With the Rev. Dr. Mel White
Backstage in a large hotel dinning room, just moments before I was scheduled to address a "black tie" dinner, the emcee read a note just handed her and suddenly broke into tears.
On the eve of this "Pride" banquet, another gay teenager had died. Condemned by his parents, by his priest, and by his counselor, the honor student had shot himself to death while lying on a plastic sheet in a mortuary parking lot. "I’m doing it here," he wrote, "so I won’t be any more trouble to anyone."
Teen Suicide Data
Nationally, teen suicide is growing at alarming rates. Since 1960, the number of teen suicides has tripled in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1989, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report stating that up to a third of all teen suicides were committed by gay youths. In 1998, a University of Minnesota study of 36,000 youth found that homosexual or bisexual boys were seven times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual classmates.* (There was very little difference noted in the much lower rate of suicide attempts by heterosexual and homosexual girls).
We recoil with rage and grief when we hear that Matthew Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in a frozen field in Wyoming. We are outraged when we learn that young Adam Colton was pinned to the ground while bashers carved "fag" into his bruised and bleeding chest. But there is another kind of suffering that should make us just as angry and just as sad, the kind of soul-suffering that causes our best and brightest to kill themselves.
Christopher Calhoun, a Public Policy Advocate at the Los AngelesGay & Lesbian Center, calls it "…the silent inner wars – the conflicts that crowd the hearts and exhaust the souls of millions of gay and lesbian kids."
"For many of them," Chris explains, "the central, defining inner turmoil of their lives is the conflict between their growing awareness of their sexual difference and the preachings they hear (and have until now believed) that gay and lesbian people are sinful, filthy or filled with the devil."**
Karen Blakeney, Director of Youth Services at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, describes the damage that can be done to a person’s spirit by comparing a hostile religious environment to "a trash compactor" that "squashes everything down."
"That vital aspect of the self gets crushed and damaged," Karen explains, "and becomes a very hard, solid, dense mass…bound together by anger."
The anti-homosexual rhetoric that flows out of misinformed religious leaders like Jerry Falwell leads to all kinds of crimes against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. But even worse, the anti-homosexual rhetoric takes root inside each of us like a cancer that eats away at our human spirit and eventually cripples our soul.
In South Africa and India, Gandhi wanted to end British rule, but he was even more concerned about restoring the souls of his people ground down by their oppression. (Ironically, Gandhi was equally concerned about restoring the souls of the British, damaged by oppressing others.)
In the United States, Dr. King was determined to see segregation end, but he was even more determined to renew the broken spirits of its victims, (black and segregationist alike.)
If we are to take their "soul force" principles seriously, we must first think about soul. Do believe in the idea of a human soul? How would you define it?
Do You Believe In Soul?
[Take a moment to write your feelings about "soul" on a separate sheet of paper. When you share Step #2. with your Soulforce Partner, be sure your comments about "soul" are included. Your Partner should write his or her comments before you get together.
(WRITE NOW YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THE HUMAN "SOUL")
(After you’ve written, continue reading)
The First Soulforce Credo
I Believe in "Soul"
I’ve received a lot of email from on-line friends who find it very difficult to believe in the "outdated notion of a human soul." If you don’t believe in "soul" you’re still welcome to take this journey with us. But from the beginning you should know that "soul force" is based entirely on the belief in human "soul." In 1930, Gandhi wrote these words:
"The only condition for a successful use of this [soul] force is a recognition of the existence of the soul as apart from the body, and its permanent and superior nature; and this recognition must amount to a living faith and not to a mere intellectual grasp.***
If we want to use those "soul force" principles in eliminating our own oppression, we must first think about the damage that the rhetoric of our oppressors like Jerry has done to our own individual souls (Just remember that Jerry’s soul, too, has been crippled by oppressing us, but we’ll get to that later.)
Question One: How has the anti-homosexual, anti-bisexual, anti-transgendered rhetoric wounded your soul? (Heterosexual’s souls, too, are wounded by the campaign against sexual minorities. If you are a heterosexual, how has this war of words wounded your soul?)
Question Two: What have you done, what are you doing, to heal your own wounded soul?
Question Three: Although you may not like the idea of dividing yourself into body, mind, and spirit (soul), indulge me for a moment. How would you compare the health of your soul to the health of your body or the health of your intellect at this present time?
WRITE NOW YOUR ANSWERS TO THE THREE QUESTIONS ABOVE
(After you’ve written, continue reading)
Gandhi and King describe the two primary goals of "soul force" as (1) the renewal of individual human spirit and in the process (2) the transformation of corporate society.
This sixteen-step "Journey into Soulforce" has two goals. The transformation of society (in this case through the transformation of Jerry Falwell). But changing Jerry (and by that changing society) is our second goal. Actually, our first goal is the renewal of your spirit. If your spirit is NOT refreshed and renewed by this journey, I will have failed.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
One last thing, sexual minorities hold no exclusive on suffering (of the body, mind, or soul.) During this "journey," I am focusing on the suffering of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children because I want to apply the principles of "soul force" to help end the rhetoric of Jerry Falwell and the other religious leaders whose rhetoric incites that suffering.
But we must also acknowledge and help end the suffering of all God’s children who suffer injustice and oppression.
Gandhi and King would have us involved in doing justice for the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the oppressed regardless of their sexual orientation. The principles of "soul force" can be applied in resolving the racial, ethnic, national, and religious wars that plague our world. Imagine what our powerful, creative, and courageous community could achieve if we ever really liberated the power of our own collective soul.
Glad to have you on this journey!
Have you started reading a biography of Gandhi or King?
Have you viewed the GANDHI video yet? View the video ROMERO next.
* A University of Minnesota study in the 8/98 American Journal of Public Health. Available on line at (http://www.virtualcity.com/youthsuicide/index.htm).
** "Vanguard" (By the LA Gay & Lesbian Center), Vol. 1, No. 6, Feb. 1998. Available on line at (http://www.gay-lesbian-center.org/index_2.html). (Choose the Vanguard button at bottom of screen).
*** C.F. Andrews, Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas, (The first biography of Gandhi written by the young English clergyman and close friend to Gandhi featured in the GANDHI video), Macmillan, New York, 1930, pg. 194.
NEXT: Step 3
Mel White and Gary Nixon, Partners in Soulforce, Inc.
P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA. 92652.
Fax: (949) 455-0959