Like many families in the late 90’s, our nights would culminate with mom and dad on the couch and the kids in the floor of the living room in watching television. We would eat dinner while listening to mom excitedly scream out the solutions to each wheel of fortune puzzle. Then the kids would wash dishes during Jeopardy because no one was very good at playing along with Alex (not to mention how annoying it is to answer in the form of a question). Finally we would all settle down to some good ol comedic entertainment with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, and of course, the one and only, Steve Urkel. I have fond memories of laughing with my family while Urkel did his rooftop dance, seeing Jerry in the famous puffy shirt episode, and looking for all the mistakes in the Drew Carey Sweepstakes show. These were some of the simpler times where the chaos that plagued our home was stilled and for them I am grateful.
One of the shows that we had grown to love was about a neurotic 30 year old book store owner named Ellen Morgan who was played by stand up comedian and now talk show host Ellen Degeneres. I liked the characters on the show and the constant drama between Ellen and her mom but what stood out was the way she would babble on and on when she got nervous. It was kind of her trademark and soon became as noticeable as Urkels laugh and snort.
In 1997, towards the end of the fourth season, Ellen’s character disclosed that she was a lesbian in the famous “Puppy Episode” which led also to Ellen Degeneres (the actress) disclosing the same news on the Oprah Winfrey show. This was one of the first times a leading character in a sitcom had come out as gay which meant, according to my parents, the world had officially gone mad. Every episode of the sitcom which before had been labeled a family show on ABC was now preceded by a parental advisory.
My Dad had been a music minister and we all faithfully attended a local baptist church and so we got more than our fair share of warnings about Ellen and the danger of her lifestyle. While I don’t remember having a VHS burning or anything I do remember the church responding to this new crisis by stating in no uncertain terms that God hates homosexuality. And there I was, a 12 year old boy who had been sexually involved with another boy for the last 5 years. I didn’t know what all being gay entailed but I knew that if I was then my chances of being accepted were slim to none. That is the moment that I locked away my secret. No one could ever find out who I was or what I had done.
Be careful how you speak out against sin. Condemnation is an easy road that polarizes you from people and leaves them no where to go for help. I am grateful for a church and a family that spoke up and I don’t fault them at all for the stand they took but it was the delivery that left me lost. What would have been like for them to communicate that Ellen was lost and broken and that they had an answer for her brokenness rather than denouncing her show and proclaiming an judgement against her and any of "her kind".
Don't misunderstand me here, the choices I made were are on me. But from that experience I learned that I want to be a person who invites the broken in and helps them mend rather than stopping them at the door. You may have zero experience with homosexuality, porn, drugs, depression, cutting, or whatever other secret struggle people around you are going through but more often than not they are looking for love rather than answers.
Will you be courageous enough to accept those whose struggles look different than yours? To the one struggling, will you be courageous enough to speak up about what you're fighting? In both cases, I can promise you, the reward outweighs the risk. I hope you find the courage.