Michelle and her daughter Lizzy watched “Cosmos,” in which an astronomer (a precursor to Copernicus), is burned at the stake for daring to say that the earth is not the center of the universe.
Lizzy (14) asked her mom: “So, who, exactly, put this guy to death?”
Michelle: “The church.”
Lizzy: “The church? The church burned people at the stake?? But it’s the CHURCH!!!“
Michelle explained that this kind of thing is why their family has steered clear of the church, because they cannot reconcile the church’s collective mistreatment of those they consider different from themselves.
“I know all of this, of course,” said Michelle’s sister, as she told me this story. “But something about hearing it from my family made me unspeakably sad.” I totally hear her.
Why would the church react like that?
Fear that this view might catch on, fear that they might be held accountable, fear it might threaten the power or the money. People don’t like to feel threatened. Fight or flight kicks in. It may not make sense why they would feel threatened; after all, the church in that day had all the power and money. Perhaps they feared they would be held accountable, but I don’t really believe that. If a scientist said, “The moon is made of cheese,” they could probably just ignore him. The time to burn him at the stake would come once as they saw him as a threat… to the power or the money.
Martin Luther pointed out the grievous errors of the Catholic Church, such as selling forgiveness of sins in the form of indulgences. Where did the money go? The Catholic Church. You could even buy your way out of purgatory and into heaven, hence this little ditty: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory into heaven springs.” I’ll bet that one that was a bestseller for the Church, a real moneymaker. The Church promptly excommunicated Luther… and drove him to his grave.
I do not write this to villify any church or denomination. I don’t blame anybody for Luther’s death. But does this sound familiar to you? Does it sound like a modern day issue? A group of people rejected and condemned from the church today – because they are different? And are the same principles driving these ousted ones to an early death?
Are we still motivated by fear? Follow the money and the power. Surely there are many in leadership positions who would love to be more embracing, but they’re afraid they’ll lose people in their church. That’s a real fear. Whether it’s justified or not, the fact is that some pastors do not publicly affirm the LGBTQ community because of what it will cost.
Many people in the church don’t stand to lose money or power, but they are afraid to lose their reputation. What will people say if they throw a shower for a pregnant teen, welcome a newbie who doesn’t quite fit, or embrace a gay friend? What indeed?
I can’t help noticing that Jesus really seriously had it out with the religious leaders and others who took advantage of people and twisted the truth to keep their own pockets full, to maintain power, or even to keep their reputation.
Because maintaining one’s position at the expense of those who turn to them for guidance is the gross miscarriage of justice that Jesus railed against.
“If it produces fear, is self-diminishing, motivates hate, causes shame, robs you of freedom… it has nothing to do with God. Turn around, and go the other way!” – Jim Palmer
She is the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin, and her “Mom, I’m Gay” book has been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign and others. Sharon Groves, PhD, HRC’s Religion & Faith Program Director says, “I often get asked by parents for resources that can address the struggles of raising LGBT sons and daughters without having to leave faith behind. Susan Cottrell’s book, Mom, I’m Gay, does just that. This is the kind of book that parents will love.”
She and her husband have been married more than 25 years and have five children – one of whom is in the LGBTQ community. She lives in Austin, Texas.