Gerber: Private pain in full view

Gerber: Private pain in full view

June 24th, 2012 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

Many readers probably read through today's front-page story, Tempest in My Soul, and felt strong emotions: Anger. Confusion. Sadness. Compassion. We live in a community steeped in faith. The influence of organized religion, especially churches, reaches into nearly every part of life here. And some topics can hit a nerve. We often find this when our reporters write about issues that touch on abortion, prayer in schools, evolution, immigration and homosexuality.

Our front-page story today deals with one of those issues. It's the tale of a deeply religious man, a Southern Baptist minister, whose faith was shaken when he learned that his adult son was gay, then watched him die from the AIDS virus.

The story of Matt Nevels is unfolding at a time when the country continues to disagree over whether gays should be allowed to marry. Churches continue to discuss what role gays can or should play in their operations, and it remains a high-octane political debate that divides people.

In recent weeks, the issue has come up from several angles:

• President Barack Obama recently said same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

• The Pentagon this month marked Gay Pride Month and saluted gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender troops. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thanked gay and lesbian military members for their service.

• California's gay marriage ban is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will consider whether it violates the U.S. Constitution. The court could agree to hear the matter in a session beginning in October, which would put the issue front and center in the Nov. 6 presidential election.

• A federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman will likely be tested before the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court in Massachusetts ruled that denying benefits to married gay couples is unconstitutional.

But Times Free Press reporter Joan Garrett's story is not about political fights or legal challenges. Her story is intended to be just that, a story.

Tempest In My Soul looks at one man's struggles and how he changed when his faith and the reality of his family life collided. It's also an inside look into how a church dealt with the conflict between homosexuality and Christianity.

Stories like this are happening all across our region and across the county, but they are rarely told because of the deeply personal nature of the problems faced. Sexuality and faith are easy political talking points, but they become real emotional hurdles when they stand at odds in your family or your church.

The story is not intended to advocate one side or another. It's also not intended to judge. It's not trying to teach a lesson. It's simply trying to give a perspective.

This story may offend or trouble some readers. They might not agree with the father's beliefs or want to see the photo of his skeletal-thin, dying son.

Some might not like the way the church members or its pastor reacted.

Others might not like the fact that the newspaper is writing about this issue at all. This topic often is only whispered about or spoken of in euphemisms.

But I believe it's a newspaper's role to explore the things that conflict us as a society and divide us, to look behind closed doors.

And the newspaper took seriously the responsibility of reporting on this issue fairly and accurately.

Garrett spent four months reporting the story. She talked with people in the gay community, their families, ministers. She spoke to people who think homosexuality is a sin. She also spoke to those who think the issue of gay rights is the civil rights struggle of their generation.

She read books on faith and homosexuality, reread Bible passages, poured over old obituaries and letters.

She made every effort to understand both sides of this issue, to find the gray that exists between the black-and-white rhetoric.

Regardless of where readers stand on the president's view of gay marriage or the likely Supreme Court hearings, we hope they will see this story as we intended - a tale that gives insight into the human condition and shows the real heartache a person faces when his faith is tested.