“IN THAT DAY the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.”
In the spring of 1992, I received a summons to appear. Since it was from an out-of-state county court, I quite naturally had no idea as to what I may have done that would warrant my being summoned. Confused, and certainly not wanting to answer for a crime I did not commit, I spoke with a friend of mine, who soon referred me to a lawyer.
He suggested that I contact the officer who had issued the citation as well as the prosecuting attorney to find out what the charges were against me and where and when the incident took place. The police department told me about the initial charge, but the prosecutor revealed an additional charge and filled in the rest of the details. Once I found out where and when the incident took place, I told the prosecuting attorney that I could not have possibly committed the offense.
On the night in question, I had a class at The Community College of Rhode Island. I had to sign my name and write my student identification number on the teacher’s roster. It would have been physically impossible for me to be committing a crime in another state, especially since I could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I had been attending a class in Rhode Island. So the prosecutor dropped all charges.
Interestingly enough, the friend to whom I refer was a distinguished gentleman by the name of Charles Russell — who happened to be a homosexual. I called him Charlie. He was my friend. And it was just about six months later he was brutally murdered; I had actually been at his house just a few days before it had happened.
It took me ten years to reconcile my faith in a loving God with such an atrocious tragedy. I made a great many questionable decisions and poor choices during that time as well. My academic career soon digressed from honors to probation to dropout. And in the past twenty years, I have seen so much more foolishness in this world than I would have dared thought possible.
Recently, there has been a foolish debate raging between those who demand homosexuality is a sin and those who insist homosexuality is not a sin. Those on one side have actually taken to support a certain company in the fast food industry that serves chicken, simply because somebody who works for that company has said something about the matter. Those on the other side have, of course, responded with a boycott of that company, voicing also their own support of their own perspective.
Both sides claim god is on their side. Both sides shout for justice, but instead exponentially escalate their own hatred. Both sides spew their own version of truth, having been choked by the noose of false gospels. Both sides ooze in their own manufactured controversy of counterfeit love, like a drug addict getting his fix — with one exception: most of the addicts I have known know they have a problem. But, absurdly enough, both sides are so fanatical each side remains convinced the other side is the problem.
It is hideous. For such a foolish debate ultimately amounts to nothing more than a mega-media circus. It is, quite honestly, like watching the angel roll the stone aside to reveal The Empty Tomb only to have Mary Magdalene and the other Mary ask, “So do we eat chicken or support gay marriage?”
It is absurd. And I am convinced that the people who are so enamored and so enraged about such foolish matters are only concerned with this world, and know nothing of the next.
On the far end of one side stands Fred Phelps, who spreads a false gospel with a sick message of hate. On the far end of the other side stands John Shore, who spreads a false gospel under the guise of love. Fred Phelps has a knack for enraging righteous indignation, but John Shore has a talent for tickling itching ears.
Fred Phelps publicly demands that homosexuals cannot be redeemed because his false god hates them, but John Shore openly insists that homosexuality is not a sin so, of course, the homosexual has no need to be redeemed. If Fred Phelps does not understand the sacrificial love of Good Friday, perhaps John Shore has yet to comprehend the power of Easter Sunday.
The false gospel of Fred Phelps demands that the sin of homosexuality is greater than of the love of God revealed at The Cross, where, in truth, Christ sacrificed His life as a ransom for sinners. But since John Shore insists that homosexuality is not a sin then Christ has died for nothing. So while the messages of both men appear to be drastically different, each of these false gospels ultimately serves the same purpose: to undermine The Good News that Christ gave His life for sinners and was raised on the third day.
But if god hates homosexuals then homosexuals cannot be redeemed, so there is no need for Christ. But if homosexuality is not a sin then there is no need for redemption, so there is no need for Christ. Different methods; same message. As I have said before, “Whether you call it heads or tails, a quarter is still just twenty-give cents.”
And so it seems that both Fred Phelps and John Shore have forgotten that The Gospel is only Good News to bad people (assuming either man has ever understood this).
Of course, these words will no doubt be used, and misused, to fuel the fires of these foolish controversies. I knew this over six years ago when I lost my friend, Britany, to suicide — and that is precisely why I never mentioned her struggles with sexuality. She had been sexually abused as a child and the experience was so traumatic for her young mind that she developed multiple personalities and, of course, struggled with her own sexual identity later in life. But was Britany a homosexual or was it one of her alternate personalities? I never will know.
But I did know that a fool like Fred Phelps would maul her memory and a charlatan like John shore would exploit my grief to spread their own false gospels.
And that is exactly what has happened.
Almost everybody knows about Fred Phelps and his false gospel, but John Shore lives to tickle itching ears. In September of 2011, a teenager named Jamey Rodemeyer, who had been tormented by his peers because he was a homosexual, committed suicide. No sooner had the news broke that John Shore seized the incident to spread his false gospel. John Shore claimed that every Christian who believes homosexuality is a sin had Jamey Rodemeyer’s blood on their hands.
This, apparently, is the gospel according to John Shore: it is only a sin to believe a sin is a sin. But, if there is no sin, then Christ had no reason to sacrifice His life. And if Christ had no reason to sacrifice His life, He certainly had no reason to rise from the grave. And if Christ has not risen from the grave, then a man like me is to be pitied above all men because if the false gospel of John Shore is true, I have no hope.
I know this because I am a sinner who sins. See for yourself. Have I not taken the plank out of my own eye? And while I have been a Christian for twenty-five years, I am just beginning to understand the power of The Resurrection, which is greater than death — and, therefore, greater than the pain and anguish and despair of losing a loved one to suicide. And I suppose I know one or two or three things about that. Maybe even four things. So if Christ has defeated Death, has He not also conquered our sins? All of our sins?
But if what John Shore has said is true, then Britany‘s blood is also on my hands. Based upon the foolish reasoning of the false gospel of John Shore, I am as culpable in her suicide as I am in Jamey Rodmeyer’s suicide. And to think I felt badly for not returning her last phone call. It certainly is nice to know I’ve had it all wrong all this time. What the hell. Maybe the next time I’m on the floor crying and screaming like a wild, wounded animal, I’ll send John Shore a fucking thank you note for kicking me with his false gospel while I’m down.
John Shore wrote about Jamey Rodemeyer a year ago, but that sick, twisted charlatan made me so crazy and so furious it took me this long to calm down. The man boasts of “trying god’s patience since 1958″ so, of course, it’s no surprise he would exhaust mine. Like those he claims to oppose, John Shore obviously does not care who he hurts along the way. It took years for me to come to terms with the circumstances that led Britany to take her life, but John Shore tore all of that down in a single day.
According to the false gospel of Fred Phelps, I am going burn in Hell for helping the sick. But according to the false gospel of John Shore, I am going to burn in Hell for being culpable in Britany‘s suicide — and complicit in Charlie‘s murder. These two friends I have loved, and grieved, in ways light years beyond the understanding of such small men.
And, as it is written, “Love does no harm.” But John Shore damn near succeeded in doing to me what Jamey Rodemeyer’s tormenters did to him. It was that fucking bad. Do you really think I waited a year because I am a patient man? No, I am not a patient man. So the false gospel of John Shore is not good news at all. Not to anyone. He is actually just as dangerous as the very people he claims to oppose — if not more so.
Such bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than the blatant lies of Fred Phelps. Because only bullshit blends the lies with the truth to tickle itching ears. It is as convincing as it is conniving — and that is precisely why its followers get so enraged. The false gospel of John Shore appeals to our sense of compassion, but replaces it with a desire for vengeance against injustice. It draws upon our hunger and thirst for righteousness, but, out of this conviction, condemns without conscience — and without the inclusive mercy of The Cross.
So what side do I choose? And where do I stand on the issues of the day? I stand apart. Because I have been through the fire before. I have endured a dark and stormy night. And I have been parched by a drought. I have tasted the salt of the earth. I have been any port in a storm. And I have prayed broken prayers and borne a broken Christmas. And I have seen the ashes of Christmas. I know dawn changes everything. I have also learned what to do when when lighting strikes — twice. And I know when the mountain goats give birth. I am awake.
But after Charlie was murdered twenty years ago, the pit of despair into which I had fallen seemed to have no end. As I have said, I could not reconcile my faith in a loving God with such an atrocious tragedy. Little did I know it would be but the first step of a monstrous marathon that would test my faith every step of the way over the next twenty years. But the turning point came one winter afternoon, so very long ago, when I shut the shades, closed the doors, and, going into my bedroom, I got down on one knee. And I prayed for the man who murdered my friend. He was still in prison at the time, but I asked God to help him.
As it turned out, he would only serve twelve years of his twenty-year sentence. And today, Bruce Reilly is an advocate and a leader for prisoner and human rights, fighting against the prison industrial complex. And he fought for four years to get his right to vote reinstated in Rhode Island, only to lose it after moving to Louisiana to attend Tulane University Law School.
Yes, he is in law school.
I also asked God to bless him. He now has a daughter, whom I believe to be a gift from God Himself. And, by faith, I asked God to let Bruce Reilly know the truth of The Gospel (which, assuming Bruce Reilly ever reads this, I will have just done).
And so it would seem God has answered my prayers. And yet, I do find it ironic that the man who took my friend’s life would spend his life helping others in the same way my friend had once helped me. In literary terms, Professor Russell would call this “the execution of a given.” But perhaps, in the divine novel of eternity, this entire story may yet make for a strong sentence.
It was also Charlie who had first taught me that “forgiveness is a releasing.” And he would emphasize this point several times. Charlie meant, of course, that forgiveness liberates us from the prison of our pain and anguish and grief — and, most importantly, from our desire for revenge. Although I must admit I do find it ironic, and perhaps divinely so, that the man who had taught me the most necessary truth about forgiveness would be the same man whose tragic passing would force me to live that very lesson.
And it is precisely this lesson that Fred Phelps and John Shore cannot possibly understand. While it is Fred Phelps who demands homosexuals and their friends are condemned, John Shore insists that only those who believe a sin is a sin are condemned. For according to Fred Phelps, I am going to Hell for being friends with Charlie and Britany; but, according to John Shore, I am going to burn in Hell for being culpable Charlie’s death and Britany’s suicide. What fools these mortals be!
As it is written, “the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion.” Was God speaking only of the predators and the prey of the animal kingdom? Will not “a little child lead them all”? Indeed, redemption is available for both predator and prey. And salvation is available to a sinner like Charlie as much as it is to a sinner like Bruce.
As is it written, “God does not show favoritism.” But if I, like Fred Phelps and John Shore, place my perspective before this truth — however noble I believe my intentions to be — then I have created a false god and a false gospel. And that I will not do. Unlike Fred Phelps and John Shore, I am certain that Bruce Reilly knows what he has done wrong. But I rejoice that Bruce Reilly wants to help others in the same way Charlie had once helped me, a conviction I do not quite think Mr. Reilly would have today had he not admitted with acceptance what he has done.
I have, of course, read some of the criticisms Bruce Reilly has received since getting accepted into law school. I know some people fear him and some people love him. And I know some people will oppose his efforts to, for example, restore voting rights for convicted felons. But, I also know that most of these people never knew Charles Russell. I did. I knew him. I knew Charlie. And I know they don’t know — they don’t know — the impact Bruce Reilly has had upon my life because of what he has done.
I do not speak of this from a place of theories or ideas, but experience. Charlie was my friend. And Bruce Reilly took his life. But, and I do say this by faith with the conviction of my experience, I believe Bruce Reilly deserves a second chance. He apparently has one with his acceptance to law school, and I certainly hope he makes the most of it. He cannot undo what he has done; only God can forgive his sin and only the state can govern his crime. But, after twenty years of trying to make sense of something that has never made sense to me, I’m pretty sure I have forgiven Bruce Reilly. And I still do pray for him — and for his family.
And I sincerely hope, by the very grace of God Himself, that when He does call me to my eternal Home, I might yet have a seat in that day between Charles Russell and Bruce Reilly. For there is a Place where no predator will hunt for prey, and no victim will fear violator.
That is the sacrificial love of Good Friday. And the power of Easter Sunday.
And that is the hope of The Gospel.
For lions and lambs.
”He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”