In previous posts, I've paraphrased lines spoken by actress Della Reese in an episode of the much-loved TV series "Touched By An Angel." Let me talk more in depth about that episode, because it's one that every Lesbian and Gay man should see. Titled The Violin Lesson, it originally aired on Sunday, 22 December 1996 during the series' third season. It amounted to a sermon more powerful than a lifetime's worth of televangelist harangues; really, I can't exaggerate its importance.
The premise of "Touched By An Angel" was that a trio of heavenly emissaries (portrayed by Della Reese, Roma Downey and John Dye) intervened each week in personal crises suffered by ordinary people. At a key point in each show, the angels would reveal themselves and impart the message of God's love. It was a very different kind of TV than "The Sopranos" and other kinds of amoral entertainment vehicles that capture the public's attention today!
But I digress. The Violin Lesson concerned a Gay man named Tony DuBois who is dying from AIDS. Tony returns home to his father, violin maker Jordan DuBois, and breaks the news of his diagnosis. At the same time, he reveals his sexual orientation to his father. This changes how the elder DuBois perceives his son; he now finds Tony deeply flawed. Jordan throws him out of the family home, much in the same way he throws out violins after finding flaws in their wood. Crushed, Tony goes off to an AIDS hospice to die alone.
Monica (the Roma Downey character) intervenes with the father and tries to soften his heart. Enraged, he lashes out at his son's homosexuality and calls him a "queer." Monica responds to Jordan's outburst by reminding him that "nothing made by God is queer!" I recall jumping to my feet at the sound of her words. To finally hear something I had believed for years, and to hear it articulated in an explicitly religious context! The feeling was indescribable.
But that wasn't the only bolt of lightning I would feel as I watched this incredible hour of television. Later in the show, Tess (the Della Reese character) appears to Tony on his deathbed. He expresses to her his fear that God has condemned him. She responds in a sweet but authoritative voice: "What you've heard were the words of someone else . . . words of hate and confusion! But God is not the author of confusion! God is the source and completer of your faith."
Soon afterward, an enlightened Jordan DuBois hurries to his son's bedside, carrying a violin he had once discarded for being imperfect. As his son passes into the afterlife, Jordan plays a beautiful melody on the instrument. Looking down at the violin, he is amazed to discover that the flaw in its wood has changed into the image of a Christmas tree. There was no way to miss the deep symbolism in this final scene. An ocean's width and depth probably couldn't have contained all the tears that flowed from the eyes of Gay viewers as they learned The Violin Lesson that night.
Of course, everybody didn't cry. This courageous and groundbreaking telecast sparked something of a backlash among Christian fundamentalists. Bigots were so outraged, many of them never watched "Touched By An Angel" again. I can easily imagine what kind of vicious sermons were preached in its aftermath. To be sure, the prevalence of anti-Gay bigotry didn't diminish; in fact, since the show went off the air in 2003, the forces of religious homophobia seem to have intensified. But this was to be expected!
When God reveals His truth in such an awesome way, what else can Satan do but marshal his false prophets in retaliation? He concentrates his powers of distortion on the minds of Christian converts with renewed vigor. He stirs up the Right-Wing intellectuals, trots out the self-hating "Queer activists," and throws a few bigoted politicians into the mix for good measure. He uses everything in his trick bag to draw our attention away from God's Divine light.
Satan has no equal when it comes to trapping people under the dark cloak of ignorance, but thankfully, his methods are never 100% effective. A lot of folks had their eyes opened on 22 December 1996, and the experience changed them forever. Make no mistake: Lucifer lost quite a bit of ground that Sunday evening, ground he's never recovered!
The Violin Lesson is now available on DVD; you can find it in the "Touched By An Angel", Season Three box set. This remarkable TV show teaches us something that's even more important than tolerance for Lesbians and Gay men. It teaches us that we must go directly to God for the truth. We must seek out a personal relationship with Him. There can be no intermediary, not even the Bible!
On the advice of Christian ministers, millions of people have traditionally made the Bible their primary source of faith. Oh, what a mistake! Within the pages of the Bible can be found much confusion, and the men who compiled the Bible centuries ago intentionally raised its confusion level. After all, when people are confused, it's much easier to lead them where you want them to go! For thousands of years, false prophets have used the Bible to lead the unsuspecting faithful down a garden path. At the end of that path lies an awful terrain where bigotry, hatred and inhumanity thrive.
Fortunately, Jesus Christ has always been there, standing in the distance, forgiving his flock for being ignorant and for not knowing the wrong that they do. (He's had so much practice at doing this, I'm sure it's second nature to Him now!) The Shepherd on the hill is always ready to take our hands and guide us onto the right path. All we need to do is turn our eyes in His direction. When we reject false prophets and choose to have a direct relationship with God, He replaces darkness with sunlight so that we may view the Shepherd with more clarity.
I believe the telecast of The Violin Lesson was an instance where God's sunlight shined so brightly, the figure of the Shepherd on the hill was unmistakable. There's no doubt in my mind that it drew scores of disillusioned Gay Christians back to their faith. Scores more are catching sight of the Holy Shepherd all the time, even as millions continue to be distracted by Satan's deceitful machinations. No matter. I think there will be more days of bright sunshine, and more opportunities for people of all sexual orientations to lift their eyes and see the Good Shepherd beckoning.