My mom writes us kids the moment she hears results from her annual cancer test. I was terrified when we found out she had cancer, and each test holds within it the seeds of the same terror. My dad has annual tests too, though not to ensure remission but for early detection. More than one of his nine siblings has died by cancer, which makes his tests feel like a waiting game.
Cancer is awful, a great equalizer, proving perhaps we humans aren’t so bad off after all since no one would wish it on their enemies. My wife tries to wade through the supermarket fog and shop cancer-free. Hotdogs without nitrates, kids’ products minus everything that makes them recognizably a kid’s product, fruit sans Monsanto.
I always thank my mom after her reports because it means she’s taking care of her health. So far she’s 6-0 and a thankful member of the cancer survivors club.
Despite the horror of this modern plague, Haley’s mom wished she had terminal cancer. Haley was gay, and her mom thought cancer was preferable to having a gay daughter. That’s what she said, and not on the day Haley first shared, a day Haley remembers as being her day of freedom. Her mom wished cancer on herself months later, when every other metaphor she mustered felt stale and threats fell lifeless to the floor.
Can you imagine how much time and negativity it took to come up with such devastating words?
People had a relentless belief in the power of guilt to effect change, but it didn’t.
The church’s promise of hell hadn’t changed Haley. Friends turning their backs hadn’t cured her. Her best friend loved her, she had said, which was why she could never talk to her again. Haley was to them evil, misguided, a victim of Ellen DeGeneres’ world gay takeover. Her youth group asked her not to come back and Christmas was off limits at grandma’s. She’d been prayed for, exorcized, sent to therapy.
Her mother’s words weren’t a threat; they were her hope. “I’d rather die than have you as a daughter.” To Haley these words were as terrifying as an actual diagnosis of terminal cancer. And in that moment, in the most spiritually healthy decision she had ever made, she walked away from church and the faith that had been used to abuse her.
She anguished alone, unable to reconcile the choice she’d been forced to make between faith and identity. Until, that is, she discovered The Gay Christian Network and was told that being gay and Christian is NOT a contradiction. Once again, her faith began to soar.
I heard Haley’s story at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference in January. And I’ve tried to tell it like I heard it, without interpreting it. It speaks on its on. Perhaps what makes me the most sad about it is how normal her story is – how painful families’ and churches’ behavior can be. Even how spiritually devastating.
It’s a wonder people like Haley ever open themselves to church at all. God, yes. But the church?
All of us are created in the image of God, beautiful just the way we are. In fact, as I’ve said elsewhere, one of the least controversial things you could ever say is that gays and lesbians are created in the image of God.
It’s Christian Theology 101 topics like this that unmask Haley’s spiritually abusive actions. Affirming that lesbians and gays are created in the image of God is the foundation of faithful Christian action.
Let’s not ever loose sight of the beautiful truth that God lives in lesbians and gays just like Haley – and daughters like her everywhere. Stand firm in good theology – stand firm in this good theology – and Christian behavior will follow.