The recent series of suicides by teenagers who are gay or perceived to be gay should break our hearts and alarm our senses to the bullying that is going on and to the plight of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans) people. Forth Worth City Councillor Joel Burns, himself gay, told suicidal LGBT teens that “it gets better,” telling his own personal story of facing harassment from bullies. Please watch the video and you will get a glimpse of the pain that LGBT people face growing up, and see the faces of the teens that have died.
At York University, the external coordinator of TBLGAY (the Trans Bisexual Lesbians Gays Allies at York) who himself contemplated suicide in grade two said, “It [the suicides] points to a really big epidemic in society. Not just bullying in school, but in society in general – homophobia is alive and well.” (From the Excalibur student newspaper)
Alas, homophobia is alive and well in the churches too. Some, perhaps, would even say that the Christian church is THE source of homophobia in our culture. Author and columnist Dan Savage, who started the It Gets Better Project, clearly blames Christians for spreading homophobia and for creating an environment that leads to bullying of LGBT teens. You can read his opinions here (note: Savage uses strong language at times): “Who Teaches Straight Teenagers That Being Gay is a Choice?” and “In Your Image“.
He is not the only one who thinks so. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that two-thirds of Americans think “the message coming out of churches about gay people is negative, and about the same number say those messages contribute “a lot” to negative perceptions of gay and lesbian people.” (See Savage again in this column: Two-Thirds of Americans Say: Churches Contribute to LGBT Teen Suicides) If that does not dishearten Christians this one should. David Kinnaman of the Barna Group published his findings in a book, Unchristian (Baker 2007), where he found that 91% of non-church going young Americans (16-29 years old) believe the church is antihomosexual (which I guess is a polite way of saying “homophobic”). What is worse, (and clergy/pastors, church leaders, Christian parents please take note) a whopping 80% of church-going (and we mean faithful churchgoers) youth think the church is antihomosexual! Think about that. The majority of our own Christian youth think the church is homophobic.
My own experience as a campus pastor at York University for the past 9 years seem to validate that perception. Most young people definitely see the conservative churches’ stance of “hate the sin but love the sinner” as hypocritical. Whatever the intended message was, the message that people got is the church hates homosexuals. It seems that the actions, sermons, and messages of church leaders, by and large, are perceived as homophobic (yes, there are exceptions thankfully, e.g. Jim Wallis’ post). Either this is a major, major breakdown in communication or the church better wake up to the reality that it is infected with homophobia.
(Also check out Michele Somerville’s post on homophobia in the Catholic church and the dissenters within it.)
And people are avoiding and leaving the church because of this. The most dramatic is the recent mass exodus of 30,000 people from the state church in Finland (see this Huffington Post column). There are thoughtful young Christians in universities who have either left or are seriously contemplating leaving the church over this issue.
But most importantly, as we see with the recent rash of suicides, young people are literally dying from this. Young Christians and non-Christians are hurting, suffering from bullying and from the pain of alienation and lack of understanding. These are our children and our neighbors’ children. Regardless of your theological position on homosexuality, surely all Christians should agree that if our current practices and messages are causing death and destruction to people, including our own (and yes, there are LGBT youths in the church, many who are in the closet), we ought to stop and honestly re-examine them and re-examine ourselves. How could our gospel of love become a source of hate? Surely, we must have done something wrong.
I am not a LGBT activist.
I am a heterosexual who is married for 13 years with three daughters. But I have met and befriended gays and lesbians. I have a Christian friend who is gay. I also once had a Christian York student came out to me that he believed he was bisexual. The sad thing was that he felt he couldn’t come out to his on campus Christian fellowship friends because they had homophobic tendencies. For instance, he inwardly cringed everytime his Christian friends would use “fag”, “queer” or “gay” as derogatory jokes or put-downs, which according to him, was often. It was only after receiving my support and care that he eventually had the courage to come out to his Christian friends, and to reprimand them for their unchristian behavior and use of language. Yes, let me say it again, Christians and churches are infected with homophobia.
Yes, there are exceptions (thank God). Some churches, and even some denominations, are welcoming and nurturing of LGBT people. And I am not even talking about theology. There are churches holding to the position that homosexuality is not “normal” that still do a good job of including LGBT folks into their midst. And I know for a fact that there are theologically conservative LGBT Christians too.
So, my hope in this post is to stimulate churches and Christians to examine themselves, their behavior, their language: are we being hypocritical? why are we investing so much time and energy focusing on this “sin” while ignoring many other “sins” that the Bible spent more verses on in denouncing, e.g. greed? are we truly acting out of zeal for the faith or are we motivated by homophobia?
Let us work towards contributing to saving lives of LGBT teens, not to killing them.