published Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Gerber: Private pain in full view

Many readers probably read through today’s front-page story, Tempest in My Soul, and felt strong emotions: Anger. Confusion. Sadness. Compassion. We live in a community steeped in faith. The influence of organized religion, especially churches, reaches into nearly every part of life here. And some topics can hit a nerve. We often find this when our reporters write about issues that touch on abortion, prayer in schools, evolution, immigration and homosexuality.

Our front-page story today deals with one of those issues. It’s the tale of a deeply religious man, a Southern Baptist minister, whose faith was shaken when he learned that his adult son was gay, then watched him die from the AIDS virus.

The story of Matt Nevels is unfolding at a time when the country continues to disagree over whether gays should be allowed to marry. Churches continue to discuss what role gays can or should play in their operations, and it remains a high-octane political debate that divides people.

In recent weeks, the issue has come up from several angles:

• President Barack Obama recently said same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

• The Pentagon this month marked Gay Pride Month and saluted gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender troops. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thanked gay and lesbian military members for their service.

• California’s gay marriage ban is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will consider whether it violates the U.S. Constitution. The court could agree to hear the matter in a session beginning in October, which would put the issue front and center in the Nov. 6 presidential election.

• A federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman will likely be tested before the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court in Massachusetts ruled that denying benefits to married gay couples is unconstitutional.

But Times Free Press reporter Joan Garrett’s story is not about political fights or legal challenges. Her story is intended to be just that, a story.

Tempest In My Soul looks at one man’s struggles and how he changed when his faith and the reality of his family life collided. It’s also an inside look into how a church dealt with the conflict between homosexuality and Christianity.

Stories like this are happening all across our region and across the county, but they are rarely told because of the deeply personal nature of the problems faced. Sexuality and faith are easy political talking points, but they become real emotional hurdles when they stand at odds in your family or your church.

The story is not intended to advocate one side or another. It’s also not intended to judge. It’s not trying to teach a lesson. It’s simply trying to give a perspective.

This story may offend or trouble some readers. They might not agree with the father’s beliefs or want to see the photo of his skeletal-thin, dying son.

Some might not like the way the church members or its pastor reacted.

Others might not like the fact that the newspaper is writing about this issue at all. This topic often is only whispered about or spoken of in euphemisms.

But I believe it’s a newspaper’s role to explore the things that conflict us as a society and divide us, to look behind closed doors.

And the newspaper took seriously the responsibility of reporting on this issue fairly and accurately.

Garrett spent four months reporting the story. She talked with people in the gay community, their families, ministers. She spoke to people who think homosexuality is a sin. She also spoke to those who think the issue of gay rights is the civil rights struggle of their generation.

She read books on faith and homosexuality, reread Bible passages, poured over old obituaries and letters.

She made every effort to understand both sides of this issue, to find the gray that exists between the black-and-white rhetoric.

Regardless of where readers stand on the president’s view of gay marriage or the likely Supreme Court hearings, we hope they will see this story as we intended — a tale that gives insight into the human condition and shows the real heartache a person faces when his faith is tested.

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raygunz said...

Very much a thought provoking article. Thank you Ms. Garrett

June 24, 2012 at 2:47 a.m.
yaffay said...

This was an interesting and timely article. Great reporting job, Ms. Garrett.

June 24, 2012 at 9:01 a.m.

Yawn, feeling persecuted are you?

Poor Christians, being called out for their abuses, so you have to try to stir up a fight against another.

With fabrications and deceits. Which just goes to show, you're not genuine in your concerns. See that's what you never understand, people recognize your lack of integrity.

But heck, I saw that when so many people were outraged over a depiction of a fish...sorry, kettle, you are cast iron just like the pot. You don't have a Teflon coating.

June 24, 2012 at 2:44 p.m.
Vapfo said...

Thank you, Ms. Garrett, for a well written and obviously well researched story. The God I worship is a loving god who has said "Judge not, lest ye be judged." I hope the church community responds with love to individuals and leaves judgement to our loving, merciful Father God.

June 24, 2012 at 2:46 p.m.

And exactly who wants to implement those laws, besides a few Christian fundamentalists?

Well, I guess they have a lot in common with each other.

June 25, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.
ldurham said...

This story has more holes than Swiss Cheese. Way too many unanswered questions about the young man's past (multiple instances of sexual abuse by an authority figure???), his siblings, the church, the pastors.... a lot of stuff just left dangling, so the writer could have an inexplicable happy ending. Yes, it was a long story, that apparently took a long time to write, but I'll take quality over quantity any time.

June 25, 2012 at 8:26 a.m.

Interesting but provincial. JAHCHILD is right that even a brief comparative allusion to other cultures and religions would have provided some helpful context, and with it, much greater clarity.

Why didn’t the reporter contact Harvest USA? Most Christians reject both extremes (paranoid condemnation/avoidance and unquestioning acceptance/promotion). The reporter had an agenda and she used the perspective of one family as her mouthpiece. The public should demand more.

June 25, 2012 at 9:19 a.m.
Stewwie said...

Right on, ldurham. If this young man was sexually abused by somebody, then a serious crime has been committed and the abuser is on the loose. Surely the parents investigated this when they were told about it (what parent wouldn't?), but why was this not mentioned in the article? But Ms. Garrett leaves that part out so that she can spin the article to try to make the church look bad.

It is not fair (or right) to expect churches to compromise their beliefs in the Bible because of someone's personal trials and tribulations. We've all sinned and we've all experienced hurt of some kind in our lives (some way more so than others). Regardless though, the truths in God's Word are the same yesterday, today, and forever.

June 25, 2012 at 9:21 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

So stewwie-is pi = 3? The bible says so.

June 25, 2012 at 11:13 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

I read the article in its entirety. It was thorough and fair. I could see no malice from the writer towards the church nor favoritism towards the Nevels' family and their son. If the Baptist Church looks heartless and out of touch as a religious institution it is because it IS, period. There is nothing justifiable about the church's cold, callous, rigid stance. It is not to be respected for the tenacity of its faith; rather it should be ashamed for accentuating hate and ignorance over love and compassion.

I have read and studied the Bible, both as a devout Christian and as an objective observer. Once you read the Bible with eyes wide open, there is no going back to one's blind faith of willful ignorance. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is clearly a composite of myths and fairy tales written from the view point of primitive people and their primitive concepts of God and their extremely limited understanding of the world around them. God appears as more of a warrior god because that is how the people imagined him to be - a stern, jealous, and vengeful deity, intent more on justice than on love and compassion. To cling to any particular verse in the OT and imagine that it is somehow God in his infinite "wisdom" speaking to us today is pure insanity and childish ignorance.

People who willingly believe in such garbage and take it literally are not to be respected or understood. They are to be scorned and called out for their stubborn refusal to use the reasoning capacities that their God gave them in the first place. They are hateful, pathetic people who blindly obey the make-believe dictates of some invisible daddy in the sky, speaking to them through some book that they call holy and inerrant but is in actuality riddled with contradictions and absurdities.

Organized religion in general is an escape for those who are afraid to stand on their own two feet and think for themselves. And the Baptist Church is right there at the bottom of the cess pool of organized religion.

June 25, 2012 at 1:18 p.m.
agreenwood1990 said...

There are several countries in the middle east that will literally lop your head off for being homosexual. Oddly enough, the country despised by LGBT, Israel, is essentially a safe haven for homosexuals in the middle east. It is one of the only places in the middle east where they are not persecuted by the government for their sexuality.

From my personal point of view, I think that the Bible seems to suggest that homosexuality is a sin. That said, I don't think its saying homosexuality is really any worse than premarital sex. I don't think anyone is going to hell for being gay. I think that God loves all his children just the same. I have committed sins in my life. I am no better than a homosexual in that regard, so how can I look down upon them?

Also from a government stand on things, the definition of marriage is rooted in religion. Thus for the government to outlaw marriage is to favor a religion, and it ties religion into government. My belief is that this is not at all constitutional. Let homosexuals do what they wish.

June 26, 2012 at 2:45 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Ken Orr, your lies attempting to equate homosexuality with pedophilia are getting tiresome, as are your insinuation that HIV/AIDS is a "gay" disease. What would Jesus Think about your dishonesty?

June 26, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Ken Orr, if you truly love all people, including gays, you would stop spreading lies about them.

June 26, 2012 at 8:46 p.m.
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