Pastor Clinton Echols of the First Baptist Church of Zeeland in Michigan has been rightfully called out for trying to make a comparison between LGBTQ+ persons and axe murderers. Here’s the relevant selection from his sermon.
“It’s an internal compass and a person can discover their sexuality at any moment […] oh wait a second, I’m gay, I’m bisexual, I want to change my gender, these things, and that’s being true to themselves and being true to their internal compass. For instance on another, a completely other playing field, if tomorrow I woke up because I have this internal compass that’s telling me what truth is, tomorrow, if I wake up and say, well, I think I’m an axe murderer, now I’m an axe murderer, would you be happy with that? Would you agree? Would you want me to follow that internal compass?”
Pastor Echols has been a minister in Zeeland since 2009 after moving from North Carolina. He and his wife have been married since 1994 and now have three children.
There is so much power in the pulpit and it is too often used recklessly and without due consideration. When people trust you to relay the word of God, you owe it to them to be as precise and honest as possible. Even if Echols deeply believes that God is against same-sex love, his metaphor was clumsy and a disservice to his cause. His comparison suggests that homosexuals and transgendered people are not merely confused and lost, but rather that they are actively evil. Regardless of whether he believes LGBTQ+ people to be confused or malevolent, he is wrong IMO.
There are quite a few angles at which to cover this story. The New York Daily News penned an excellent piece on the story, talking about the resulting protests and reactions from the community. I suppose for me, though, I just can’t stop thinking about the children.
Echols has three kids, who I am sure are beautiful and wonderful. Did they listen to their father’s message? Did they hear his hateful comparison? Will they now associate an involuntary inclination like homosexuality with deliberate acts of violence and hate?
Children walk into these sanctuaries and expect to learn about God’s love, but too often they are instead taught man’s hate. They are told about all the people in the world who are different from them, and why they should fear them. I have sat in those pews, and even at a moderately progressive church I was taught about how homosexuality was an abomination. That is how I would learn about LGBTQ+ people.
And then came the day when I began to understand my feelings. My feelings toward other men. Except that I didn’t want to understand. I didn’t want to understand that I was an abomination, or that I was going to hell, or that I was akin to an axe murderer. I buried my feelings deep inside myself and refused to ever look at them again. I was so far in the closet that I had probably mapped out most of Narnia. I wouldn’t face what I knew to be true, because of what I was told to be true. So I prayed, and fasted, and read my Bible, and prayed some more. I hoped to be delivered from my “evil ways”, but I never was. So instead of having my first kiss at 14, I had it at 20. Instead of going to prom with the cute guy in a deep-V, I went with no one, because things somehow “didn’t work out” between girls and I. Instead of celebrating myself as a person, I spent my time trying to cover up my “gay lisp” and love for Forever21’s men’s collection.
I don’t hold any lingering animosity toward anyone for my early life experiences. Actually, today, I am happier than I ever could have possibly imagined. But I fear for the future.
As dramatized in the award winning movie “Prayers for Bobby”, Mary Griffith warned her town about how demonizing LGBTQ+ persons is so incredibly dangerous to LGBTQ+ children. She spoke from the tragic experience of being a mother who did not accept her gay son, who died as a result. This was back in the 1980s, and we clearly still have much to learn.
According to the Trevor Project, gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and their suicide attempts are 4-6 times more likely to result in injury or death. Nearly half of transgender teens have seriously considered taking their lives, with a quarter having made an attempt.
This is why Pastor Echols’ hate speech is so terrible and tragic. Not just because it lacks “political correctness”, or even because it is ignorant of the true context of the Bible. It is tragic because children sit in his church, hear his message, and then hate themselves for years, maybe longer.
We need to be talking about this. Not just for the political battles, or even for the due legal recognition of marriages and gender identities. But because of the children who are listening.
So far Pastor Echols and his church have stood by his statement, but I sincerely hope he retracts and apologizes. Not for the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Not for me. But rather, for those who have not yet stepped out of their closets and into the sun. For the children.