Intolerance, Inc. : A Review of Prayer Warriors
|by Scott Seomin|
As Christian groups such as Focus On The Family and the Center for Reclaiming America take out full-page newspaper advertisements that claim lesbians and gay men can be "cured" of their sexual orientation through reparative therapy, it is apparent that some factions of Christianity are in a battle to eliminate homosexuality. How such battles can manifest to create real consequences of pain and loss in real peoples lives is superbly illustrated in Stuart Howell Millers Prayer Warriors: The True Story of a Gay Son, His Fundamentalist Christian Family, and Their Battle for His Soul (Alyson Publications, 224 pages, $13.95). This authors diary of mental anguish and grief offers as hard evidence the products of bigotry, homophobia and intolerance. At the same time, Warriors provides inspiration of hope as Miller comes to terms with his life, his family and his God.
That major gay right of passagecoming out to ones parentsis never an easy task, so Miller was particularly methodical when he outed himself in 1992. During a visit to his hometown of Nashville, he first told his brother and sister-in-law, in what he calls the "preliminary round." Then, armed with literature for parents of gay children, Miller, then 26, told his parents, "Im gay. Ive known it for a long time and I wanted you to know." Since he had dropped hints over the years (once telling his mother never to ask him about dating women), Miller was unprepared for his parents surprise reaction. Yet the real surprise for him was not their intolerance or refusal to accept the truthit was their "solution."
"God is going to take care of this," Millers father calmly told his son. "The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge the fact that youre homosexual. And then we can begin the process of change." Although a stunned Miller maintains his composure as he explains that his sexual orientation is innate, his parents are steadfast as they refer to their sons "lifestyle choice" and begin a psychological war on his heart and mind.
Soon after his return to Los Angeles and his job at the Gay & Lesbian Center, the author learns that his favorite aunt has disowned him.
"You...went back to your sweet little lifestyle and left the rest of us to wallow in your sin," she writes her nephew. "Did you really expect us to have compassion on you? Im not Jesus!"
Again, however, it is Millers parents and his father in particular who pack the biggest wallop in what Miller calls "a self-righteous, eight-page, typed, single-spaced rant." A self-appointed theologian, the authors father offers his own interpretation of The Bible as Divine Truth and tells his son he is fighting for his salvation.
Millers father explains that he has assembled 27 "prayer warriors" who have a collective mission: to "petition the Father to rescue" Miller from himself. Through chilling and obsessive prose, the mind-set of a fundamentalist with delusions of grandeur is revealed. "This will not be stealthy jungle warfare but battle out in the open, exposing the forces of evil for who and what they are," he says, words reminiscent of dialogue from The Exorcist. "The Lord views men lying together as abominable and worthy of death. Since we dont live under a theocracy we are not obliged to carry out the sentence."
Thankfully, Miller had nurtured solid friendships, often with co-workers, both in Los Angeles and in Nashville. But as the strain of his parents war continued to haunt him and his friends couldnt empathize, Miller felt hollow and alone. "They didnt know that a fundamentalist Christian will cut off his arm if he believes its God will," he reveals in a spiral of depression, anger and self-doubt. "And thats the situation I felt I was in. I had become an appendage, a rotting limb to be healed or amputated." As the prayer warriors continued their letter-writing campaign they enlist the pen of Millers 12-year-old sister, Abby, who tells her brother that God "can either change you or kill you." While every letter from each warrior conveyed the same message of hatred, it was Abbys note that devastated Miller. Writes the author: "If my fathers letters hurt and my mothers letters hurt, Abbys nearly killed me."
Instead of anger, however, Miller finds peace and forgiveness through the teachings of the book A Course In Miracles, new age guru Marianne Williamson and his own private prayers. In the process, the young author becomes a better man. "God, help me to forgive," he writes. "Teach me what forgiveness means. Show me how to love again." Millers lessons were hard earned as he accepts his insecurities as well as total responsibility for how he views himself. The revelations should strike a cord with lesbian and gay readers who are estranged from their families. "The most frightening thing about letting your family go," Miller writes, "is that suddenly you have no one to blame."
Prayer Warriors is non-fiction; hence, there is no happy ending in the traditional sense. The last chapter does not end with Miller enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with his parents, lover in tow. As it chronicles the frightening odyssey of the author, Warriors reveals the emotional damage that can be inflicted on loving individuals by those who profess to love them the most. "I realized I would probably never have a close relationship with my family again," Miller writes in the final chapter. "But I was blessed with incredible, loving friends, and I let them become the family I longed for."
Scott Seomin is the entertainment media director for The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). He can be contacted at email@example.com
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 4, May 7, 1999