In many ways Bobby Griffith was the perfect son. He was loving and kind hearted with a quick smile. He dreamed of one day being a writer. Perhaps because he was the oldest of her two sons, he was his mother's favorite among her fours children.
Bobby was outgoing and popular in his school, but as he started dating his personal doubts about himself began to wear on his mind more and more. When it became clear to him that the girl he was dating had reached the point of wanting more from him than he was interested in giving, he abruptly ended the relationship shocking her and their mutual friends as well as his family.
In the ensuing weeks Bobby's demeanor continued to deteriorate to the point that it became noticeable to his friends and family. Finally, in desperation, Bobby confided in his younger brother and told him he was gay. He extracted a promise from his brother to keep his secret. His brother was supportive and tried to reassure Bobby that he was too young to know for sure that he was in fact gay.
In reality his brother was shocked and concerned. Bobby obviously was in a personal crisis and he had no idea what to do, so in spite of his promise to Bobby, he told his mother what Bobby had admitted to him.
It was 1982; the public perception of homosexuality was far different than it is today. Bobby's mother was a devout yet lazy unquestioning fundamental Christian. She took the Bible, at least the parts of it she was familiar with, literally. She depended on her preacher to tell her what she should know of God and what she should believe and not believe. In other words, she was typical of the tens of thousands of fundamental Christians who have no desire whatsoever to think for themselves and look for a personal relationship with God. Like all people who are content with their fundamentalist view of God, it never occurred to Mary Griffith to question anything about her faith. To do so, in her mind, would be to question God himself. It just wasn't done.
Robert Griffith, Bobby's father, and Bobby's three siblings were all supportive of Bobby. At least as supportive as they could be without incurring the wrath of Bobby's mother. Just as Mary Griffith blindly followed the pronouncements of her preacher on spiritual matters, the family bowed to Mary Griffith in matters of theology. Even Bobby could not really bring himself to question his mother's views on homosexuality. He wanted to be a good son. He wanted his family to be proud of him. Most of all he feared going to Hell. It didn't seem fair to him that he would be condemned to an eternal hell for something he simply could not change. Bobby was trapped between an irresistible force and an unmovable object - his mother's religious view of homosexuality. Because he respected his mother he felt she was right in thinking he was bound for Hell.
The Griffiths were a well to do middle class family. They had the resources to get Bobby help, and they did so. The only problem was that in spite of the fact that the American Psychotherapy Association had declassified homosexuality as deviate behavior in 1973, nine years later there were still plenty of so called therapists who subscribed to the idea supported by Mary's church - homosexuality was a choice and homosexuals could be healed. All they had to do was pray earnestly to God for healing and have an earnest desire for healing. The therapist, instead of helping Bobby was just one more nail in his coffin. No one was truly on his side. Everyone and everything was either aligned against him or unwilling to offend the religious culture or polite society's perceptions of what was acceptable.
Though Bobby wanted nothing more than to please his mother, it reached the point where they could not have a normal conversation. She vowed that she would not have a homosexual son. All Bobby saw was hate in her actions. He did not understand how his mother or other Christians could separate their hatred of homosexuality from hatred for homosexuals.
|The Real Life Bobby Griffith|
Things at home kept getting worse and worse. Bobby finally dropped out of high school and moved to a new town to live with a cousin. This cousin was very openly supportive of Bobby, but it was not enough. Bobby continued to be haunted by the disapproval of the people who meant the most to him, his mother and his family. In 1983 Bobby jumped from a bridge onto a busy freeway to end his torment.
His family was devastated, for their love for Bobby had been as real as their desire to see him healed of his homosexuality. Among Bobby's things, Mary Griffith found literature from the Metropolitan Community Church. Tormented and broken by genuine grief, Mary Griffith sought out the paster of the church. She was amazed that a Protestant minister did not share her views on homosexuality and even more amazed that unlike her and her own pastor, did not see the Bible as the literal world of God. She was utterly unable to believe that he encouraged the members of his church to question God and thought that such questioning was pleasing to God. She was repelled from this first meeting with the MCC Pastor in shock and revulsion. But her torment drove her back for a second meeting. The Pastor encouraged her to look into PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). At first she could not imagine families who were actually proud of their gay sons; but again, her torment and grief drove her to investigate the organization.
Gradually, Mary Griffith began to comprehend that there were other views than that of her church on homosexuality. But with this new comprehension came the bitter realization that she had killed her own son with her rigid, blind, unyielding and uninformed views on a subject she really knew little about and about which she had sought information from only one source until it was too late to help the son she had loved so dearly.
Fortunately for Mary, she found the understanding and forgiveness she had denied to her son. She had not been able to save her own son because she had not thought to look beyond the ignorance enshrined in her faith. Over and over Bobby had pleaded with her to just listen to him, but she never did. She just assaulted him over and over with the Bible and her own misconceptions of the Gospel (Good News) of Christ. To her credit, after Bobby's death, she vowed to do all she could to prevent other such useless deaths.
She became a member of PFLAG. She addressed school boards, state legislators and the Congress of the United States. She wrote books and cooperated in the filming of Bobby's life story. But 30 years after Bobby's senseless death and the loss of what would have surely been a productive life, suicide by young homosexual men continues at tragic rates. In spite of the fact that many main stream Protestant Churches now genuinely welcome gays and lesbians into their memberships and support them in their search for a loving rather than a hateful God, the face of Christianity across the United States and the world is the face portrayed by the right wing judgmental fundamentalist Christians who, like Mary once did, cling to their worship of a hateful God who just happens to hate the same things they do and ignore the sins they commit just as they themselves do.
Fortunately, in our society at large, much has changed since 1983. There is hardly a home across America that has not been touched by a gay person who has come out of the closet. There are sons, grandsons, fathers, brothers, and nephews who have acknowledged their homosexuality to their families. Homosexuals are no longer those people. Instead it is now clear they are the people we love most in the world. Homosexuals are our family members.
I had an aunt whom I loved dearly. After my mother's death at a much too young an age, my aunt became like a mother to me. But like Mary Griffith she was a fundamental Christian and rigid in her beliefs. When her daughter married into an emotionally and physically abusive relationship and then had the good sense to divorce, my aunt, for the first time in her life, began to question the tenets of her faith and how they impacted the real life situations of those she loved. As a result, she became much less rigid, more open to the nuances of faith and less sure she knew the mind of God. So it is with homosexuality. When parents are confronted with the homosexuality of a child, they often begin to really examine their rigid views and often change them. That has happened recently with a U.S. Congressman. A Republican Conservative was told by his own son that he was gay. It changed the way the Congressman felt and the way he voted.
Unfortunately, many fundamental Christians do not have the courage to follow my aunt's example; or, like Mary Griffith, they continue to force those they love most in the world into committing some tragic act before they really examine their opinions and beliefs. They continue to remain ignorant about homosexuality, what it is and what it isn't.
My friend Mike is a good example of the type of young man Mary Griffith often spoke of after Bobby's death. Mike was big, strong, handsome and athletic. He was a popular student who was also the valedictorian of his graduating class. He was the all-American young man. Since Bobby's death, Mary Griffith has warned fundamental Christians, "Before you echo 'Amen' in your home or place of worship, think and remember…a child is listening."
Mike was one of those listening. When I met him almost 20 years ago, he was just about to become another of those tragic suicides carried out by homosexual young men. For reasons I still do not fully understand, God intervened in Mike's life and arranged for me to meet him though we lived more than 1500 miles apart. I now believe my entire life had been preparation for meeting Mike and ultimately saving his life by introducing him to the loving God I had come to know in my own life's journey - a God utterly different from the Baptist God who had been used to assault me over and over again in my youth and also utterly different from the Presbyterian God who had convinced Mike that, like Bobby Griffith, he was destined for the fires of Hell.
The truth is, there is no Baptist God and no Presbyterian God. Those Gods are the boogy men of the ignorant, the lazy unquestioning and those uneducated in true faith. Those Gods are the false idols of the God about whom the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8: 38-39:
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The words from Romans are in plain English, but fundamental Christians, instead of accepting the grace of God, of which the words speak as a simple fact, still insist on responding, "Yes, but…." That response continues to tragically cost the Bobby Griffiths of the world their lives and their futures. It is a sin for which they, more than likely, shall eventually be judged.
My faith is and always has been important to me, but even as a child, the time came when a child's faith was no longer adequate for me. I began to question, to doubt and to search.
Now as an old man, close to the time when I shall meet my maker, I continue to question, doubt, search and wonder. I have no idea what God is really like other than that if he exists at all, he exists in the spirit of love, compassion and understanding.
It does not bother me that people question or even refuse to believe, for as a life long Christian, I too continue to have my doubts and my questions. The God of the Bible, as the fundamentalists interpret it, simply fails to meet test. Yet even in my doubts I have never felt that God is angry with me or is threatening me with eternal hell fire. Indeed, my life is and always has been richly blessed. God or fate has been unbelievably kind to me. Romans says "nothing" can come between me and God. Nothing has to include, by definition, my doubts, fears and questions.
At the times when I dwell most on my questioning, it never fails that God reassures me of his presence and his love. Either that or my life has contained an entirely improbable number of coincidences. Over the last several weeks I have been very concerned with the fears of a friend who nearing the end of his life. He has expressed his fears to me several times. I have told him how I avoid such fears, but I'm just his friend. My words are just my words, based on my faith.
I asked God to help me know how to help him to allay his fears. This week that request was answered in the most unusual, improbable and entirely unexpected way. Either it was God answering that request or it was one of the grandest and elaborate coincidences I have ever seen in my long life of seeming grand and elaborate perfectly orchestrated coincidences. From what I have seen in my life, God does not mind our questioning. He sees it as a proof of our interest and our desire for faith and assurance.
The Bible is an important book, but it is also a dangerous book in the wrong hands. For those who blindly try to follow it, led by those who are also blind by choice, the Bible often brings untold tragedy. Bobby Griffith was just one of the tragic victims of a misused Bible and a misguided faith. There have been millions over the course of history.
The Bible was written by men who were influenced by the times in which they lived and the events that shaped their lives. Thus, just as does humanity as a whole, the Bible encapsulates the worst of man as well as man at his best and everything in between. It offers examples in life and in allegories of life. Parts of it are truly inspired, yet much of it is truly depraved.
Because it was written in another time, it makes heroes of men and their deeds who would be arrested and convicted of the most heinous crimes today. The story of Abraham and his son is but one of several examples.
Those who would truly follow God should make sure they are following the God of grace and love and not a God of hate, vengeance and wrath. The true God commands us to love one another unconditionally. It's not a hard concept to understand. Elvis Presley put it in modern language when he sang, "Clean up your own back yard. You tend to your business and I'll tend to mine." Jesus said it differently, "Ye who is without sin cast the first stone."
Those who would avoid the worship of a false God, must be willing to think for themselves, to question and study on their own. They must get second opinions from other recognized theologians.
There are innumerable views of God. It's wise to bet on the God of Grace and Love, not the God of hate and vengeance. When deciding on a church home it is wise to choose one where the members support each other and support their community in a spirit of brotherly love. A church where a particular "sin" is not the main topic of discussion. The Bible says sin is sin and we are all sinners. People who believe that simply cannot get hung up on one "sin" such as homosexuality. Mary Griffith, saw her son as a sinner. She did not see her sins as equal to his. It is a universal failing of all fundamental Christians. God saw the sins of Mary Griffith and her son as equal, because in his eyes all sins are equal. Mary's failure is a universal failure of all fundamental Christians, both Protestant and Catholic. In Catholic theology there are moral sins and venial sins. Venial sins are forgivable. Mortal sins send one to Hell. The only problem is, the Bible makes it clear there are no such things. There is simply sin and all sin is forgivable by the Grace of God.
Homosexuality is real. It is not a choice. There is no clear theological evidence that homosexuality is inherently sinful. Homosexuals can live productively and contribute greatly to society. All that says to me that homosexuality is a gift of God, created for a purpose. Homosexuality can not be prayed away. It cannot be cured. In her overwhelming grief, Mary Griffith came to see God had not healed Bobby of his homosexuality because He had given it to Bobby as a gift and for a purpose. He did not need to be healed because he was not ill. In the depths of her grief, Mary Griffith came to understand that she was the one who had sinned by not supporting her son, letting him live in peace and come to be the exceptional and productive person God had meant for him to be.