Guest Post by Danny Evarts
I’m the son of a preacher man. My father was a Pentecostal/ Fundamentalist/ Assemblies of God preacher in Flop-on-the-floor/ Speaking in Tongues type churches. The same school of thought as Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Sarah Palin and their ilk. I grew up surrounded by that community, living their beliefs and requirements. My father began his ministry fresh out of a small Bible College with a Children’s Christian Radio Show, and then transitioned this to a traveling Children’s Crusade, where even we kids were made a part of the act. He later became an Associate and then a Head pastor at various churches before becoming a Home Missions preacher (moving once each year or so to a new church that was being sucked into the Assemblies of God). We attended a service of some sort nearly every night of the week, and multiple times on Sundays. I attended a Bible College for a short while. I later converted to Catholicism and almost entered the Seminary (a story for another day, involving another would-be Seminarian yelling out, “Oh God!”).
I am also gay.
When Maurice asked me to write about Homosexuality and Religion, a million thoughts entered my head. I could probably write an encyclopedia on the subject, based on my personal experience and studies. How to focus that thought, and bring it down to something manageable that people wouldn’t stop reading immediately? I don’t want to preach (though I was raised to do so). I don’t want to chastise, or castigate, or bore, or make pronouncements. We’ve all had enough of that, and it would be far too easy to get into a rant. So, I’ll try to focus on this one subject … growing up as the son of a preacher, and coming to terms with being gay. Fair warning: I am a long-winded writer. Not as long as the sermons I grew up with, thankfully, but brevity is not my strong suit.
Caveat and disclaimer: I personally do not now believe in the God of my parents’ church, and do not follow any organized religion. I cannot accept the hateful bile spewed by those who claim to follow Him. No, I did not rebel and blindly stop following. My current beliefs (and I won’t share them, because it really has no bearing here) were formed through many years of actual study, reading, debate and thought. I may be highly spiritual, but I am not religious. Okay, I’m boring you, and losing readers. So, on to my story …
There was a boy—for ease of memory (and to not pretend it’s someone else, but it’s more fun and a bit easier to write in third person) we’ll call him Danny—who loved Jesus very, very much. He won his first personalized, red-letter, gold-edged Bible for having memorized the books of the Bible at around age 6. He won his second for memorizing the “Love Chapter” of the Bible [1 Corinthians:13]. He’s probably read the Bible, cover to cover, in various translations and versions, and in a couple of languages, at least a hundred times. His parents were preachers, his grandparents were preachers (if you ever meet him, ask him about the adventures involving his mother’s father, leading his flock around town singing, accosting anyone who didn’t run fast enough), his aunts and uncles were all preachers or involved heavily with their churches. Nearly every childhood memory for Danny involved Church, or Church-related events: Pageants; Church Musicals; Summer Camps, retreats, and Preacher’s Kid getaways; Singing in a Street Mission (the poor guys there had to listen to him sing and his father preach, food sitting on long tables in front of them, before they were allowed to eat—even then, Danny thought that must be some form of torture); Royal Rangers (the Church’s version of the Boy Scouts, as the Boy Scouts were “Of the World”); ringing the bell in a mountain church to call the congregation to service.
As the child of a Preacher, one is expected to act and be a certain way, to set the perfect example for the other children. Don’t embarrass your parents, never question, never act out, never say or do anything that may cast a negative light on the standing of your parents. Danny and his many brothers and sisters were placed in in the front pew during services. As his Father preached, his Mother would sit in the row behind them, and if they in any way acted out (or looked like they might be contemplating not paying attention), a quick flick on the back of the ear was the first warning. You didn’t want your Father to have to stop the service to scold you from the pulpit. From the time he could write, Danny dutifully took notes of each and every sermon. He learned at an early age to hide himself, his thoughts and pain and feelings, to be the perfect son. His entire sense of self-worth was wrapped up in this image. He was taught about Christ’s “unconditional” love, but also that if he didn’t obey, God was an angry God, and he would burn in Hell, painfully and shamefully, forever. And it would look bad for his parents.
To be fair, Danny’s Father was one of that rare breed of Pentecostal who actually went to school to study the Bible, and who really believed what he preached. From his parents, Danny still holds an extreme sense of compassion, along with a temper that is quick to anger when he sees others being abused or taken advantage of. Danny’s family was very poor, due to his father’s chosen life, and they were often paid with farm goods, or truckloads of fish, or other such trade items when a Church had no cash. His Father worked other jobs to support his family—Meat packer, gas station attendant, Carpenter (to follow the ways of Christ)—as the churches paid very little. Later, when some of Danny’s siblings started to get into trouble, their Father stepped down from being a preacher, stating that if he couldn’t control his family, he couldn’t lead a flock. He lived what he taught.
But Danny learned early what it was like to defy the Church. God was angry, God was fear, God was the being in the 70s-era Second Coming Horror films he was forced to watch in church whose followers rejoiced as those who stood with them were put into the guillotine rather than suffer the Almighty’s wrath. Danny learned the dichotomy of the religion: God is love, but God is also anger and pain and death. His sense of self-worth was based on the idea that everything he was, everything good about him, came from God Himself. Any affront to his body—any sin—was a direct attack on God. Without Him, Danny was taught, not only would one burn in the fires of Hell for all eternity, but without God, life was worthless. Danny was worthless. He was nothing. The same beliefs taught by many American churches, who preach the same laws—God (the version taught by that certain sect) is everything. Humans are nothing without God. And, as there is only one “right” church, to stray from that particular institution’s view of God is the worst sin. As mentioned when our little tale began, Danny loved Jesus very much. He believed, and he wanted to be good. He wanted to make God, and his parents, happy. He wanted to be a preacher when he grew up just as much as he wanted to be an astronaut, or a marine biologist, or a doctor, or a journalist. He truly believed.
Danny easily forgave those in the Church who would sin—who would hurt or use others, who would beat their wives or molest their their children, and then be protected by the Church. It wasn’t Danny’s place to judge, that was God’s job. And they could pray to Jesus for forgiveness and be pure again. If Jesus could so easily forgive them, why couldn’t he? All he could control was himself, and he worked hard at this.
While Danny strove diligently to fill the role of that perfect son—learning early to act, to hide himself—he knew he was different. No, he didn’t know he was “gay.” He hand’t any idea such a thing existed, really. A naive lad, he only knew that, inside, he wasn’t what he was “supposed” to be. Sure, some of his interests melded with those of other boys. He liked skateboards and comic books. He liked getting muddy. His TV idol was The Six Million Dollar Man. He loved Batman and Spiderman. He wasn’t interested in Barbies, or wearing girls’ clothing, or baby dolls that peed or cried (though there was a brief fling with a Cabbage Patch Doll dressed in a Chicago Cubs uniform). He liked the music he was allowed to listen to (church and classical music exclusively). And he didn’t particularly like playing with girls over boys. But Danny was tiny, so not very good at sports, though he loved running, and riding horses, and after interviewing a semi-pro hockey player at age 9, became obsessed with that sport (though didn’t really get into it until years later). He didn’t particularly enjoy making out with girls in the back of church vans, as was the norm. He liked to sing the snatches of old Gene Kelly songs he’d overheard. He played the flute, and enjoyed being in Church Musicals. His favorite pastime, above all else, was reading. He escaped into the pages of books he wasn’t supposed to have, hiding in the stacks of libraries and sneaking (temporarily stealing) books to read in the barn or the fields in secret. He consumed volumes, yearning for the inconceivable worlds beyond his own revealed in those pages. He became a pathological liar, in his head, creating his own stories which he tried to believe, to hide out in—to be a part of something new and exciting and … different. He knew he was not the same as others, not what he should be, and he became an excellent actor, hiding his true self behind a mask lest he disappoint. And he felt shame and self-loathing.
Danny Evarts. Danny Evarts smartly quit writing long ago to pursue things he is more interesting at. Having lived in many places the world over, and experimented with many jobs and career paths, he discovered he was best suited to the visual realm, with an emphasis on playing with other peoples’ words. He now works as Art Director and Technical Editor for Shroud Publishing (www.shroudmagazine.com), as well as doing freelance design and illustration (mostly in wood and linoleum block printmaking), and goofs around with various other forms from bookbinding to fiber manipulations. Danny obviously enjoys playing with new things. View more of his works at http://gallery.dannyevarts.net.
OTHER CONVERSATION STARTERS