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Column: The fight for the soul of our nation

Lil Nas X poses for a portrait at Cactus Cube Studio on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif. Photo courtesy of Kent Nishimura.

My first memory of being told that queer people go to hell was during a Catholic church service. The priest stood at his pulpit and encouraged parishioners to petition their representatives in government to oppose protections for queer people. 

I couldn’t have been older than eight years old.

Christians are conditioned to fear hell. From seemingly innocent church hymns like “This Little Light of Mine” to Christian-themed horror movies like “The Conjuring,” the image of the devil is used time and time again to frighten young people and threaten adults.

The threat: if you do not worship the Christian God, you are headed for eternal damnation.

On Friday, Lil Nas X released “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” In the accompanying music video, Lil Nas is seen doing a myriad of things, but what has taken the internet by storm is the moment in which he gives Satan a lap dance.

This song has garnered attention from conservatives, including the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, who took issue with the Satan-themed shoes Lil Nas released along with the new song. 

“We are in a fight for the soul of our nation,” Noem wrote on Twitter.

I think the governor is correct. We are in the fight for the soul of our nation, and Lil Nas is doing exactly that — fighting.

According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion. Christian values permeate our government, public schools and pop culture.

The prevalence of Christianity itself is not the issue; rather, the issue is the use of Christianity to bastardize the teachings of Jesus and subdue people by way of fear.

In 2012, the Williams Institute at UCLA surveyed service providers working with young LGBTQ+ people who are homeless. Queer youth make up 40 percent of the homeless youth population. According to the same report, 46 percent of queer youth were homeless because they either were forced out of their homes by their parents or ran away out of fear.

These numbers are staggering, considering only 7 percent of all youth in the United States report being LGBTQ+ identifying. But they are not unsurprising when you have well-known Christian pastors demonizing LGBTQ+ children.

Furthermore, the Williams Institute estimates that 57,000 children will be subject to conversion therapy by a religious leader. This figure does not include the estimates for those who will receive conversion therapy from licensed medical practitioners.

Conversion therapy is a cruel practice that is often dangerous and has been proven ineffective, yet it is encouraged by many religious organizations that perpetuate the myth that one can choose their sexual orientation.

On top of these very real threats to LGBTQ+ children, they are raised to believe they are going to hell if they do not “renounce” their queerness. At every step of their self-actualization, they are abandoned by the church. Whether it is during a church service or just walking across campus, queer people are constantly being reminded that they are not welcome in some churches.

Lil Nas’ video is not shocking. What’s shocking is that people really expected queer people to just shut up and take it.

I am a practicing Catholic. I also identify as gay. I do not believe those two things are antithetical. However, I empathize deeply with those who cannot reconcile the pain the Church has caused for — and continues to inflict on — so many.

The problem is not individuals. The problem is the institution, which fundamentally believes it has the right to dictate to others how they are supposed to live. This has been demonstrated throughout history, most obviously through colonialism and predatory evangelization. The fact is, Christians do not have that right.

Lil Nas ends the video by killing the devil, removing his horns and putting them on himself. He conquers the very thing that has been weaponized against the queer community. He embraces the very thing we have been told we should fear.

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The irony is in the Christian personalities on Twitter and Fox News and the like who, after condemning queer people to hell, get upset when a queer man embraces his “damnation.”


Will Melfi

Will Melfi is the digital managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel. He is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism and political science.