Sunday, May 6, 2012

An Open Letter to Sean Harris

I wasn't going to get political on here. I really wasn't. I know that the people who actually know me who are reading this are shaking their heads and rolling their eyes and saying, "Sure, Natalie," but I really had no intention of putting anything political on here. This was supposed to be a place for me to be sarcastic and snarky and hopefully funny. I might address some more serious topics sometimes, too, but I really wasn't going to discuss any politics on here. Religion, either, except possibly as it related to my own personal views and struggles.

However, that was before I got an email from Sean Harris.

(I actually almost unthinkingly typed his name just now as Sean Hayes, which did honestly make me laugh out loud. This may not strike you as funny unless you know who Sean Harris is, and you ever watched Will and Grace.)

For those who don't know, Sean Harris is the pastor of a baptist church in North Carolina. He recently went on a tirade about homosexuality during one of his sermons during which he said parents should punch their sons for acting effeminate. This was far from the only offensive thing he said. He later retracted his sermon, without actually retracting anything other than to say that, in retrospect, it may have been a bad idea to tell parents to punch their children. He also later said that he does not advocate beating your children; however, it should be noted that on his blog, he includes guidelines for parents to physically discipline their children. If you're interested, audio and probably video of his sermon are still available online, and you'll find his blog easily by googling his name. I'm not going to link to either, because, well, I don't want to, and this is my blog.

The email I received from "Pastor Sean," as he calls himself, was an auto-response to an online petition I signed saying that his "apology" for this hateful rant was not accepted. The content of the email asked me to "give him a chance" and read his clarification on his blog.

I read the clarification. And though you may not believe me, I read it with an open mind. And when I was finished reading it and processing it, I was possibly even more pissed off than I had been before I read it. The part that really got me was this: "The opposition is revealing their complete lack of toleration toward those do not approve of the LGBT lifestyle or agenda. However, we must be tolerantly intolerant."

I mean, really. Wow. Hi, kettle? This is the pot speaking. Guess what, you're black!

I sat on it for a couple days, and tried to let it go. I really did. But then today, while I was bored, I happened to open the email again and read his "clarification" again. And I realized that I couldn't keep my mouth shut. So I emailed him back. Oddly enough, this time I've gotten no response.

I know I'm not likely to get a response. And honestly, I knew emailing him was ultimately a waste of time anyway, because even if he actually reads my email, it's not like I'm going to change his mind, just like he's not going to change mine. I just needed to get it off my chest. But then I realized that I didn't just want him to read my response. I wanted it available for anyone to read. So that maybe, someone who needed to hear it would realize that not everyone is so narrow-minded and intolerant.

So I decided to copy it on my own blog. Here it is, and feel free to pass it on:

To: Sean Harris

I read your response. I fail to see how you can claim your words were misquoted or taken out of context. I listened to an audio recording of your sermon. I heard your words directly from your mouth, and the context was pretty clear. It's all well and good to say you "misspoke" after you start getting backlash, but I think your true hatred and bigotry was revealed pretty transparently in your original sermon. You can't unring a bell.

I know I would be wasting my time pointing out the flaws in literal interpretations of the bible, so I won't do that, although I do have to wonder if you keep slaves and stone adulterers and abstain from eating shellfish and pork. I have never fully understood the "pick and choose" mentality that allows some so-called Christians to use the bible to justify their hatred and intolerance under the pretext that the bible is infallible while selectively ignoring some of its more ludicrous passages.

I also won't waste my time trying to dispute your views on homosexuality. Not that I don't wholeheartedly disagree with your hateful views, but because I know from experience that any kind of debate with the willfully ignorant and closed-minded is an exercise in futility. That said, there is a great deal of evidence that homosexuality has a biological basis and is not a choice, and the persistence of your intolerance saddens me.

I would, however, like to point out that using your position to advocate striking a child, for any reason, is unconscionable. I work in social services, and over the years, I have heard "spare the rod, spoil the child" as justification for child abuse more times than I care to remember. It doesn't matter that your official stance is that you "reject the idea that bruising is ever the objective when disciplining a child," nor does it matter that you reject the idea of disciplining while angry or publicly humiliating children. You are still officially advocating child abuse. Some of the parents to whom you gave this "dispensation" WILL go too far, WILL discipline in anger, and WILL leave bruises, and you will have had a hand in that. That makes you a child abuser by proxy. And it's not even effective discipline. I realize that science may be lost on you, but studies show that the use of physical punishment teaches children to try to avoid punishment rather than changing their behavior, it increases aggression and it teaches them that hitting is an appropriate way to solve problems.

In conclusion, I don't really see what your "clarification" was supposed to clear up, other than the fact that you backpedaled a little bit on whether it's appropriate to punch a little boy for acting feminine. I am still appalled by your overall message, and I fear for the children in your congregation. Especially the ones who might question their sexuality and gender identity as they grow. I hope for their sake that God's love is not as conditional as yours.

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