Who gave you the right to sit in judgment?

Josephine Howard, an LGBTQ ally if there ever was one. Photo by Rob Howard.

by Rob Howard 
Associate Editor 

After a rough few days getting used to the idea that her 38 year old son was gay, my mom strapped on her combat boots and went to work. It wasn’t a new approach for her. One of my earliest memories of Josephine Howard’s approach to civil rights and equality is from 1956, shortly after Brown vs. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court. 

We were taking a taxi to drop me at school and her at work. We weren’t in the cab long when the driver asked, “So, you got any little [black] girls in your school yet?” He didn’t say black – it was 1956 in Oklahoma. 

My mom went off like a Roman candle. “You aren’t going to talk to us like that. You can either shut up, or you can pull over and let us out.” The cab driver got the message and shut up.  

I was always taught, through word and example, that bigotry was wrong, so when I came out in 1984 I really expected nothing less than mom’s full support. 

Mom was a life-long Southern Baptist, the daughter of a Baptist minister. So when I flew her to Minneapolis to come out to her, I also armed myself with several books, particularly on the religious approach to LGBTQ children. 

In September 1989, Glenn A. Brown, the editor of The Baptist Messenger, wrote an editorial about homosexuality. His first sentence was, “Homosexuality is a pernicious human behavior dating to the earliest days of mankind.” 

There ensued a long series of letters to The Messenger, mostly supporting Brown’s view. Mom simmered in silence until February 1990. Finally, she had had it. She sent off a letter to the editor to Mr. Brown. In the letter, which was published, she said, “Who gave you or anyone else the right to sit in judgment and question if anyone is a Christian?” 

There had apparently been a letter titled, “Where do they come from?” in a previous issue of The Messenger. Mom took it upon herself to tell the letter writer, “They come from Christian families, from non-Christian homes – sometimes they are sons, daughters, grandchildren of Baptist ministers and/or other Baptists.” 

“Unfortunately Christians have so much homophobia (a better word is hatred) that many homosexuals will not tell anyone that they are homosexual. Would you? Would you want to face this hatred?” 

She even delved into a favorite meme of a lot of conservative Christians, that Satan is controlling the lives of LGBTQ people. Upset that letter writers were saying that gay people “cannot be Christian,” she launched. 

“Oh, yes, Satan is having a heyday! When he can keep Christians hating people, refusing to accept them as persons – oh, yes, Satan IS having a heyday!” 

She asked that the letter be published without her name. Yes, she admitted, she didn’t want to have to deal with hatred raining down on her.  She said, “Secondly, I want every pastor, every church worker, every Christian that reads this letter to wonder – ‘Could this mother be in OUR church? Could this son have grown up and accepted Christ as his Savior right here in THIS church?’ 

“It is very likely it could be.” 

My mom died in March 1999. I miss her terribly. 

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