Since I published my first novel almost two years ago, I’ve received a lot of feedback in the form of online reviews. For the most part, these have been positive and encouraging. I realize that my soft-boiled Southern mysteries aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of sweet tea though, so I’ve come to accept that I’ll inevitably receive the occasional one or two-star review. Every time I do, my skin just grows a little thicker. (At least that’s how I’m explaining the weight I’ve gained over that period of time). Everyone’s entitled to an an opinion, right? It’s only a novel after all.
Or is it? One kind of bad review that’s cropped up a few times which my superthickened skin (which, incidentally, must weigh at least four pounds based on the weight I’ve gained) still can’t ward off comes in the form of a diatribe from anti-gay Christians. These are the folks who don’t like my books because they feature a homosexual character who works as a Christian hospital chaplain. At first, I was tempted to shrug off the comments of these apoplectic reviewers, who, by the way, often seem to have defective keyboards that are permanently stuck on ALL CAPS. After all, my books aren’t romances, and this character’s sexuality is, in the main, peripheral to the plot. But a Zen level of shrug-offery isn’t so easy to achieve. Some of these reviewers hated, or were disgusted by, my book just because it contained a gay Christian character, whose monogamous relationship is portrayed in a positive light. If just the idea of such a person could elicit such a strong reaction, what must life be like for actual LGBT Christians? And does that vitriol get handed out in double measure to LGBT ministers?
My first experience with the intersection of homosexuality and religion came in the form of a young man who attended the Baptist church where I passed my Sundays (and Wednesday nights, and some Saturdays. We were big on church.) as a child. This young man was active in the youth group, volunteered to help with the Sunday school program, and was generally thought of as a great guy. However, after he left his parents’ home, he came out as gay. He was never seen at church again. In fact, the church leaders went so far as to make it clear to him that he wasn’t welcome–performing whatever bureaucratic ritual comprises the Baptist version of excommunication. A mighty fortress is our God indeed–with gays and lesbians firmly on the outside the fortress walls.
That was more than twenty years ago, but things haven’t moved on as much as the #lovewins hashtag and the recent Supreme Court victory might indicate. In more recent years, I’ve heard of a hospital chaplain being spit on and another being tossed out of a room. I’ve heard of an Episcopalian minister being asked to be discreet about the existence of her wife in certain situations or among certain constituents.
Look, I’m not claiming that because some meanies said they didn’t like my books, I know what it feels like to be discriminated against or suffer under the yoke of oppression. And by no means do I wish to rain on the (pride) parade of those who are justifiably elated by the expansion of the definition of marriage. I also know that there are many, many people of faith who welcome their LGBT brothers and sisters with compassion and openness. I guess I’m just saying that I wish prejudice and hatred were things that could be contained within the pages of a novel. Then we could easily close the book on them once and for all.