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From the book "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" by Jeff Chu. Copyright © 2013 by Jeff Chu. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

From the book "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" by Jeff Chu. Copyright © 2013 by Jeff Chu. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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Published by wamu8850
From the book "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" by Jeff Chu. Copyright © 2013 by Jeff Chu. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
From the book "Does Jesus Really Love Me?" by Jeff Chu. Copyright © 2013 by Jeff Chu. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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Published by: wamu8850 on Mar 20, 2013
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I th Cpitl of Chriti amric
Nashville, Tennessee
hen I land in Nashville little creatures resembling tiny brown turbo-props whir through the air, slapping the airplane windows. The airthrums with the hum o their wings, and their corpses litter the tarmac.Cicadas, millions o them, have invaded, as they do once every seven-teen years. They’re harmless. Yet they look terriying, and perceptionsmatter: Early Americans mistook them or the locusts o biblical-plaguerenown, and the mini-beasts, with their bulging red eyes and W-shapedwing markings, have oten been seen as omens o war. In 1919, oneTennessee newspaper recorded the cicadas’ arrival with the headline
.For me, the cicadas are a good omen: Nashville’s status as a battle-ground is one o the main reasons I’ve come. A blue city in a purplemetropolitan area in a red state, Nashville sits atop cultural and reli-gious ault lines that dene much o the debate about homosexualityin America. And Tennessee, a conservative state that has clung tothe ghting rontier spirit o Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson,has been at the epicenter o battles over social change or two centu-ries. Its legislature repeatedly debated the abolition o slavery beorethe Civil War (emancipation was deeated every time), and during
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that war, more battles were ought here than in any state save Vir-ginia. Then came Jim Crow, and the Scopes Trial, and tussles overwomen’s surage and civil rights.In each case, aith came into play. “You can’t do anything herewithout involving the church,” says Chris Sanders, who leads theNashville chapter o the Tennessee Equality Project. “You just can’t.(Sanders’s brand o church: Episcopal.) Indeed, this city is totallychurchy. Several major Protestant denominations call Nashvillehome, including the United Methodist Church, the Arican Meth-odist Episcopal Church, the National Baptist Convention, and theSouthern Baptist Convention. Nashville is also the capital o Chris-tian culture in America. Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Chris-tian publisher, is based in Nashville, as are the Gideons, the hotelroom Bible supplier. Word Music, the world’s number one gospelrecording house, is headquartered here, as is TBN, the world’s big-gest Christian broadcaster, and Salem Communications, America’stop Christian radio network. As the T-shirts I nd in one souvenirshop testiy, Nashville is the Protestant Vatican.I land in Nashville at a contentious moment. The previous De-cember, Belmont University, a private Christian institution in town,ousted its varsity-soccer coach, Lisa Howe, ater she came out toher players and told them that her partner, Wendy Holleman, waspregnant. The uror over Howe’s orced resignation inspired theDavidson County Council, which oversees Nashville, to orbid thelocal government rom contracting with any company or organiza-tion that discriminates based on sexual orientation. This decisionwas too much or conservative state legislators, who responded witha bill prohibiting local antidiscrimination ordinances that are stricterthan statewide law. When I visit, they are in the midst o debatingan encore, a proposal to restrict schoolteachers rom speaking about homosexuality in class. (Opponents dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay”bill.)But here’s the truth o why I’ve come to Nashville: I spent mucho my childhood in Southern Baptist churches, using Sunday school
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materials that originated here and listening to Christian music that was recorded here and reading Christian books that were publishedhere. I there’s any place to begin the quest to understand not onlyAmerican Christianity’s struggle over homosexuality but also myown troubled aith, to conront the ghosts who still haunt my heart,it’s here.
isa Howe is the opposite o a rebrand. When we meet at herlawyer’s oce, she is shy, and her voice, surprisingly sot or acoach, is almost eerily ree o modulation. I ask her what it’s liketo be an activist, and beuddlement lls her ace. “I never expectedthis,” she says. “I never wanted any o it. But suddenly I was onthe ront page o the newspaper and I was all over the Internet. At rst, I read all the comments. Some o them deended the LGBTliestyle, and it elt good to have as much support as we did. I re-member one really passionate, long comment that said we’re not here to judge and Lisa was a great coach. And the very next com-ment was short: ‘Why doesn’t she like men?’ It was unny!” Shesmiles wanly.Because o her legal settlement with Belmont, Howe can’t dis-cuss her departure rom the university, but she speaks reely about its wake, especially the attacks on her daughter, which began evenbeore the child was born. “To call her a sinner when she’s not evenhere yet? To pick on an unborn child?” Howe says, “I denitely didn’t like that.”Howe, who grew up in the South, didn’t expect a ull embraceo her sexuality, not in a part o the country where, as the clichégoes, one o the rst things people ask about you is what church youattend. In act, until she told her players about Wendy’s pregnancy,at work she kept almost all personal data encrypted. “I never talkedabout being a lesbian. I you’re in the break room at lunch, talkingabout Thanksgiving, I would never tell the whole truth about whoseamily we were with,” she says. “You expect—I know it’s bad to say
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