Riding along through the “Bible Belt” reminded me of a trip I made to Wisconsin back in the mid to late 70’s. Rob, a guy I worked with was planning a move back to his hometown in Wisconsin with his wife Jeannie, and asked me to accompany him and share the driving on what would be an advance, one-night-stop-over trip to move some furniture and household items before they moved out there for good. I had some time so agreed. The vehicle he took was an old milk truck packed with stuff. The rickety truck’s steering wheel had so much play in it, you almost wondered if it was connected. In spite of this and a few other mechanical problems, we arrived at our first stop-over at Jeannie’s parents’ house somewhere in Ohio at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Jeannie’s parents were up waiting for us. Her mother, a friendly, warmhearted woman fed us a great meal, provided us with a hot shower, and comfortable beds. Her dad was congenial and friendly as well, welcoming his son-in-law and myself to bed and board. Conversation centered on family, the current trip, the state of the vehicle we were driving and the upcoming move.
When we got up the next morning Jeannie’s dad, a country guy with a variety of necessary skills, had already made several repairs to the truck that he deemed vital for our survival. He apparently hadn’t slept at all so that he could work on the truck. His wife had prepared us a good country breakfast and after hearty handshakes and hugs we were soon on our way to Wisconsin with sandwiches and soda’s. They couldn’t have done more.
I’m guessing the next leg of the trip was about 20 hours. Arriving around six in the morning in a town in Northern Wisconsin, we were to meet Rob’s family at their home for breakfast. We entered the austere house. Several people were seated around the dining table. After a non-exuberant greeting we joined the group at the table. There was little if any talking. Someone began praying a grace after which it was permitted to begin eating. I was introduced to Rob’s parents, a brother and sister-in-law, and one or two other people. The suspicion in their eyes, when they looked at me, spoke loudly.
Rob had explained to me before we got there, that his family all belonged to an Evangelical Christian denomination and believed in a literal interpretation of the bible and in personal salvation. Every aspect of their lives and their friends’ lives centered around the bible, the church and worship.
It seemed obvious that outsiders were looked upon with suspicion and that I was allowed into their presence only because I was accompanying Rob. I wasn’t sure if it was it my “hippie” long hair and beard, my dark Italian features, the assumption of my being Catholic or just the fact that I had not been “saved” that made me feel like they intended to perform an exorcism on me at any moment. To say the least, I was a bit uncomfortable. And this was long before I was “out” as gay.
A week or so later, back at home, I was talking with Jeannie about the trip. When I mentioned her parents, she expressed worry and concern. I asked why. She and Rob had accepted Christ, she said, but her parents, she feared hadn’t been saved. My response to Jeannie was that her parents, much more than Rob’s, had exemplified what I had always been taught were true “Christian” (human) values. They took us in, fed us, displayed complete and unconditional acceptance and did so with great cheer and kindness.
I told her truthfully that if there is some kind of an afterlife, I would much prefer to throw my lot in with that of her parents and end up wherever they do, than to be condemned to spend eternity with the so-called “Saved” clan from Wisconsin. And that opinion hasn’t changed. The only thing different now is that there seems to be more of “them”: the rigid, unthinking, bible-illiterates, who condemn and judge others and try to maintain a morally superior illusion.
They, including many mainstream, traditional Catholics, have usurped religion, theology, the churches and the pulpits and forgotten what used to be their mission statement: “Love God, Love Your Neighbor”. For some reason their anger, their insecurity, and their threatened worldview, seem to center more and more on gay, lesbian, transgender persons. Why is the "gay issue" so important to them and why does it bring out such venom? “SAVED”? I don’t think so.