Some years ago I knew a young man. He had spent his life in Christian churches. He bubbled with life, and love, and hope. He participated in church activities and enthusiastically studied the bible. But from an early age he could see that he was headed for a conflict. He studied the bible, prayed, and tried to work out the turmoil within.
At age 16 he approached his parents, both were leaders of the church and pillars of the community, and said he needed to tell them something. Within a half hour his father was throwing his clothes out of his bedroom window and was demanding he leave immediately. His mom sat weeping refusing to look in his direction or speak to him. He had told them he was gay.
After time on the street, in homeless shelters, and couch surfing at friend’s houses he finished high school and enlisted in the Marines. He had two dreams from his youth, one was to be a pastor and the other was to be a Marine like his grandfather.
Iraq, Afghanistan, bronze star, purple heart, don’t ask-don’t tell, dead friends, PTSD.
When he left the Marines he wrote and called his parents. He got no reply. After a time he tried to visit and see his mom and he was turned away at the door by his dad. To the sounds of “disgraceful faggot” and the reciting of bible verses asserting he was abandoned by God and possessed a depraved mind he tearfully walked away from his family home for the last time.
I got a call in the middle of the night.
“Why won’t my mom talk to me? Why wont they love me? They taught me that Jesus loved everyone unconditionally and talked with the worst sinners. I wanted to hear her voice one more time. I wanted someone to say they loved me even though I am a sinner. Why won’t my mom love me?”
He hung up and within minutes the choirboy who had memorized the gospel of John; the deacon’s kid who raised thousands of dollars for missionaries and for the hungry; the Marine who saved lives, who served honorably, who bled for his country; the gay man who remained celibate because of his morality; the little boy who wanted a hug and to hear his mom’s voice once again, was dead.
In his final email he said he would like what he called the “gay Marine’s anthem” to be played at his funeral. But his funeral was a long condemnation of his “lifestyle” and a “lesson to the lost” of how badly the “sin” of same-sex attraction would end. None of his friends were allowed to attend and no military honors were accorded him because of his “disgraceful lifestyle” and “dishonoring the flag.”
A year ago today the man who sang the “gay Marine’s anthem” died. And I was forced to recall my young friend, gone now for many years, a far better human and follower of Jesus than I or the Christians who condemned him. I remember my friend and weep as I post this video of Jim Neighbors singing “The Impossible Dream.”
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