Good Christians and strange fruit

I went back to college this year. That is both good and bad. It’s good because I love to learn and my classes are great, even my math class is better than I expected. It’s bad because I have a very hectic life, with a seven year old daughter, a grown son,( who is out on his own) two dogs, a husband and a hundred year old house we are trying to remodel, so saying I’m exhausted most of the time is an understatement. None the less, here I am a very excited college student.

In my Social Problems class today we talked about the usual ills of society, prepped for an exam, turned in a critique of an article and watched a video. The video was about a Billie Holiday song called “Strange Fruit”, which she recorded in 1939. It is about lynching, here are the lyrics…

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

And of course being a video there were images showing what was being sung. Throughout the video they talked about how Billie Holiday came to record it but what was so haunting was how they explained the lynching. When they told how they didn’t have to be guilty of anything just accused, but simply because of the color of their skin, they were hung. And how, depending on what the accusation was it also could dictate the extent of abuse that came with the hanging. A rape could mean their genitals were cut off, they could be gutted or burned, and all while they were still alive, then they were hung. This, more often than not, was done in front of a crowd. Men, women and even children would be present, and they were happy. They were happy because the man or boy hanging was “less than human” and getting what he deserved. How all these “good Christians” carried this out in the name of God and then went home had their dinners, scratched the dog behind the ear and felt “just”. Good Christians? Those two words, they stabbed my heart. I’m a good Christian.

During the class discussion that followed everyone agreed how horribly brutal and wrong this was. All I could think was how some of those same phrases and circumstances are still being played out today, only in terms of our gay community. They are referred to as abominations. They are taunted, bullied, denied rights…all by sign wielding crowds of cheering “good Christians”.

When the discussion finally worked its way around to me I was so hurt, angry and heartbroken I almost couldn’t speak. What I did manage to get out through a clenched jaw and tears, was that these lynching’s and the hate that was put upon blacks was FEAR! Fear of people that were different, that this fear of an imagined loss of power and control was the same fear and hate given to our gay community today. That somehow acknowledging that they are people, just like everyone else; these “good Christians” would somehow lose something. I told my class how angry and hurt I am. That nowhere, with the Christ I have in my heart, is any of this justified, not then and certainly not in 2012.

My anger is as a Christian. DO NOT use my gentle, loving Christ to justify hate, judgments and violence. And as I sat with tears running down my cheeks I thought about the people I have in my life. My friends, family members are all loving, kind, compassionate, talented, amazing people. People I love dearly and would lay down my life for, some of who just happen to be gay.

I know this isn’t to the same extent as it was during those horrific times; we aren’t lynching gays in the town square or out in a field or from the poplar trees. But I also know that it makes no difference to Matthew Shepard’s family that it was a fence and not a tree, the agonizing result was the same.

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About kzottarelli

Still a mom, still a wife, animal lover, fighter for equality, but now a graduate!! On to the next phase......
This entry was posted in Civil Rights, Living, Prejudice, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Good Christians and strange fruit

  1. Chris Heifner says:

    I find it funny that in all your wisdom…you forget to blame the devil for anything.

  2. c a heifner says:

    This is simply idiotic. Murdering someone by lynching and NOT condoning someone elses behavior are NOT the same thing. That is truly comparing apples and oranges (fruit pun intended). And Jesus was loving and forgiving for people that repented and turned to HIM. He wasnt so nice to people/systems that rejected Him. And for the record, I could care less about gay marriage. Let them marry and be merry. Who cares. We lost the battle on that when we disrespected the sanctity of marriage with our incessant divorces. But dont misrepresent our Lord & Savior. Yes, He loves everyone and YES He would give ANYONE a second chance, BUT ONLY to those that turn AND repent AND seek Him. Hes not gonna be so nice to those that reject Him and His message of justice, mercy, and peace. He cant. That would make Him a liar. So the point of your article should be that He loves the sinner, hates the sin, and people should seek Him and be guided away from sin by the Holy Spirit. It should not be an endorsement of lawless type living. And you dont believe me? Read Revelation and the description of the Laodicean church…because Gods justice cannot be mocked, you reap what you sow.

    • Keven says:

      Neighbor, I can tell this is an emotional issue for you and for that reason your argument seems difficult to discern. The article was about how people performed lynchings and went home thinking they were good Christians and the writer is pondering deeply if we are not engaging in that behavior today amongst our brothers and sisters who profess to be gay or lesbian. I assure you, friend, it is never idiotic nor unchristian to take a step back and wonder if we as Christians are not expressing our faith sinfully. Just as those who lynched African-Americans felt justified and yet were not, the writer feels strongly that history has found yet another way to repeat itself – something we who are in Christ Jesus should not take lightly.

      I am a seminary student who is about to graduate from an evangelical seminary this spring and begin pursuing ordination. I have come to my own conclusions concerning the GLBT issues of the Christian faith and I welcome others to fall where God tells them to. My issue is that the Academies have done a very poor job letting the public know what the substance of the debates are. From the public’s point of view, there has been so little information flowing outward that it has come to the conclusion that there are two-kinds of Christians: Bible-believers and Lovey-Dovey’s. I assure you things are not nearly so simple.

      The first issue for anyone reading Scripture concerns what a Eunuch was. In the West we understand them as people who were castrated but the historical material shows this is simply not the case. The Roman Jurist Ulpion talked about eunuchs being married and needing to discern eunuchs who were castrated from those who were not. There appears to be two categories of eunuch – namely the castrated (or man made eunuch) and those who were eunuchs by birth. Given what we have, when ancient society’s describe their understandings of the born eunuch, they do not identify born eunuchs with flawed testicles but instead look to things like smooth skin and a voice that is neither feminine or masculine. Lucian of Samosota (most certainly not a Christian) described eunuchs as monstrosities, being a combination of both male and female. Certainly also the homosexual behaviors of eunuchs was extremely famous; the relationship between Alexander the Great and his eunuch being very well known. This has sparked real questioning if born-eunuchs were not how the ancients understood gay people. After all, if you want your harem guarded who better than a gay man to do it? Castrated men still have a sex drive and can still perform sex. You need people of different sexual orientation to fill that role, not damaged parts.

      Where this comes into play is of course when Jesus speaks of the born eunuch. As Jesus frequently uses terms the people around him understood at that time period (it’s why there are fishing and farming parables for instance..that’s what the people knew) and people understood born eunuchs as people who were born different and did not like female companionship but were still fully capable of sexual acts. This means Jesus in fact knew of gay people, and still Jesus’ only concern was over divorce, never about who gets married. Indeed, if Jesus had truly warned against homosexuals being sinful, it becomes almost impossible to understand why the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts is admitted to the Christian faith without Phillip asking what kind of a eunuch he was.

      As far as other places in the New Testament are concerned there are translation issues as well. Words we translate in 1st Corinthians and Timothy to refer to homosexual behavior we are actually unsure as to their meaning. We do know that we have a large body of homoerotic literature and those words are never used to refer to any homosexual practice. If Paul was intending to condemn homosexuality, it is extremely strange that he never uses any wording that would have been obvious to his audience that that was what he was talking about.

      The one exception is of course Romans 1 :26-27. The difficulty here is that the chapter and verse cut Paul off mid argument. His point for all that material is stated at the beginning of chapter 2.
      1:32 (Concerning those who were given over to shameful lusts) Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (2:1) THEREFORE you have no excuse you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

      It is an extremely strange transition, but 1) the passage is about hypocrisy (something Jesus had much to say about) and 2) Rome was infamous for proliferating platonic and other philosophies, which held that homosexuality was unnatural, but also for engaging in homosexual acts despite. If a church in Rome was preaching that homosexual acts were unnatural, engaging in homosexual acts as heterosexuals anyway, then it makes very much sense why Paul as a follower of Jesus would call them out on their hypocrisy in this fashion.

      As such, to pretend that Pro-LGBT people have no Scriptural backing for their beliefs is just not that supportable and indeed the concerns of this article writer to be quite well founded. They were right, we have been blind to some issues just like the lynchings and it resulted in LGBT people being put in the cross-hairs. We have not been fair and we have not been loving, though many thought themselves justified in being so. As such, however you feel about this issue I implore you to learn all sides of an argument before you land on one side or the other. These arguments presented here amongst many others you will find in numerous places on the internet. Please find them and learn more about this subject and always beware one’s own emotions. We need passionate and informed people in the faith, not one or the other.

      Blessings to you

      • kzottarelli says:

        As the writer of this article, I would just like to say thank you Kevin. Your words have touched me deeply and I can see have been graced with God’s love. And you are so right about needing passionate informed people in the faith, thank you again for being one of them.
        Love to you and blessings in your journey, Kathleen

      • Ted Holland says:

        Very well written and explained. I like your point of view.

      • “The one exception is of course Romans 1 :26-27. ”

        Actually, this has nothing to do with homosexuals, when one reads it in context. Since verse 26 begins with ‘for this reason’ or some translational variant, it is wrong to ignore the explicit description of idolatry in the preceding passages. Paul is describing idolaters involved in fertility religions, having sex with priestesses and priests of those religions.

        Further his use of the words ‘exchange’ and ‘abandon’ coupled with ‘physikos chresis’ innate, instinctive, inborn sexual use of – the opposite sex, means Paul could not have been writing about homosexuals. Again, why the lengthy euphemism when Greek had seventeen explicit words? Homosexuals cannot abandon heterosexuality – the innate sexual use of the opposite sex – homosexuals don’t have it to abandon.

    • Gays and lesbians have been lynched, and burned alive, and doused with acid, and shot, stabbed, beaten to death.

      “That is truly comparing apples and oranges (fruit pun intended). ”

      And you are making sick jokes about real destruction of real human beings. Further, your argument is false.

      Jesus taught in Matthew 7:15-23, that false teachers are revealed by their fruit, and the fruit of ‘homosexuality is sin’ is entirely evil. By the cause and effect relationship Jesus is invoking which you consider ‘idiotic’ thus calling Jesus an idiot, anyone who teaches ‘homosexuality is sin’ is a false teacher.

      “you reap what you sow.”

      And everyone who teaches ‘homosexuality is sin’ sows death and destruction.

  3. earthysara says:

    YES, thank you for writing this piece.

    Related to Strange Fruit and somewhat to the impact the experience had on you, this NPR piece on the author was compelling.

    • kzottarelli says:

      Your very welcome and Thank you, yes I do know the story of the writer of Strange Fruit and the impact lynchings and racism had on him.

  4. MaggieZ says:

    People have told me they are horrified by the idea of the trilogy novels “The Hunger Games” which are about killing for entertainment. I tell them, what do you think lynchings were but cruel public entertainment?

  5. Thank you so much for your solidarity and your strength of mind. Thank you for writing this message. It gives me hope.

  6. allydavidstevens says:

    “DO NOT use my gentle, loving Christ to justify hate, judgments and violence.”

    I think that says it all, my friend. Thank you for your raw and powerful words.

  7. Ono Kono says:

    Matthew Shepherd’s death touched the souls of a lot of us, and where I first realized that Christianity had a sect of people who bore the rotten fruits of hatred. It’s what made me become vocally active in naming it for what it was. Thank you for posting this, I was profoundly moved by the words.

  8. robw77 says:

    Outstanding, Kathleen! YOU are beautiful…

  9. apeene says:

    Wow! That was powerful. An outstanding peice. Thank you so much. We should never forget about these horrific historic events and activities. We should LEARN from them. I hope we do.
    Great job!

  10. belle.morgen says:

    Thanks for sharing that experience with us. I was not raised in the US but whenever I would see pictures of the hanged and burned individuals, it was always mind-boggling. For some of the onlookers, this was a spectator sport, a picnic, a day out with the family. There is a book called “Without Sanctuary – Lynching Photography in America” which contains roughly 100 photographs of actual lynched victims along with a few essays pieces. It is graphic and painful to view, but still a part of America’s history, and so cannot be swept under the carpet.
    I can never understand how people develop the kind of hate they have for another person because of their race or sexual orientation to perform such unspeakable acts like these or what was done to Matthew Sheppard. It’s as if they are missing something from their own life and need to take it out on others.
    Again, good post.

  11. History is something we can all learn about, if we choose to. Some school books are better than others with facts and details. Seems like when we are in collage, topics are dealt with in a more adult appropriate way. Taking the time to research a topic doesn’t always produce the happy results we dream of. Many songs are stories of events. Singing is a way to keep a part of the past alive, a preservation of history.

    I will always stand by the thought that when we know better, we do better.

  12. kzottarelli says:

    thank you, you honor me sir, with your kind words. But I feel I have no courage, those that have and still bare the pain and suffering are the ones who are truly courageous.

  13. Pete Simms says:

    Beautiful piece thanks for having the courage to write it.

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