Editors' Note: The Reverend Jonathon Edwards is a pastor in the United Church of Christ and has been active on a local level in the glbt movement since his youth. He currently pastors a congregation in Southern California and has been active in working for marriage equality.
By now many people are aware of the drama unfolding in Florida around George Rekers, the co-founder with James Dobson of Family Research Council (now Focus on the Family), board member of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), frequent "expert" in anti-gay and "ex-gay" trials and legislative settings. Retired professor and discredited neuropsychologist Rekers is a major player in the "ex-gay" movement, an indispensable leader in one of the most destructive anti-gay industries.
He is also, not surprisingly, a self-loathing, closeted gay man. Rekers was recently caught returning from a 10 day European vacation with a male escort he hired through the website rentboy.com. Naturally, Rekers denies the conclusion most are drawing. He first claimed that he hired the 20-year-old (Rekers is 61) to help him carry his luggage post-surgery and that he didn't know the young man was a gay call boy. When the patent absurdity of this claim became obvious as media swarmed to rentboy.com - there is no doubt, from the name of the site nor its contents what these men are selling - he then backtracked and claimed that he routinely hires young gay men so that he can evangelize them and try to help lead them out of homosexuality. (Update: the young man has since confirmed that the arrangement between the two was sexual.)
Larry Craig. Ted Haggard. Tim Foley. Roy Ashburn. Roy Cohn. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.
I think we have compiled enough evidence now to draw a formal, rock solid conclusion: the more violently anti-gay one is, the more likely you are simply covering up your own homosexuality. To the point, in some cases, of being able to say for certain that the source of the opposition is their own desire to stay in the closet. Take a peek through the ranks of Congress and note the ones who froth at the mouth over gay issues. I am now certain beyond any doubt that every one of them is gay. I am no longer going to wonder. I just know.
So the question is: what do you do with people who are betraying their own kind? History has some rather painful answers to that question, none of which are off the table in my book. However, today I was watching Stephen Colbert's lampoon of Rekers and every time his picture popped onto the screen, all I could think about was the scared, wounded and scarred little 14-year-old boy trapped inside of him and how terrified he must be. And how it must feel to look back over a life - he doesn't have that much time left, being in ill-health - not only wasted, but spent actively hurting the very people who might have loved you. And I felt compassion.
That doesn't mean I don't still feel a rush of Schadenfreude. Every time this happens and the "hurters" get hurt, their "movement" loses steam. That is good, no matter how badly they get hurt. It deserves a smile. And the 61-year-old Rekers has earned the horror he feels when he looks back over the role he has played. His work has resulted in the death - at their own hands or the hands of others - of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
But that 14-year-old...he's a victim, too. He has had his life stolen from him, completely and totally. Self-loathing has subsumed his identity. Evil forces have taken the natural, God given love he feels, turned it into fear and loathing, and used it to transform him into a weapon against his own people. That 14-year-old is sitting far back in a closet he's been trapped in for 5 decades, trembling, emotionally and spiritually emaciated, scarred from the self-inflicted wounds he has used to maintain his self-control.
And that's how homophobia works. By design it produces exactly what we see in Rekers. It wants to turn gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people into tools for our own destruction. It produces collaborators. It abuses children to that end, turning them into monsters who devour their own.
And we are all complicit. Every gay man who comes out - whether at 18 or 61 - faces the need to repent of their own homophobia, self-directed or externalized. When I came out at 18, I had to face that I had "put on an act" - dating girls, making fun of sissies, etc., etc. - in order to maintain the closet I had been in for 8 years. I chose a different path than Rekers, but...there but by the grace of God, go I.
So I face a new day feeling compassion for a man I also hate and whose demise I celebrate, wishing the same for his compatriots, seemingly a contradictory set of impulses. Except...
What compassion looks like in Rekers' and all the others' cases depends largely on their and Rekers' next steps. I can never forget that scared 14-year-old inside him in my responses to this man. If Rekers takes this crisis as an opportunity to come out and then work his ass off for the rest of his life trying to repair the damage he's done, then Rekers will not only be trying to help the rest of his people, but it will also be a sign that he is taking care of that 14-year-old inside him. And so, in that case, the gay community needs to lovingly embrace him, welcome him home as a prodigal son. Work with him so that the 14-year-old boy, with whatever time he has left, can feel some measure of the love that is possible in our community.
If, however, Rekers chooses to pull a Ted Haggard and go through "therapy" and get "cured" and goes back to his old tricks....well, I believe that God's love sometimes takes the form of a boot in the ass. Compassion in that case looks like this: the gay community needs to grab him by the hair and drag him kicking and screaming out of the closet. Force him into the light and hold him there until his eyes stop hurting and he knows what fresh air smells like. By whatever means necessary.
The latter response is as deeply compassionate as the former because that 14-year-old boy hidden deep within Rekers' psyche deserves liberation. In a sense, he is our child, held captive and tortured for five decades by evil forces who hate us and want us gone. That boy deserves our compassion, not the adult weapon formed by the boy's torture.
I am enjoying seeing the bad guys lose another battle, but the war will finally be won when even men like George Rekers, after years of actively working to hurt their own kind, learn to look at their glbt brothers and sisters and feel only love. And to look within themselves and embrace that 14 year old and say "I'm proud of you" and find their way home.