a new found prestige and
power, who when I said, as a married adult with four children, that ‘I
must tell my mother I’m gay because someone who loves me must
know,’ said to me, grabbing my throat with both his hands and raising
me bodily two inches completely off the floor by the strength of his
rage, “I will kill you if you tell your mother.” It is he, my father, who
comforts her, my mother, with goodly words like “Follow me as I follow

A year or two will pass before I call again and say, as I did yesterday, “I
just wanted to hear your voice, mom.” “OK” she will manage to say.
And just before hanging up, without the slightest hint that my one-way
conversation with her is over, will whisper “I love you, I always have.”
The phone will go dead and she will go on dying one day at a time,
believing she is honoring God and honoring her husband by aborting,
again, her mother-son relationship, believing she has made this holy
choice of abortion on her own accord when in reality she is tethered.
Tethered to an out-dated God who is majestically ascribed by some
worshipers as “the same yesterday, today and forever,”
misappropriating the sacred text to shield themselves from whatever
changes in society or in life they cannot face.

It is my father who cannot face life as he knows it. He is a homophobe
for reasons, he only knows, found deep in his dark heart. Reasons he
attempts to hide from others. What is it that makes him especially
hateful towards gays that he would say to his own son “I will take a bat
to your head if you attend your grandmother’s funeral?” or “All gays
should be taken out and hung” or “Your ten-year old son should never
see you, or your partner, again – what all gays ever do is molest
minors” or “If you ever tell your mother you are gay I will kill you” or
“I've told your children [ages 10 – 16] what kind of deviant, pervert you
are, and I am not sorry for having told them.”

Such hateful statements are as telling as they are hurtful.

Many argue that such hatred for gays is really a hatred of self because
of one’s own homoerotic feelings. It is not unthinkable that my father
falls into this category: a self-hating closeted bisexual or gay man. His
refusal to attend his granddaughter’s wedding (on the basis that it
would amount to adultery, being her second marriage); his refusal to
be his brother’s best man (same reason, a second marriage and
therefore legalized adultery); his refusal to acknowledge a shower for
his new-born grandchild (because the live-together parents had not
yet decided to be wedded and so they are, therefore, living in
fornication); and his insistence that his grandchildren should separate
from the man their sibling sister was to marry because he was outside
of the faith, all point to a hyper vigilance, and in most cases to a hyper
vigilance for moral or sexual purity.

It is not hard to see how my father’s hyper vigilance for sexual purity
and his open hatred for gay men may indicate a preoccupation with
unwanted homoerotic feelings.

One of the most telling accounts of my father’s fear of his homoerotic
feelings is this: When I was in seminary studying to become a pastor,
my father – much to my surprise – became a lay pastor (as I stated
above). This was in the early 1980s. He was in his late 40s. He had no
education beyond high school, no formal training in Bible or
counseling. I was about to be married. He wanted to give me some
father-to-son, pastor-to-pastor, advice about the marriage bed. He
told me this: “Let me tell you what I tell all the couples I counsel before
marrying them. I tell them not to practice oral sex on the male partner
for this reason. It will only increase the husband’s desire to look for
more of the same outside of the marriage and he will find himself
seeking out men who will provide the service.”

I was shocked to hear my father tell me he was giving this advice to
couples he marries, that, in fact, according to him, the heterosexual
marriage bed would, in deed, in this one case, foster desires on the
part of the husband for same-sex sex.

How un-insightful, on the part of my father, to fail to know that, at this
juncture of the counseling session, he was telling on himself! For all
his hiding and hyper vigilance to keep his homoerotic feelings unseen
and in tow, it was here in the counseling chambers of the pastor’s
office that he completely, unwittingly, let his secret escape him, telling it
to couple after couple.

So, yes, it is in this homophobic context that my mother squanders out
the last days of her life, living in mindless religious isolation with her
moralizing, parading, husband, separated forever from her gay son,
tethered to a homophobic God who is made over in the image of the
man who impregnates her with decades of his self-loathing, self-hating, because of his homoerotic feelings.

If time allows, and if I can muster it, I will phone her again months down
the road, and she will quietly say as she prematurely hangs up the
phone, “I love you, I always have,” while beseeching her asexual God
to forgive her once more for having bestowed a mother’s love upon a
despicable, God-forsaken son.

I will hear her words of love; I will be thankful for it; yet I will always
carry an amount of sadness that life, in her case – in our case, could
not be lived to the fullest as parent-child, as God had intended when
he created family.

Although my father's homophobia overshadows and beclouds my
mother's ability to clear her head and think, there are her own long-
standing, debilitating fears that play into my father's homophobic
disdain for his son.
From what I know of her puritanical lecturing over the years, this must
be added: it would appear that my mother's mother-son miscarriage is
due, in part, to an irrational fear she has of sexual misconduct
occurring in others, especially in others close to her. She spoke of this repeatedly, in one form or another, over the years.

So now, when you tie religion into all of this, you have both father and
mother, man and woman, paralyzed before a wrathful Edenic God who
created humankind as sexual beings and who, subsequently, sent
them out of the garden because of their disobedience. Sex, God and
their complex, internalized fears, all tied to gather, complicating their
relationships with others.

My parents always were their own, unscripted, abiding moral guides. The father, homophobic, forming his world and life view during the McCarthy era, was very much guarded - obviously so - as to what is and what is not masculine in himself and in his two sons. The mother, truly doomsday shocked, since the 50s and Elizabeth Taylor and Alfred Kinsey, at the new norms society was forging and re-forging, became the house spoksperson in the sex-revolution 60s for moral
awareness, for what is sexually right and wrong.

Now enter their seminary graduate, preacher-boy son, father of four,
divorcing his wife, openly gay, openly celebrating his new-found same-
sex lover.

My parents immediately resolved, without discussion or further
thought, and as a matter of course, due to their good Christian
character (rooted in their irrational respective sex-laden fears), to
never accept their son again, to never see him, to never talk with him,
to never acknowledge him. He is, after all, what they each fear most:
sexual misconduct in others (my mother) and dreaded homoerotic
feelings (my father).

A pervasive, long standing fear, or any negative emotion that rules us,
is a hard taskmaster, crippling our ability to freely love ourselves and
others. That was and is my parents. Throw in religion, and now you
have my parents unknowingly disguising themselves from themselves,
preventing themselves from seeing themselves.

It brings me some comfort, however, to know that, while they are not
able to love me, neither are they able to love other people like me,
including other immediate family members, who openly cast off
traditional moral values. Such people with "immoral life styles" bring
my parents too close to their own gripping fear that their own marriage,
or their own standing in religious society, could be compromised, some
day, some way, at some unguarded moment.

My mother's words, as important and as significant as they are to me,
that "I love you, and I always have" fail to empower her to actually live
in a loving relationship with her son, her fear of sexual misconduct in
others overpowering whatever feelings she may have for her son.

She must address her gripping fears, along with her husband's fear of
the homoerotic, and only then, I feel, will she free herself to openly
love me unconditionally and others like me who do not adopt her moral
values as their own.

My husband and I, we would, of course, welcome unconditional love
from my mother and father, but with every passing year it seems less
likely, especially knowing that religion, in their case, is their enabler,
that is to say, their brand of religion permits them, encourages them,
reinforces them, celebrates them in their resolve to disown their son
and his partner and others like us, gay or straight, who compromise my
parents' standard of moral integrity.

Essentially, It is their kind of religion that leaves them little to no room
for self-reflection or self-analysis as to what are the real factors,
rather than their religious code, that may be pushing them towards
cutting off all dealings with significant others.

It is their sort of religion that leaves them with no ability to adapt to society's changes around them, so that to say "I love you, I always have" is, sadly, a window to the past, a lamentation of what once was, a polite way to say "This is the parting of our ways."
By clicking here, this article can be viewed at Other Sheep Exec Site, the site where Steve Parelli and Jose Ortiz share their stories, especially the stories of their travels for Other Sheep.


Joseph Stalnaker said...

Dear Friend and Brother,
I really appreciate your sharing this painful message concerning your family's inability to relate to you. I too am a Baptist preacher's son who, like yourself, is totally shunned by my family. Somehow they have adopted an Old Testament view of Righteous Indignation against me as a Dathan and Abiram, Aachen or Jonah, and they feel totally justified applying Levitical-type prohibitions against me as reprobate. How sorry I am that so much hate and misuse of scripture can be more evident in professed 'Christians' than practical living of Jesus' teachings in their lives. Jesus said that if a man says he loves God and hates his brother, he is a liar. My parents have told me that they will always 'Love' me as their son, but 'true' Love is an action. Jesus said that when we live out the expression of love for our brother on Earth whom we've seen, then others will believe we love God, whom we've not seen. Applying Old Testament Levitical separation principles that were specifically given to the nation of Israel, is not appropriate or biblically consistent for Christians to practice. Anyone can justify hate with misapplied verses from the Bible. It is my sincere hope and prayer that one day, Jesus and his teachings will actually be more important to these people than their own reputations, Church conventions, family protocols, or whatever else may stand in the way of them truly embracing his truth.

Anonymous said...

Muchas gracias por compartir esta reflexión sobre las posibles causas de la visión homofóbica que muchos creyentes tienen de la vida cristiana, y sobre las dolorosas consecuencias que ha tenido esta visión para quienes no han tenido la fortuna de corresponder al incuestionado “canon heterosexual”, mundialmente legitimado por todo tipo de instituciones. Me parece muy interesante que hayas hecho notar que es posible para quienes viven su sexualidad de manera diferente, asumir su condición encaminándola hacia la adopción de un proyecto de vida en común en forma muy parecida a la de las parejas heterosexuales, como tú lo has hecho; y que esta forma de vida puede dar lugar a una permanente realización personal y de pareja que no hubieran podido alcanzarse contradiciendo la naturaleza más profunda del individuo. No estoy muy seguro, sin embargo, de que sea, ni para un homosexual ni para un heterosexual, la única forma posible de realización plena. Aclaro que, desde una perspectiva menos religiosa (soy agnóstico) concibo una mayor libertad y posibilidades de realización para el ser humano con respecto a este último punto. Finalmente, igualmente importante me parece el hecho de que hayas hecho notar, a través del relato de la relación con tus padres, que una ética homofóbica termina siendo una antiética, en la medida en que se basa en la práctica del odio hacia otros seres humanos únicamente por el hecho de asumir su propia naturaleza; y que el odio al otro se vuelve irremediablemente contra el que lo ejerce, al privarlo de la felicidad de ser igualmente amado por ser quien es. Además de ser conmovedor y revelador, tu texto está bellamente escrito. ¡Felicidades!
José Arturo Kavanagh S. - Xalapa, Veracruz, México.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share.