Growing up southern Baptist and gay in rural North Carolina was rife with challenges and despair. I remember sitting in my childhood church and our pastor preaching on the evils of homosexuality and how the gay degenerates would be the downfall of our society. It was scary to hear when deep down inside, I knew I was gay.
By the time I was a teenager, I was merely going through the motions, pretending to pray, giving a fake smile to my fellow churchgoers, living in shame, and covering up my true essence. This continued all through high school, but finally stopped when I quit attending church during college. I couldn't take two-faced Christians anymore who continually said "love they neighbor" but lived contrary to that belief when it comes to people like me.
Fast-forward to 2014 and Franklin Graham's recent interview in The Charlotte Observer. He is yet another purported Christian who uses religion to mask hate, discord, and dissonance. In the interview, he has the audacity to liken his views to his father's moral stand against racial segregation and communism. In the same breath, he supports Russia's antigay laws, and suggests gay people adopting is really recruiting children for an agenda.
Is it just me? Everyone sees the blatant hypocrisy, right?
Statements such as Graham's are still commonplace in churches across the world more than 25 years after I've come to terms with my own spirituality. Hearing this hate rhetoric from people who are supposed to be Godly will no doubt drive away young gay people from the church and create feelings of shame - I know, because it's how I felt as a child growing up in the church. I accept full responsibility for the paths I chose in life, like drinking to the point of black outs, having unsafe sex, and associating with people who based their worth (and mine) on money and material status, rather than my character.
I do know, however, believing in something bigger than myself would have made things a lot easier. It's so much easier to walk a path of goodness and hope, when the proverbial light shines down from above. Imagine all the good Franklin Graham could accomplish in the world with the LGBT community if he were a true man of God. Imagine all the impressionable young people he could reach if he didn't support antigay laws like those in Russia.
Graham has no problem supporting laws that endanger a person's life. He places his interpretation of the Bible over the good of humankind. As a beacon of hope and strength in the world, it is incumbent upon our country and its leaders, religious or otherwise, to serve as voices of reason. Is it any wonder that countries like Uganda are imprisoning gay people just for being who they are? It saddens and angers me that some Christians here try to "pray the gay away" at church every Sunday, but then say gays should not be beaten, tortured, or imprisoned. These very people are as complicit as if they doused someone gay in gasoline and threw a match.
We should all remember that with great power, comes great responsibility. Franklin Graham's leadership in the Christian community and the resources he has to be heard on the world stage should be used to espouse hope, love, and light. I know for a fact had my childhood church done so, I wouldn't have had to go down a path destruction before finding my way back. I think Graham would be better served by creating opportunities to fellowship with the LGBT community and demonstrating to people here at home and abroad that the main covenant of true Christianity is "welcome to all, closed to none."
I am sick of hearing people, like Graham, say that their criticisms of how LGBT people are living in sin springs from love. Here's how love works, Mr. Graham. My parents are the best possible champions a gay man could have. At my mother's retirement party this past December, my dad introduced my brother and his wife, and paused when he came to my husband and me. He looked me in the eye, took a breath and told the crowd how proud he was of my husband and me. This may not seem like a big deal, but just 10 years before when I came out, my dad was convinced I was going to hell. My dad, true to form and his unconditional love for me, though, read everything he could get his hands on about the LGBT community. He did research, he talked to people, he prayed. I wish Franklin Graham would take a lesson out of my dad's lesson book and for that matter the very man who Graham says saved him - Jesus Christ.
I remember an epiphany I had in the shower (where all my great ideas are born) about five years ago. I was thinking how far my parents had come in their acceptance of me and truly felt their unconditional love. I remember asking myself, "Whose love is more pure and unconditional than my parents?" The answer: God. This was the impetus for me getting back in church and forming a stronger relationship with God. I would encourage Franklin Graham to consider this too before he speaks nonsense about the LGBT community again.
BRIAN COCKMAN lives in Charlotte, N.C., and was raised Southern Baptist. He and his husband of five years plan to adopt in the coming months. He can be reached on Twitter at @bcockman.