What a day! I had the privilege of joining Ron Gatlin, the Convener of the Alabama Integrity chapter, and Fr. Jim Creasy on a pilgrimage to the murder site of Billy Jack Gaither today. Ron and I drove from Cullman, Alabama to Birmingham where we met at St. Andrew's Church. We had invited the press, but were not surprised when they did not show. We were asked to fax our statement to them. Before we left the church, Ron and I went to the altar and asked God's protection and direction. We ended by praying the Integrity Prayer together.
We drove into Sylacauga, about an hour's drive from Birmingham for us, met Fr. Creasy, and proceeded down a small country road. The pavement ends and a gravel road leads to a bridge over Peckerwood Creek. Just at the end of the bridge a trail leads back by the side of the creek to the site of the old bridge. We understand this site had also been the scene of baptisms in the past.
Today the creek bank is littered with trash and garbage and junk. This part of God's earth had been desecrated by man long before February 19, 1999. A beautiful spot had been rendered no better than a trash heap by uncaring mankind.
Down the trail about a half a mile we came to the spot. It was marked with yellow police tape. The access of the old bridge made a place for cars to turn around. But on the night of February it became a place of death for Billy Jack Gaither. It was the place where he was dragged from the trunk of an automobile and beaten once more with ax handles. His body was drenched with kerosene and thrown on top of burning automobile tires - tires that had been ignited with the same kerosene that now covered his body.
The three of us spent a few minutes at the site getting used to the sound of the creek and the wind and the birds. We saw the dead flowers that had been placed on the death spot last Friday by a Birmingham priest, and the MCC minister and a man from Boston. These three had made the same pilgrimage the three of us were making.
We got our Prayer Books and stood in silence for a few more minutes. I had been asked to read the 22nd Psalm. I was moved to tears as I read the Psalmist words "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I could only hear Billy Jack pleading those words in the last minutes of his life as he stood on the same spot where we now stood. The pleading of his cries is still ringing in my ears seven hours later as I write this message. Ron read the story of God's promise never to destroy the earth again and giving us the rainbow as a symbol of his promise. Jim read prayers from the service for the burial of the dead and then blessed a bottle of water we had brought with us. The three of us drank a swallow of this holy water, and then we sprinkled the rest on the charred earth where Billy Jack's life came to an end. The sun came out as Fr. Creasy made the sign of the cross over the darkened earth and the three of us recited the prayer of St. Francis.
Ron asked us to observe a moment of silence to remember the hate that had been directed to so many of God's gay and lesbian children and to pray that the hate cease.
During this period I once more heard the cries for help and the piercing, agonizing screams of Billy Jack Gaither. Again tears came to my eyes as I cried for Billy Jack and for all of my gay brothers and lesbian sisters and for myself.
Thank you, God, for allowing me the opportunity to participate in this emotional and memorable pilgrimage to the banks of Peckerwood Creek in Coosa County Alabama. I feel truly blessed.
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