This week on The Grand Overseer (i.e. Facebook) I watched an argument over whether or not Kirk Cameron’s comments regarding homosexuality on Piers Morgan were out of line or not. The argument centered less around the content of what he said and more around whether or not Kirk Cameron has the right to have and publicly state his opinions as a Christian.* For the most part, although I completely and utterly disagree with everything Cameron said, I believe people have the right to express their (utterly wrong) opinions. It is a free society after all, and I’m an enormous fan of the First Amendment. But a chunk of the conversation with Piers Morgan revolved around children and what Cameron teaches his children and, more importantly to me, what he would say or do if one of his children tried to come out to him.
When children are involved my opinion on things has a tendency to shift into a more protective stance and my usually unwavering devotion to defending freedom of belief and expression can bend to honor what is best for the child. We already place limits on what parents can and can’t say and do to their children – as we should. As I’ve mentioned, TheScott and I are going through the fostering process to adopt children who have been removed from their homes because their parents said and did things that were abusive or neglectful to the point of damaging their children. There are people out there who believe beating their children until they bleed (“spare the rod and spoil the child”) is the morally right thing to do. There are people who believe marrying off their twelve-year-old to a fifty year old man is the morally right thing to do. There are people who believe genital mutilation is the morally right thing to do. But we are not allowed to physically or psychologically damage our children in this country, despite what some people morally believe. Limiting child abuse is an okay limit on our freedom, as far as I am concerned.
Telling a gay child that homosexuality is a sin is a form of emotional abuse. Encouraging other people to try to transform their children away from homosexuality, as Cameron did, is encouraging child abuse. I don’t care if you “love” them while you do it. I don’t care if you use nice words to tell them they’re psychologically damaged and God will not accept them. Nobody should feel obligated to defend Cameron’s right to speak as he did, because whether or not it is legally allowed, his condemnation of homosexuality in children is severely psychologically damaging.
I’m not trying to be edgy here. I grew up in small town Texas and I was a high school teacher in Austin for eight years. I’m speaking from the experience of watching the anguish and self-loathing of children who couldn’t reconcile who they were with a family they knew couldn’t accept them. If you think growing up gay in a family that is condemnatory of homosexuality isn’t child abuse, please talk to someone who endured it. Like any other form of abuse, condemning homosexuality in front of children creates a lasting cycle of destruction that can have ramifications far down the line.
As I said, I grew up in small town Texas. I loved my town. I loved the people in it, their joy in life, their sincerity, their genuine friendliness. Well, their friendliness to me, anyway. The town I grew up in had certain standards of behavior that I easily fit into, so I never ran into the sharp corners. But their love, their joy, and their kindness as I experienced it wasn’t fake.The media gets it wrong every time. TV and movies seem to have this fascination with conservative small towners as vapid or insincere, things that couldn’t be further from the truth.
One of my favorite teachers from that small town, we’ll call him Eddie Carter, had grown up there himself. He left for college, came back to teach at the high school he graduated from, got married to another teacher, and they had two children. Mr. Carter had been raised by two really nice people, metaphorical pillars of the community, who were also as religiously conservative as people can get. They, too, were teachers at my high school. I remember Mr. Carter’s parents always had a smile and a kind word for everybody. They were nice and loving people, despite (I might even say because of) their extreme conservatism.
A few years after I graduated from high school my town was horrified when Mr. Carter was accused, convicted, and sent to prison for having an affair with a student. A male student. I was devastated to learn he’d abused his position as a teacher in such a way and hurt some poor, confused adolescent. I’d truly cared for Mr. Carter. We’d worked together at a theater one summer where we’d gotten to be…not friends exactly, I never forgot he was my teacher, but we developed more than your typical teacher-student relationship. I’d admired him so much, and my faith in him had been betrayed. I remembered that all through high school my guy friends kept saying Mr. Carter was gay; they’d even make jokes about how conservative his parents and his church were and yet he’d somehow ended up “that way” anyhow, as if remaining gay was some perverse obstinacy on Mr. Carter’s part. I’d always defended him – partly because where I grew up that was an accusation people needed defending from but mostly because he was married to a woman and I was naive enough to think that settled the question. But looking back on it, I think they were right.
This is where I get so frustrated because in my mind I can see and hear the well-meaning citizens of my old town shaking their heads and saying, “Here is one more proof homosexuality is an aberration. How could he do that to a student? How could he do that to his wife and kids?” And what Mr. Carter did was absolutely inexcusable. But I do think they’re asking the wrong questions. There’s a part of me that can’t help wondering…
What if Eddie Carter had grown up in a home where he could tell his parents he was gay and they would accept him with love? What if he’d grown up in a town that would let him bring another man to his senior prom? A town that wouldn’t bat an eye when he came home from college and applied for a job as a teacher. A state that would let him marry a man he loved and not treat him any differently than his straight neighbors. Would he still have chosen to suppress who he was until it festered into something destructive? I knew this man. I respected and looked up to him. I have a hard time believing he would have chosen a path that led to prison and disgrace and hurt so many people if he could have had a normal, happy life being accepted for himself.
I’m not saying, despite his raising, Mr. Carter couldn’t have chosen to break with his family, his church, his community, and his life as he knew it. Even though our lives would never have crossed, that’s the path I wish he had chosen. But as angry as I am at him, I can’t help being angry at his parents, angry at his church, and angry at my town. I can’t help thinking we all share some burden of blame, not just for Mr. Carter’s screwed up life, but for that adolescent he took advantage of as well.
Exodus 34:7 says that Jehovah will “lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected–even children in the third and fourth generations.” When I was younger, this verse used to creep me out; I thought it was so unfair. But when I got older I finally realized it’s not a threat from God, it’s a description of reality. It’s the chain of ancestry. It’s wyrd. The unrealistic expectation Eddie Carter’s parents held that no son of theirs would be gay lay the foundation for Mr. Carter’s poor choices. Mr. Carter now has two children growing up without a father, and the suffering of these two completely innocent people started with actions – I would even say “sins” – committed well before they were born by people two (or more) generations back.
The health and safety of our children are at stake here, and so there I must disagree with you, Mr. Cameron, and I must disagree with all the people who defend his words as free speech. It is not acceptable to belittle our children, to make them feel unwanted and insecure for being the way they were born. Like any other form of abuse (and just as Exodus warns), this creates a dangerous cycle that is hard to exit. And for people who quote the Bible claiming their holy book justifies their opinion on homosexuality? Unless they also (a) wash themselves and their clothing whenever they touch something a woman on her period sat on (b) refuse to clip the sides of their beards (c) enforce silence for all women during church services (d) disallow anyone with a deformity into church (it actually says blemish – maybe nobody with pimples is allowed in?) (e) marry a raped daughter to her rapist, and my favorite (f) quit praying in public like a hypocrite I am going to question their motivation for picking and choosing which verses they insist the rest of us follow and which inconveniences they allow themselves to ignore.
I try so hard to be open minded and let others have their crazy-ass opinions because I want them to let me have mine. But I just can’t do it when children are getting hurt. I have to take a stand here. What do you think? Is Cameron’s right to speak the way he did something I should defend because of the First Amendment? Was he advocating child abuse by defining the sexuality of his children for them? Does the First Amendment even cover advocating child abuse? And what do I say to Mr. Carter if I ever see him again? Do I apologize? Or do I turn my back on him because of what he did? Argh…
* For the record, Kirk Cameron’s viewpoints don’t agree with what any of my Christian friends believe.
+ Featured Image: Kirk Cameron and (evangelist) Ray Comfort from Wikipedia