A Michigan mother says Matthew Makela — former pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church and School in Midland — told her son he would go to hell for being gay. Ashamed of his sexuality and fearful of eternal damnation, the then 17-year-old child came to suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide, WNEM reports.
Makela stepped down from his post at St. John’s earlier this week after Queerty provided photographic evidence of the married father of five — who was prone to saying hateful things about gay people online — seeking out male companionship on the popular hookup app, Grindr.
Jennifer Kish tells WNEM reporters that Makela “nearly drove [her son] to suicide.”
In an interview with the Saginaw-based news outlet, Kish says she “moved to Midland specifically to go to this church,” referring to St. John’s. But then Pastor Makela began harassing her son online.
Using social media, Makela warned the teenage boy of homosexuality-induced hell fire in the afterlife, putting the child in a hopeless mindset. “If he’s going to hell for being gay,” Kish describes her son’s state of mind with tears in her eyes, “then he might as well commit suicide.”
Makela also criticized Kish’s parenting skills online, charging that a good mother would not support her son being gay. Kish confronted the pastor, and encouraged him to engage differently with vulnerable young people, she tells WNEM.
St. John’s has been progressively scrubbing its Internet presence since Makela’s internet dating exploits went viral. By Tuesday, Makela’s biography was no longer on the church website. Senior pastor Reverend Daniel Kempin, however, had posted a long letter to parishioners urging them to be wary of reporters with connections to online media and informing them church leadership would not be using “the internet as the primary means of communication at this point.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Huffington Post reports, the St. John’s website in any recognizable form was just gone. In its place is a single letter from Kempin to parishioners, in plain black text against a white background, philosophizing on the nature of “sin.” Makela’s Grindr usage is an evident sin in Kempin’s estimation. But, Kempin tells his followers encouragingly, Jesus “came to save real sinners, and as such we rejoice to know that our sins, too, are covered. Washed away. Removed as far as the east is from the west. And these tears too will be wiped from our eyes in His time.”
Watch Jennifer Kish describe how Pastor Makela harassed her son online — and the impact it had on her child’s mental health: