A local news affiliate in Virginia, WSET recently reported how a local man received a long lost letter from his now-deceased gay son. While reading the story I was struck by the fact that the father was- even now- unable to fully understand the tragedy of the situation.
For Father's Day, 1989, Duane Schrock Jr wrote to let his father know that despite their differences, he was very happy with his life and that the estrangement between them could be patched up:
"Dear Dad, we haven't been in touch for quite a while. I'm doing fine and am very happy in Richmond. I'd like to hear from you. Have a happy Father's Day. Love, Duane."
That letter, a tentative reaching out to a disapproving father on Father's Day, somehow never arrived. Six years later, in 1995, at the age of 45, Duane died of AIDS without ever re-establishing contact with his father.
People who knew Duane considered him "a very kind and gentle person."
Twenty six years later, Duane's note finally arrived, For decades, it had been shuffled around the country. The 87-year old Schrock says now that the belated arrival of this message was "like a sign from heaven that his son is doing just fine."
If there was any deep regret from the elder Schrock, the reporters didn't waste time recording it. If there was any change of heart, it was apparently not worth mentioning. That was definitely not the chosen narrative.
The news media prefers to package this long lost letter story as "off beat" and "odd " without noting the tragic quality of the circumstances. Between father and son, precious time which might well have been spent in understanding and forgiveness (on both sides) was lost. The opportunity for reconciliation never arrived. How sad is that?
It is perhaps no surprising coincidence that Lynchburg is also the home of Liberty Christian University, founded in 1971 by arch-conservative Reverend Jerry Falwell. As founder and leader of The Thomas Road Baptist Church, Reverend Falwell spent much of his life condemning homosexuality which he claimed was a threat to the family. (And the so-called liberal agenda, Teletubbies, trade unions, Islam and many many other things.)
He once warned:
We will see a breakdown of the family and family values if we decide to approve same-sex marriage, and if we decide to establish homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle with all the benefits that go with equating it with the heterosexual lifestyle.
Falwell, and all those that listened to him, failed to comprehend that homosexuals have families too. And preaching intolerance against one's own children is as good a way of breaking down families as any other.
Above all other family values, like sharing a common heritage or learning to respect one another, there is also a value in learning tolerance. The highest above all other values must be the act of offering love unconditionally. Most well-informed Christians would see that particular value as an article of their faith.
If the family home has no other special purpose then at the very least it should be a place where one can find shelter from the storm and fury and violence of the world outside the door.
Good Christians, as Falwell once said, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions. But there is one question that all good Christians should be asking when reading this story.
If Duane is truly now in heaven, despite all of the condemnations by hard-line leaders of the faith, then the next logical question is: Where is Jerry Falwell? Is heaven actually spacious enough for both the happily unrepentant homosexual and the preacher that claimed that AIDS was "the wrath of a just God against homosexuals" and against a society that dares to accept them as equals.