It all felt so joyous and loving at first that I almost forgot I was rubbing shoulders with parents who were endangering their own children’s lives.
At 9 am on September 5th at Canyon Hills Community Church, a young man poised drum sticks over a full kit. Guitarists plugged their instruments into amps as the vocal team lined up behind the song leader. House lights were dialed down and a 300-strong audience took to their feet. The house began to rock.
Giant screens flanking the stage cued up the lyrics and added to the rock concert vibe fostered by deep blue stage lighting. The auditorium reverberated with fully voiced, energetic praise song. It really got the blood flowing.
|Oh happy day, happy day!
You washed my sin away
Oh happy day, happy day!
I’ll never be the same
Forever I am changed.
Through the applause the band segued into a power ballad, bringing the audience down to a more reverential mindframe. Many palms were lifted heavenward. The music and lyrics were emotional.
|This is how we know,
This is how we know what love is
Just one look at Your cross
And this is where we see,
This is where we see how love works
For You surrendered Your all …
King Jesus we love You,
This was the introduction to the day’s sermon “Should Christians be tolerant of homosexuality?” Pamphlets in the lobby and a page on the church’s website state the answer to that question: “no”. This means that the 20 minutes of joyous song about love that opened the service was a cruel set-up.
I could only guess at the confusion and heartache about to be experienced by the many kids in the auditorium as the pastor used his position of moral authority and the approval of nodding or silent parents to sew into their hearts the seeds of self-loathing and suicide. I was about to witness raw, deliberate emotional brutality wrapped in the guise of love.
After a prayer asking God to help teachers lead children to God, one of the pastors angled the congregation for volunteer Sunday school teachers, saying
We as a church, Canyon Hills Community Church, we value children. If you’ve been in this building, you know that we have an investment in the lives of our children.
“We value our children”? What a sick joke.
Canyon Hills Community Church is a tenant of the Canyon Park Business Center, a high-tech office park located in the north Seattle suburb of Bothell, WA. I took notice of the church when the email to the right was circulated company-wide by my wife’s employer, which is also located in Canyon Park. CHCC’s website made clear that the enterprise angling for new members by offering free lunch is dangerously homophobic. The hazards of blindly forwarding solicitation emails company-wide was explained to the HR department of my wife’s company, and to their credit they’ve since tightened their policies.
The story would have ended there, but at the time the church’s main web page (left) happened to be advertising a series of upcoming sermons including the one titled “Should Christians be tolerant of homosexuality?”.
I decided I had to witness this service for myself. Although I’ve heard and read plenty of anti-gay rhetoric from public religious figures, I’ve never attended a service where gays were attacked from the pulpit. I figured I owe it to the kids here in my own neighborhood to understand as best I can what they are facing.
Pastor Jeff Geise stepped to the pulpit after the opening music and announcements were over. For over 45 minutes he
* quoted Bible verses
* belied his stated compassion for gays by choosing to use terms like “natural reflexive recoil”, “homosexual” and “gross”
* chastised his gay brother-in-law for leaving a heterosexual marriage rather than recognize that his own sermons compel gay people to pursue false heterosexual lives.
* quoted fake statistics, saying “the consequences often include physical damage, disease and death” and “over a third of professing homosexuals say they would get out of the gay lifestyle”, and
* evilly promised “salvation” through “ex-gay therapy” scams like Exodus International and, even more shockingly, “Pastor Ben’s own thesis that he wrote for his schooling.”.
It was horrible to witness, but well worth the discomfort to experience first-hand the soul-crushing ton of bricks being dropped on children. I am now even more motivated than before to do what I can to let such kids know they are beautiful, perfect and whole and do not need “saving” a la Pastor Jeff’s cruel and impossible plan.
Sitting a few seats from me was a teenage girl who clearly had been dragged to church by her mother. The bathroom slippers, sullen slouching and refusal to participate in even the “greet your neighbor” exercise were dead giveaways. Her brave, defiant presence more than anything else prompted me to question not what the pastor was saying, but to question why children were present in that service at all.
LOVE YOUR CHILDREN TO DEATH
You can watch a video of the sermon here if you’re curious. I’m not providing a transcript because I don’t think the particular Bible versus cited or arguments made by Pastor Jeff are surprising or even the most important thing.
What is important is that parents are choosing to subject their children to this emotional abuse. By exposing a gay or maybe-gay child to a church like this, parents make a clear choice to prioritize dogma over their child’s life. Because make no mistake, for some children the choice between being true to themselves and living up to the impossible heterosexual expectations placed on them by their parents, pastor and church is untenable and so they kill themselves. Does anyone need reminding what a rocky emotional time adolescence and young adulthood is anyways, without adding to it?
Parents, don’t subject your children to this emotional abuse. It can kill.
IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS
You are not alone!
* If you live in Washington state, here is a list of places by city and county where you can find help dealing with emotional crisis, get emergency food and shelter, etc.
* The Trevor Project‘s Trevor Lifeline is a national 24-hour free and confidential toll-free suicide prevention hotline specifically aimed at gay or questioning youth, geared toward helping those in crisis or anyone wanting information on how to help someone in crisis. All calls are handled by trained counselors who are familiar with gay and questioning youth. Phone: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386).
* A huge list of other toll-free local, national and international hotlines can be found here at the Safe Schools Coalition website.
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