The book tells the heart-wrenching stories of teenagers from religious families and congregations and the sheer hell they go through because of their sexual orientation:
Jarrod Parker woke up one morning at Boy Scout camp (having apparently been drugged the night before) with the word "faggot" written across his forehead, "a picture of a penis at the corner of my mouth," and further obscenities and drawings scrawled over his chest and back. Jorge Valencia, who works at a teen crisis and suicide prevention hotline, recalls getting calls from youths whose parents had told them, "I would rather have a dead son than a gay son." Rodney Powell, a black homosexual who marched during the civil rights movement, says: "I suffered more fear and numbing anxiety from my 'secret' as a teenager than I did from racism and segregation."
Two of the stories are told by the parents of young adult children who died. Mary Lou Wallner lost her 29-year-old daughter Anna to suicide. Wallner was estranged from her daughter because of her inability to come to terms with her daughter's sexuality. She writes that the last communication she had from her daughter was a letter telling her that "I was her mother only in a biological way, that I had done colossal damage to her soul with my shaming words, and that she did not want to, and did not have to, forgive me." Wallner decided to "respect Anna's wishes and give her the space she was asking for." The next communication she received was the news that Anna was dead.
"What do I wish I'd done? What would I do now? Grab my toothpaste, credit card and car keys, jump in the car, drive to where she lives and tell her I love her no matter what. I did not do that, and now I never can." Wallner and her husband now run an organization whose goal is to reunite parents with their gay children.
Elke Kennedy was awakened at 4:30 one morning in May 2007 with a call from a South Carolina hospital, where her 20-year-old son Sean had been brought. "When I finally got to see my son, my knees buckled. He was lying flat on his back, stitches on his upper lip, blood on his hair and neck, hooked up to a respirator. As I stood there holding his hand, he felt so cold. I wanted to hug him, to keep him warm. I kissed him, telling him I was there and that I loved him so much and to please wake up. I remember praying. A doctor came in and explained that the tests had revealed Sean had severe brain damage and his injuries were not survivable."
What had happened to Sean? "As he was leaving a bar, a man named Stephen Moller got out of the car and called Sean a faggot. Then he punched Sean so hard he broke Sean's facial bones and separated his brain from his brain stem. Sean fell backward onto the pavement, and his brain ricocheted in his head."
Sean died. Moller was convicted only of involuntary manslaughter and was jailed in November 2007. Although his request for early parole was denied in February of this year, he will finish his modest sentence in July.
The book also offers some pretty sobering data as well:
• Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15-to-24-year-olds; for every young person who takes his or her own life, 20 more try.
• Gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
• Forty-five percent of gay men and 20 percent of lesbians surveyed had been victims of verbal and physical assaults in secondary school specifically because of their sexual orientation.
• Gay youth are at higher risk of being kicked out of their homes and turning to life on the streets for survival. They are more likely than their heterosexual peers to start using tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs at an earlier age.
• Twenty-eight percent of gay students drop out of school—more than three times the national average.
This book really opens Professor Gushee's eyes to the sheer hell that our gay and lesbian children go through. In fact, to the professor's credit, he doesn't shield his Christian brothers and sisters from the cold hard truth about what they have done to these children and young adults in the name of God:
As an evangelical Christian whose career has been spent in the South, I must say I find it scandalous that the most physically and psychologically dangerous place to be (or even appear to be) gay or lesbian in America is in the most religiously conservative families, congregations and regions of this country. Most often these are Christian contexts. Many of the most disturbing stories in this volume come from the Bible Belt. This marks an appalling Christian moral failure.
In contrast to the love and mercy that Jesus exemplified, Christian communities offer young lesbians and gays hate and rejection. Sometimes that rejection is declared directly from the pulpit. But even when church leaders attempt to be more careful, to "hate the sin but love the sinner" (as that hackneyed formulation has it), the love gets lost. Perhaps we need to focus on refining our ability to love; maybe we are not actually capable of compartmentalizing hate.
And a big AMEN and thank you to Professor Gushee from this Seething Momma for closing with this:
Crisis recounts the sad stories of dozens of young people who, like the biblical Esau, cried for a blessing from their parents, friends and churches. All too often they have not received it. All too often they have been left broken, rejected as human beings—at the hands of Christians and in the name of the Bible. Obviously we must extend basic acceptance to gay youths such as these, as well as Christian love.
Moreover, after reading these stories, I feel that Christians have something they need to request from God and from gays and lesbians, and that is forgiveness.