A Southern Baptist in exile in the Bible belt

Both Alvin McEwen and Rachel Held Evans point us to Joan Garrett’s insightful, empathetic portrait of a Red Bank, Tenn., family: “A tempest in my soul: A son’s secret brings a Southern Baptist minister to his knees.”

This is beautiful storytelling and impressive reporting. It is, in other words, what good journalism looks like. Kudos to Garrett for immersing herself so thoroughly in her story, and kudos to the Chattanooga Times Free Press for giving her the time and the room to do so.

The story of Matt Nevels recalls in many ways all those other recent articles fretting about the Millennial generation’s disillusionment with the church. Nevels’ story shows the human side to all those statistics and all that polling data — putting a face on all those numbers. Like so many those Millennials, Nevels experienced personal pain at the cruelty and rejection the church showed someone he loved, and that pain forever altered his perception of the church.

But the difference here is that Matt Nevels is 78 years old. And he is a retired Southern Baptist minister.

Here is Garrett setting the scene for this story of Southern Baptists in the South. This is an affectionate, evocative description of a community shaped by American evangelicalism:

There are more than a dozen churches along Dayton Boulevard, just a speck on the congregational landscape of the city. These are the gathering grounds of Red Bank, where business is done and children are bragged about and standards are passed down. These are the places where people come for their beginnings and ends.

In Chattanooga, and in the one-red-light towns and the farmland of North Georgia and North Alabama — the buckle of the Bible Belt — Christian faith is a thread that runs through everything. High school cheerleaders paint Bible verses on signs. Hamilton County commissioners bow their heads before meetings. Store owners use little Jesus fish on their advertisements.

Believers call that faith the community’s bedrock. Scriptures tell them to do good, love their neighbors, be faithful to their husbands and wives. They tell them not to steal or kill.

But while these beliefs knit people together, they also tear apart. As Jesus said in Matthew, they turn sons against fathers, daughters against mothers.

The faithful hold firmly to God with one hand, family with the other. But sometimes we are forced to choose. If we can’t hold onto both, which one do we let go?

In 1991, after 25 years of defining himself by his position in the church, Matt Nevels’ faith abruptly and irrevocably collided with the death of his middle son.

Pour a fresh cup of coffee and go read the whole thing. (Unless you’re at work and you don’t want to be seen sitting there, crying at your desk, in which case, read it tonight when you get home.)

One of the things Garrett captures here is the way that faith, identity, community and belonging all come together to add up to shape not just what we think or what we believe, but who we are:

Many of the families tell stories of leaving churches or being asked not to come back.

Matt tells them about how he and Frances walked away from Red Bank Baptist. How hard it is to find a place now for his faith. He doesn’t say it aloud, but he still longs for his traditions, his church.

When he is alone, he thinks of this absence as a kind of emptiness. He tried other churches but could never bring himself to pull his name from the Red Bank membership roster. His son Keith is still a member there. … Sometimes he regrets leaving the church. Sometimes he doesn’t.

This called to mind David Gibson’s recent RNS commentary in response to the suggestion by Bill Donohue that uppity nuns and contraception-using liberals should just shut up and leave his Catholic Church.

“The Catholic Church isn’t the Kiwanis Club,” Gibson wrote. “It’s an imprecise analogy, but I think of it like being an American.”

That seems like an apt analogy to describe Matt Nevels: He is in exile, a man without a country. That’s an uncomfortable place to be. I fully understand that.

But I also find some comfort and some hope in this: Most of the Bible was written for people in exile. That’s where it’s meant to be read.

  • hapax

    I shoulda followed your advice and waited until I got home.

    *sniffle*

  • SisterCoyote

    That was a blow to the heart.

  • Tonio

    Thanks so much to Fred for passing along that story. As I finished, I still had this phrase in the back of my mind:

    High school cheerleaders
    paint Bible verses on signs. Hamilton County commissioners bow their
    heads before meetings. Store owners use little Jesus fish on their
    advertisements.

    That’s not “Christian faith,” that’s simple tribalism. It’s no different in principle from waving the flag or singing America the Beautiful. Being surrounded by that mindset very likely made the suffering of the Nevels family all the more worse. Fred has written several times about how modern evangelism has become a castle town disguised as faith. That’s the very opposite of community and belonging. It’s starting to resemble the subterranean community of reactionaries in Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog,”

  • http://gettingwaytoopersonal.blogspot.com/ Colorful One

    Reading parts of that article reminded me of a quote.  One I’d assume all those good church people who failed to visit Stephen while he was dying would be familiar with…

    Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.”

    Then shall they also answer him, saying, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?”

    Then shall he answer them, saying, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    “The Catholic Church isn’t the Kiwanis Club,” Gibson wrote. “It’s an imprecise analogy, but I think of it like being an American.”

    That analogy isn’t only “imprecise.” It’s as wrong as calling being Catholic like belonging to the Kiwanis Club would be. 

    Leaving the Catholic Church is difficult socially and psychologically. Much harder than leaving the Kiwanis Club would be, probably. But it’s an individual’s decision. If they want to do it, they can, as an individual.

    Leaving the U.S. is hard socially, psychologically, economically, and practically. Who else will take you? Well, depends on how many degrees you hold and if you can get a job in another country. Will the U.S. allow you to give up U.S. citizenship? Unlikely. You’ll probably have to keep paying taxes to the U.S. Your status as an American is not defined by you, it is defined by others. You can’t just decide to run off to France and call yourself a French person, no longer an American — it does not work that way. You can decide to run off to the Episcopalian Church and call yourself Episcopalian, no longer Catholic. You would still have Catholic roots and heritage, but you would be able to define what you are now, and no one else could either force you to pay tithes to the Catholic Church or force you to not go to another church. No matter how difficult it is, it’s up to you.

    Many other religious institutions joyfully welcome ex-Catholics and people who still identify as Catholic but can’t stomach the current rapist, misogynist Vatican. Unless you worked for the Catholic Church, you get to keep your job, your home, your neighborhood, your favorite grocery store. Your rights remain precisely the same as when you were Catholic, though your privileges may change. 

    Leaving the U.S. means giving up your home and job and neighbors. It means giving up everything the U.S. has to offer — language, history, society, economy, and, most important, human rights, for better and for worse. Emigrating to another country and being accepted as a citizen there is impossible for many Americans, not because of anything social or psychological, but because it is literally impossible. You need money to emigrate, you need a job or a spouse in the new country for them to accept you, and often a college degree. Once you’re there, they may accept you as a citizen, but the U.S. isn’t gonna let you go. Neither of those decisions are ones that can be made by you.

    Then, if you’re very lucky and do get citizenship in your new country, everything is different. Not just your friends and personal social circle. The food is different, the grocery stores are different, the fashions are different, the slang is different (if the language in your new country is even English), the politics are different, the weather is different, the things that people take for granted are different.  The way strangers treat each other is different, and you will be treated very different for being an immigrant.

    Being a member of a religion is not comparable to being a citizen of a state. Leaving a religion is not comparable to leaving that state. You don’t want people to treat leaving the Catholic Church as like leaving a Kiwanis Club, fine, it’s not. But it’s nothing like leaving your country of citizenship either, at least if that country is the U.S. Religions and states are two totally different things these days, in this country, thankfully. 

  • LL

    Damn, this part: 
    And Matt began to cry in front of his son. Frances held her hands over her mouth and cried, too.”Son, it’s OK,” Matt said. “We are going to love you the way you are.”Stephen sobbed. He crawled out of bed and into Matt’s lap and Matt held him like he did when he was just a boy. Stephen put his arms around his father’s neck and kissed him on the cheek.”Son, don’t worry,” Matt said softly. “Nothing between us is going to change.”If you can read that and still think that hating gay people and denying them basic rights is OK, you’re an irredeemable asshole. I know many here don’t like the idea (or agree with the idea) of someone being irredeemable, but I am. 

  • ReverendRef

     You can decide to run off to the Episcopalian Church and call yourself Episcopalian, no longer Catholic.

    Minor quibble here:  It’s the Episcopal Church.  And, yes, people who attend the Episcopal Church are Episcopalians.

    Now for something a little more substantive:

    The part of the article that struck me the most was this:

    But he did know the Bible verses that seemed to condemn
    homosexuality: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10, Romans 1:21-28,
    Genesis 19, Jude 7 and the fiery passages in Leviticus . . .

    But he also knew the 505 Bible passages about love, and those words
    undergirded him through most of his church life. And he had seen the
    signs of love in churches.
     

    I can understand people having problems with homosexuality; I was on that side of the argument for a long time.  I know from experience that people on that side (or people on any side for that matter) look for arguments and evidence from scripture citations to defend their position.  But when you spend so much time looking to defend yourself, you often fail to be open to seeing evidence for the other side.

    What got me to change positions was having real, open and honest conversations not only with people who disagreed with me, but with actual gays and lesbians.  And what those conversations ultimately showed me was that my position was wrong.

    I think what we as progressive Christians need to do is say, “Okay, fine, if you believe those seven verses condemn homosexuality, I won’t argue with you.  But what I will do is point out that there are 505 passages where love trumps condemnation.”

    Love wins.  Love overcame chaos in the beginning and everything created was good.  Love allowed Joseph to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery.  Love was the reason Ruth followed Naomi.  Love defeated death and the grave in the resurrection of Christ.  Love wins.  And if you’re part of a church that bases its theology in hate and exclusion, then you’re arguing for the wrong side and you’ve already lost.

    Let’s spend our time talking about the 505.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ mistformsquirrel

    If that were more emblematic of religion, I’d still be religious. (Well there’d be a significantly higher chance at any rate.)

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

    Years ago, a straight Christian friend complained about the
    “anti-religious hatred” she saw from people – she didn’t object to
    atheists, she just didn’t get why they had to be hating on religion all
    the time. Most of the examples she offered were from gay men. The only
    exception was a lesbian.

    I pointed this out to her.

    Also that every single lesbian or gay person who had a Christian family
    or who went to a Christian school or simply read the British newspapers,
    had – any time in the past thirty years at least – heard over and over
    and over again, expressed in multiple ways and by multiple Christians:

    “My religion tells me that you are inferior because you are lesbian/gay,
    and my religious duty is to discriminate against you or insult you for
    being lesbian/gay in order to teach you better.”

    Words to that effect. 

    Hating religion becomes a defence reaction after a while. Nothing makes a real healthy hate for all religion like growing up gay in a Christian family and going to a Christian school.

    While there are many Christians who disagree with that sentiment, many of them – my friend included – won’t really notice it when expressed. But lesbians and gay men notice. Every time. To the extent that one of the markers to watch out for, when worrying if a stranger is going to have a bad reaction when being come out to, is if they’re wearing a cross: if they are, it’s better to be careful.

  • hapax

     

    To the extent that one of the markers to watch out for, when worrying if
    a stranger is going to have a bad reaction when being come out to, is
    if they’re wearing a cross: if they are, it’s better to be careful.

    One of the most painful experiences in my professional life was hearing as a newly-minted librarian, flush with zeal to “serve the public” , from any number of friends and young people and anonymous strangers online that they were LESS likely to approach the Reference Desk and ask a private question of a librarian wearing a cross. 

    It hurt.  It hurt me to think that the symbol of my faith that inspired me to help was instead seen as a warning beacon.  It hurt me to think of all the people I could have helped who never asked because of that symbol.

    However, in  contrast to the hurt that must have been inflicted to tarnish that cross, yeah, I’m okay with “my pain meant nothing.”

    And I haven’t worn a cross to work for over twenty years.

    I think, sometimes, of what it must be like for ReverendRef and others who wear a clerical collar or habit or veil,  whose very work uniforms are seen as symbols of oppression. 

    Sort of like police officers.  I was taught, as a child, “If you’re in trouble, look for someone wearing a police uniform.  He (back then, it was assumed to be a “he”) will help you.”  Now, so many children (especially young minority children, but mine as well, I’m sad to say) are taught “If you see someone in a police uniform, you’re in trouble.  Don’t get zir attention, or if you do, do whatever zie says, immediately and without question;  we’ll sort the rights and wrongs of it later.”

  • Tonio

    Without diminishing the hurt that you felt, I wonder if this was because it involved libraries and not, say, grocery stores. I’m old enough to remember when fights over specific books in libraries were headline news. If I saw an employee in a library or bookstore who was wearing a cross, I admit that I would wonder if the person was a fundamentalist mole directing readers toward LB and away from Harry Potter. Or if the employee would scowl at readers checking out “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    *nods*

    I used to be anti-homosexuality too. The first step in changing my mind was a firm conviction that, even if it was sin, gay people already heard enough condemnation from the church – and I should be forgetting about condemnation and loving them no matter what.

  • hapax

     

    I wonder if this was because it involved libraries and not, say, grocery stores.

    Oh, absolutely.

    At the Reference Desk, people come to us to ask about their medical conditions, their political causes, their marital problems, their spiritual dilemmas, their financial woes, their legal complications, their hopes and dreams and fears…. not to mention the ultimate intimate revelation of their private tastes in recreational reading. 

    It was naive of me not to realize that a placard proclaiming “Hi, I’m a member of the dominant privileged group, come expose your vulnerabilities!”  does not encourage trust and confidence.

    It just made me terribly sad to realize that that was the message being received, not “Hi, I’m on the side of the outcast and the oppressed, come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will show you some nifty database resources!”, as I thought.

  • ReverendRef

     I think, sometimes, of what it must be like for ReverendRef and others
    who wear a clerical collar or habit or veil,  whose very work uniforms
    are seen as symbols of oppression.

    It can be . . . interesting . . . at times.  I wear two uniforms — one with stripes and one with a collar.  The stripes taught me that people aren’t attacking me personally (well, most of the time anyway), but something they perceive as obstructing (actual adjectives may vary) their goal of winning the game.

    That, in turn, taught me that people’s first reaction to me will overwhelmingly be towards the uniform when I’m wearing a collar. 

    My personality is generally to avoid conflict.  For whatever reason, that’s made me more susceptible to listening to other viewpoints rather than just digging in and fighting.  That trait allowed me to have those conversations in seminary I previously mentioned.  It also left me open to the possibility that I might be wrong.

    So, if I’m wrong, it doesn’t do me any good to begin loudly proclaiming my position.  Instead, I tend to walk into a bar (which I really need to start doing again here in my new town), order a drink, and basically wait for people to approach me.  I let them drive the conversation.

    You can be in here?  Are you really a priest?  You’re allowed to drink?  I’m not religious.  Whatever.  Sometimes they want to know about my job.  Sometimes they want to talk religion.  Sometimes they want to bitch about how bad the Mariners suck.

    In short, I don’t use either of my uniforms as a club.  Hopefully by doing that I can people to see that not all religion is bad; and I continue to invite people in, trying my best to base everything on the 505 and not the 7.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Y’know what’s interesting to me about what you said? The subtle change in (implied) directionality. “If you’re in trouble, look for someone wearing a police uniform.” vs “If you see someone in a police uniform, you’re in trouble”

    Because it reminds me a lot of some of the things we’ve said here about the whole Stranger Danger concept. We’ve taken to teaching our children to fear strangers — at the risk that if our child is ever in a frightening or dangerous situation, they will be afraid to ask for help.

    And one of the things that someone said at the time is that, as a general rule, if you are a child, it is usually safe for *you* to seek out an adult at random if you need help, but if an unknown adult comes *to you* asking for help, that is fishy. 

    I’m not sure if it implies anything or not, but I thought maybe it means something that the shift in the conventional wisdom you described breaks down along the same lines

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The Mariners?  You frequent the bars in Seattle’s Pioneer Square district?

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

    Hapax: “Hi, I’m on the side of the outcast and the oppressed, come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will show you some nifty database resources!”

    But see, that’s what I think all librarians are like!

    (I like librarians.)

  • Münchner Kindl

    Leaving the U.S. means giving up your home and job and neighbors. It means giving up everything the U.S. has to offer — language, history, society, economy, and, most important, human rights, for better and for worse.

    Because the US is the only country with human rights (never mind that it hasn’t even accepted half of the treaties related to them, and the ones the US did sign often haven’t been implemented), so loosing your US citizenship means losing your human rights. That’s why they are called “American rights” and not human rights, after all.

    *Eyeroll*

  • Tonio

     It didn’t occur to me to think of the messages as involving privilege or the lack of it. Before meeting a few evangelicals in college, the only people I knew who were visibly religious were my born-again aunt and uncle, who were self-appointed morals cops. So in my teen years, if I had seen a librarian who wore a religious symbol, I might have felt reluctant to check out, say,
    Slaughterhouse-Five for fear the person would harangue me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1072690047 Andrew Wyatt

    “Most of the Bible was written for people in exile. That’s where it’s meant to be read.”

    I say this as a proud member of the New Atheists… That’s an awesome line, Fred.

  • friendly reader

    You can decide to run off to the Episcopalian Church and call yourself
    Episcopalian, no longer Catholic. You would still have Catholic roots
    and heritage, but you would be able to define what you are now, and no
    one else could either force you to pay tithes to the Catholic Church or
    force you to not go to another church.

    I was watching Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s marvelous “American Lives” as part of my in-flight entertainment today, and his interview with Stephen Colbert made me understand part of the massive problem with saying that.

    Irish Catholics like the Colbert family have deep Catholic roots. It’s part of their ethnic identity as well as religious identity. Telling them to leave Catholicism and become Episcopalians (part of the Anglican Communion) would be a rejection of that identity, a rejection of their ancestors who suffered discrimination, starvation, exile, and death to remain Catholic rather than be forced to join the Church of England.

    The level of persecution that Irish Catholics suffered at the hands of Anglicans (English and their Irish allies) is simply stunning — Colbert referred to their tactics as “the English version of the Final Solution.” Just as many Jews feel they can never convert to Christianity because of how their ancestors withstood unending persecution to adhere to their faith, there are a lot of Catholics out there who can’t give up their Catholicism so easily either, can’t join a group that used to treat them as inhuman pests they would ship to America.

    There was a time that Catholics were a minority that was terribly discriminated against, and there are Catholics who remember it. That’s part of why the quasi-dominionist members in the hierarchy love to play that card. But it’s also why many Catholics are reluctant to leave.

    At least not to the Episcopal Church. Lutherans? Maybe. Schism within the church ala Avignon? I’m not sure. But there’s more than beliefs at stake here, and I’m starting to feel as a non-Catholic that I shouldn’t tell Catholics what to do, just let them know that they don’t get to run my life.

  • Münchner Kindl

    There was a time that Catholics were a minority that was terribly discriminated against, and there are Catholics who remember it. That’s part of why the quasi-dominionist members in the hierarchy love to play that card. But it’s also why many Catholics are reluctant to leave.
    At least not to the Episcopal Church. Lutherans? Maybe. Schism within the church ala Avignon? I’m not sure. But there’s more than beliefs at stake here, and I’m starting to feel as a non-Catholic that I shouldn’t tell Catholics what to do, just let them know that they don’t get to run my life.

    It’s not that people are telling Catholics what to do, (aside from “keep your religion out of my laws”), but rather, that by staying in the RCC, knowing that part of their donations will be used as hush money to the victims of abuse by priests, that part of the money will be used to campaign against condoms in 3rd world country facing AIDS and hunger without condoms and birth control.

    There is a time where individuals must draw a line and once their church steps over that line, they must part ways. Otherwise you get “my country right or wrong” applied to Church. It’s called Kadavergehorsam http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kadavergehorsam here – the idea that people should obey as unquestioniongly as empty puppets or cadavers dancing to the orders of the superiors. (There’s even an anti-war poem that speculates that in the new war, the dead soldiers aren’t allowed to rest in peace, but are ordered by the generals to keep fighting)

    It’s also not true that leaving the RCC = becoming a Lutheran or Episcopalian: There’s the small, but still legitimate Christ Catholic Church/ Old Catholic Church http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Catholic (split off over the infallibility dogma, which they declared to be un-scriptural, un-historical and bad for the faith).

    There are several National Orthodox Churches – and from a historical POV, the Western Rome Church split from the much earlier than Luther split from Rome, so they’re more “original” Christian.

    So it’s possible to leave the RCC without converting to “those” Anglicans / Lutherans.

  • ReverendRef

     No.  I frequented the bars in my (former) little town in Montana.  I’m now in southern Oregon.  But in both places, the M’s have a rather large geographic pull (unlike the Seahawks who have competition from the Broncos and ‘Niners).  People in the broader PNW tend not to be fans of the Rockies or Giants.  Which means, imho, that the Mariners tend to influence a much greater area with their suckiness.

  • Tricksterson

    Aye, the local library be the closest thing I have to a church.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    If it wasn’t for Fred and the commentariat here, I’d probably still think all Christians in the country were like the ones in that story. Now I just think it’s the overwhelming majority of them that use their faith as a weapon to exclude, humiliate and destroy.

  • friendly reader

    I was replying specifically to that comment, though it’s a suggestion I’ve seen elsewhere and one I regrettably made myself. I’m aware not everyone has been making it, just trying to inject some cultural sensitivity into this discussion.

    I actually do wonder if we’re going to see a schism in the RCC. Like, not just a few fringe groups breaking off here and there, but an actual full-blown, we-can’t-accept-this-pope-anymore schism. I don’t know how it would happen, but my liberal catholic cousin notes that at the bottom of the hierarchy, a majority of priests in America hold similar opinions to their laity on things like birth control, changes in ordination standards (primarily letting priests marry), and being more accepting of homosexuals.

    It wouldn’t be impossible for them to split off, elect their own bishops who would elect cardinals and elect a new pope. But unless it’s large enough, it would certainly be financially unfeasible. Hence I’m not going to “recommend it.” I’m just going to let them make up their own minds, and in the meantime not get us involved in their issues.

  • ReverendRef

     It wouldn’t be impossible for them to split off, elect their own bishops who would elect cardinals and elect a new pope.

    The problem, though, is that you just don’t “elect” your bishops.  In the Episcopal Church we do elect priests to become bishops, and in the RCC priests are elevated to that position. 

    The problem comes after the election or appointment — the priest has to be ordained as a bishop, and that takes three other bishops.  TEC’s first bishop, Samuel Seabury, had to travel to England to get ordained because there were no bishops in the States.  The English bishops refused because he couldn’t swear loyalty to the crown, so he went to Scotland.  Our next two were ordained in England, and that gave us three.

    If an RCC splinter group did break off and elect their own bishops, who would ordain them?  And that’s a HUGE question for people in TEC, RCC and Orthodox churches because it revolves around apostolic succession.  It’s sort of important to us.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You can decide to run off to the Episcopalian Church and call yourself Episcopalian, no longer Catholic. You would still have Catholic roots and heritage, but you would be able to define what you are now, and no one else could either force you to pay tithes to the Catholic Church or force you to not go to another church.

    No one currently forces me to pay tithes to the Catholic Church or forces me not to go to another.

    Incidently, on the “what does your money support” point, the finances at my parish are transparent. I’ve asked about exactly where the money from the various collections go, and the priest readily provided that information. Not a dollar of mine goes to the magisterium or any bishop’s political campaigning.

  • friendly reader

    This is another reason I am not going to give advice to Catholics. I don’t know how this process works very well! >_<

    Would starting with some rogue cardinals and going down work better?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If an RCC splinter group did break off and elect their own bishops, who would ordain them? And that’s a HUGE question for people in TEC, RCC and Orthodox churches because it revolves around apostolic succession. It’s sort of important to us.

    There are female Catholic priests. The first were ordained by an anonymous male bishop (who is in communion with the Church, and who will be identified after his death). At least one (that I know of) woman has been made a bishop, and has gone on to ordain other women. Although they have been excommunicated, the women argue that the apostolic line of succession remains intact.

  • Tonio

    It’s part of their ethnic identity as well as religious identity.

    In general, I oppose treating religious identity as synonymous with a particular cultural, ethnic, or national identity. That very easily leads to situations where individuals who wish to follow their own religious consciences have to cut themselves off from their cultures or communities, or feel that they have to choose between one or the other.

  • ReverendRef

     There are female Catholic priests . . .

    And that’s a whole ‘nother issue with a whole ‘nother set of arguments. 
    I’m not RC so I don’t have a vested interest in it, but I have wondered
    why those women didn’t simply “cross the Thames” (meaning move from the
    RCC to the Anglicans).  It would seem to be much less messy, as well as
    allow them to be part of an institution that recognizes women’s
    ordination.

  • Tricksterson

    Let’s not forget Sinead O’Connr, a lady ahead of her time, who was ordained a priest by the Irish Orthodox Catholic Church.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’m not RC so I don’t have a vested interest in it, but I have wondered why those women didn’t simply “cross the Thames” (meaning move from the RCC to the Anglicans). 

    Because Catholicism is not just Anglicanism+Vatican. As was acknowledged below, it’s tricky and cultural identity is a big part of it, but there are also theological differences that matter a great deal to some people.

  • Azraelmacool

    I just gotta say, I got choked up when I read the final line. Hell, I keep getting choked up just by reading it. That’s one of the most beautiful lines you’ve ever written, Fred.

  • http://twitter.com/YngwieFM Yngwie F Malmsteen

    2000 years of war and genocide in Christ’s name. Why would anyone expect anything different from this faith?

  • Jimfilyaw

    i grew up not thirty miles from red bank, and  i’m old enough that my childhood was essentially free from these unwelcome questions.  in my youth, a queer was just a queer, aids was a generation in the future, and the two old maid schoolteachers who lived together were just sharing expenses.    perhaps reverend nevels is asking himself the wrong questions.  perhaps he ought to be asking how he would have felt had this happened to his neighbor instead of himself.  would he have realized the absurdly unchristian nature of his smug, sanctimonious shell?  reverend steelman wasn’t that strong.   

  • PJ Evans

     Did you read the story? It would answer your question pretty completely.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SJLZWMV3SJJ7LKPNGVKJ2MF7N4 baton

    This article hit home.  I moved to Atlanta from Alabama in the late 80′s in order to get away from my family and come out as gay; however, for at least another decade I remained closeted to my family and straight friends.  

    It was a scary time, and Aids decimated my generation (those of us now in our late 40′s and 50′s).  I can remember going to lots of funerals among those early friendships.  My first real gay friend died within 18 months of arriving in Atlanta.  He was in only 23, yet I could not even share that loss with my family as that might cause suspicion.  

    Stephen’s story is much like thousands of us from smaller towns who migrated to Atlanta in order to come out. It is still going on today. I have seen many of my friends’ parents evolve on this issue the past 20 years, much in the same way Matt and Francis have done.   Many of our parents who wished to keep it a buried secret, or adopt a “don’t ask don’t tell approach,” are now attending gay pride parades, throwing weddings, and going on family vacations with gay spouses included as part of the family.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Back when I was a teenager, the fact that I could look up books on my own using a computer-searchable database was a boon, but it still took a monumental effort to work up the nerve to carry my first batch of books regarding the subject of homosexuality to the checkout desk because self-checkout wasn’t thought of as necessary or a good idea back then.

    I wonder now, how many teenagers my age felt themselves forced to read the books secretly in the library (or bypassed the books altogether) because they couldn’t stand the thought of ‘exposing’ themselves through the words on the book covers or spines to all and sundry at the checkout lineup.

    Now I know now that 99.999999% of librarians have nothing but the utmost discretion and sympathy (and a high regard for the privacy rights of those who come to get books), but had I had a bruising encounter with one of the 0.000001% that carry their personal prejudices with them to work, my life might have taken a very different course.

    Even as it was, I had to tell myself repeatedly that if I just don’t make a big deal out of what I’m reading I’ll avoid any embarrassing issues.

  • Amati1684

    As a friend of Matt and Frances Nevels, I am pleased to see that their story is getting this well-deserved attention. Their work with PFLAG in Chattanooga has been a great help for many people. As expected, this story  inspired a few of our crazy faithful to rise up and write hostile letters to the paper, but I am happy to say that the majority of responses have been positive. There is hope for my town — where we have more Baptists than people.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SJLZWMV3SJJ7LKPNGVKJ2MF7N4 baton

    It has been a bit disappointing to read the letters to the editor in Chattanooga this week.  Its refreshing the Nevels are not alone.  Thanks for your comment.


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