This past spring, my son Bear’s best friend, Bill, invited him to a concert. Bear asked his father and I if he could go, and naturally, we asked him who was performing, and how much he needed for the tickets. He couldn’t name the band – Josh Mcsomebody he thought, but he wouldn’t need any money since Bill’s church gave his family the tickets. Downtown Dad and I exchanged raised eyebrows. I told Bear it might be OK, but I would still like to know who the artist was. Turning to my trusty Internet, I Googled “josh christian concert.” I found a link to the "Bold Truth Tour.” Their tour schedule included a stop in our town, so I looked a little deeper, clicking on the video clips of past events. The clips I saw were nothing short of an infomercial, selling Mr. McDowell’s all-about-me ‘church-o-matic.’ (Isn’t there some sort of sin about having too much pride, and what does pride goeth before again?) From what I could tell, McDowell was using multilevel marketing techniques in his rallies to net teen and even preteen followers from concertgoers. Apparently, attendees are asked to fill out an information card that then is turned over to local churches who use them for follow-up contacts. But wait! There’s more! Each person who makes a decision for Christ will get a personalized letter, a phone call or an e-mail contact after the event with an invitation to join a local church youth group! Unbelievable.
Until last year, Bill was home-schooled by his mom Hilda. Home-schoolers, not all, but those in my experience, tend to be a little, how shall I say this… fundamentally religious, bent on selling their flavor of belief to everyone, inflexible, paranoid, intolerant, and condescending, even un-friendly to non-church-going-yet-open-minded-to-others’-beliefs-people, like me. Hilda is no exception, but I digress. I called Hilda to confirm my suspicions. I told her about my web findings and that from what I had seen I was unwilling to let my 10-year-old son be subjected to that kind of predatory marketing pressure, especially since we are not ‘practicing’ Christians. She, of course, was taken aback at both my confession and reaction. I assured her that while we didn’t subscribe to any one organized religious belief, we certainly did not ritually sacrifice goats, nor dance naked around a fire, although we heartily supported anyone’s choice to do so or not do so. I explained that we were just uncomfortable exposing our 10-year-old son to what we thought would be extreme psychological peer pressure by a group of people trying to recruit him into a society that he does not understand yet. Needless to say, the conversation deteriorated from there, with her asking questions about my religious upbringing and what horrible traumatic incident could have led me to this state of mind. Being good Midwestern women, I declined her generous invitation and we remained polite to the end of the conversation. We literally did not speak again until this week. Despite phone calls to Bill from Bear over the summer months, somehow they also lost contact.
Bear ran into Bill at Back-To-School-Night this week, and in that innocent joyful way that children have, hooked up again as if there had been no 3-month lapse. Hilda and I chatted amiably as we passed in our room-to-room meet your teacher ritual. I frankly had forgotten the whole concert episode. As we were leaving, Bear asked if Bill could spend the night, I agreed. Hilda however, hesitated, and while she thought it would be OK, said that she would first have to ask her husband. It was then that I recalled our uncomfortable last conversation.
Later, after all permissions were granted, when Hilda dropped Bill off for the night, we chatted some more about what we did over the summer. I mentioned that my daughter Tessie was in a local month long musical theatre-based arts program, the teachers of which were amazingly talented singers, dancers, and actors. I added that I felt she was very lucky to have received mentoring from these amazing college-bound teenagers. Hilda’s lips began to purse and she said that while she would like Bill to be involved in a summer educational program like that, she really had serious doubts as to how it would affect him. I must have had a puzzled look on my face because she further explained that it was her belief that any male involved in theatre or dance was gay, and she did not want her Bill to be exposed to any of that. My puzzled look slid icily into a mouth-only smile, which I freeze-dried to my face, all the while trying to keep the banshee of indignation from shrieking out of my mouth and down her throat. I said, “Oh really, and why is that?”
“Because” she simpered, “as you well know, homosexuality is an abomination, it’s not natural, they weren’t born that way. Something must have happened to them, around Bear and Bill’s age, someone made them that way. I don’t want that to happen to Bill.”
The banshee banged dangerously against my clenched teeth. “Oh, you mean like selling their lifestyle to impressionable young kids like your precious Josh McDowell does? Why, I bet they ask cute little boys to fill out an information card which then is turned over to local gay organizations who use them for follow-up contacts!” “Say it!” screamed the banshee! “Say it!” “But wait! There’s more! Each young child who makes a decision to be Gay, (because after all, it is a choice) will get a letter, a phone call or an e-mail contact with a lewd invitation, right?!” “SAY IT!” I swallowed the banshee – temporarily.
“Gosh, Hilda, I’m not sure what to say,” I finally managed to say. “We’ve just always had gay friends, some who’ve been in monogamous relationships longer than we’ve been married. My kids don’t really think anything about it, and as far as role models go, isn’t what our kids see pretty much filtered through our attitudes as parents?”
“Oh,” she said in a pervasively polite way, “you don’t see it that way I suppose.”
I smiled my freeze-dried smile, and said something bland about examining my own intolerances before I threw stones at others… but I couldn’t really hear it over the banshee.