As I was sitting in my car in a parking lot, my boys in the back seat, waiting for my wife to come out of Old Navy, I took a glance through my Facebook feed and this is what I saw:
“Here we go again,” I thought. “Another bigoted Christian extremist spreading their hate in public.” But it was not just “another Christian.” At 0:16 I couldn’t believe my eyes — the bouncer in the white plaid shirt was someone I knew, or thought I knew. “It couldn’t be, I’ll wait to show it to Arielle (my wife) when she gets here.” After she got into the car I held up the paused screen and asked if she recognized the man. She did.
The man in the video (I’ll call him Aaron) was my best man in our wedding four years ago. The others in the video are his new in-laws.
We grew up together. My wife has known him since they were eight years old. I met him in our early teens. Back then, we were both homeschooled, conservative, Evangelical Christians. My family soon started attending the same “house-church” as his family, and we started to spend lots of time together.
To be fair, neither of our families were this radical in their religion. Yes, both of our parents had removed us from the public school so that we could “avoid the influence of Satan” that is so prevalent in our society (heavy sarcasm); and yes, we were both convinced that Jesus was the savior of the world and wanted us to join in the fight to rid the world of evil. But that’s where we parted ways.
After “graduating” from homeschool high school, I enlisted in the Army. I wanted to make the world a better place by sacrificing a portion of my life in service of my fellow citizens. While I was in the Army I got married, had a kid, and had gradually transformed into a (very) liberal Christian. By the time my enlistment was up, I believed our LGBTQ brothers and sisters should be treated equally and fairly, I no longer thought women should submit to men, I doubted that prayer had an effect on the world, I didn’t believe in a literal place called “hell,” and had begun to question faith in general. In short, I was on the way out, and very far down the path toward what I am today — a secularist, naturalist, and humanist.
But it seems that my friend and best man, Aaron, went down a much different path. After his “graduation” he continued to live at home with his parents, and eventually met his wife through his connections in the conservative homeschool community. And, as it turns out, her family is even more extreme in their religion than either of ours ever were. While I was beginning my university studies (thanks to Uncle Sam), Aaron was attending long prayer sessions with his new family in which (he said) they apparently exorcised demons from him, leading to a new calling to rid the world of sin.
Though he says nothing in the video above, I can only assume that he is on board with the general message being screamed at the Target customers since he was along for the ride as, what appears to be, some sort of bouncer for mom-in-law. Not only does this video (and my friend’s participation in the activities) anger me, it also makes me very sad. We both started in relatively similar circumstances. But while I was lucky enough to escape the clutches of religion, Aaron was pulled deeper into its deranged vision of the world — a vision that sees everyone not in one’s tribe as evil, depraved, and the harbingers of the coming judgement.
Of course we have freedom of speech, but what happens in this video is closer to disturbing the peace with hate speech than anything else. I’m pretty sure my kids are in more danger of being damaged if they hear people, in what should be a calm and peaceful store, scream things like:
“Mothers, get your children out of this store!”
“Are you going to let the devil rape your children, America?”
“Repent, wicked Target…the judgement of God is coming on this nation and Target!”
As a friend pointed out, if these were Muslims holding a Koran and shouting in Arabic, we might be justified in fearing religious violence. We would probably see this video on television for days, and read about it at the newsstand. The media would call these people terrorists and there would be public outrage. But since Christianity is the dominant religion (for now) in America, this type of behavior probably won’t make any major news outlet or magazine. The Christian privilege that has infected our nation not only allows for this type of behavior to go unchecked, but also to receive support from certain corners.
So that’s why I am writing this. All I can do is continue to lend my voice to the growing tide of authors, thinkers, and public intellectuals — fellow citizens who are fed up with our nation being infected with religion, fed up with hate being legislated, fed up with respect being given to the types of people who likely would have burned “witches” at the stake four hundred years ago, fed up with religions being given a pass for no good reason, and fed up with our friends and family being treated as second-class citizens simply because they are “different.” Enough is enough. I wish my best man was standing on the right side of the fence, but all I can do is “speak the truth in love” and hope that in the end, reason, equality, and common sense will prevail.