Many evangelical pastors and para-church ministries continue to intentionally debate and tear down statistics used to estimate the number of gay and lesbian youth who commit suicide. We make these arguments from inside a bubble of clean Christianity where our goal is less about individuals than it is about a Culture War victory.
In the midst of this situation, I cannot help but ask: Is not a single suicide too many?
Some will counter that arguing for accurate statistics is critical to maintaining a moral construct to the laws of our land. These evangelicals do not realize just how negatively their arguments impact teenagers currently considering suicide. The message heard is that their lives do not matter and this is a dangerous message to convey to young people at risk.
Some will counter, But Bill, you don’t get it. People are lying about the actual gay teenager suicide rate to try to legislate more and more gay rights that threaten the morality in our nation and the very fabric of our families. To which I respond, Oh, I do get it. I get that our divorces, pornographies, adulteries, work addictions and materialisms threaten morality and the fabric of our families as much or more than other kinds of sin. I get that our majority sins may even play a role – some role – in the formation of sexual orientation in teens today.
I am not out to prove that the cause of homosexuality is exclusively nurture-oriented. But neither am I out to prove the inaccuracy of gay teenager suicide statistics. If one death is too many, then I am not so bothered if those most affected by suicide stretch the numbers a bit. I am not suggesting they stretch the numbers at all. I am simply saying that ONE suicide is one too many for my comfort.
There was a boy who lived down the street from me when I was a teenager. Levi was probably 4 years younger than me. His parents divorced when he was young. He had some clear behavioral issues. He could be very gentle or quite angry. He was not an odd kid, but his personal pain made it difficult for the rest of us to take him seriously.
One night, Levi waited up for his Mom to come home. His Mom later said that he gave her a hug for the first time in a long time and then told her that he loved her. She said that he looked more peaceful than he had looked in years. Something was different. It was a sign of hope.
I was sickened to hear the next afternoon that this teenager’s Mom opened the garage door that morning to find her oldest son hanging from a rope. His body was blue and stiff. He was dead. The words “I love you” and the hug were not a sign of hope – they were a final goodbye to the Mother he loved.
The pain must have built up so high that Levi simply couldn’t take it any longer. Whatever help he was getting, apparently it was not enough. He was unable to find a safe place where he could release all the tension, anger and internal pain. This teenage boy simply had enough of this life…
What was going on underneath the surface of his life? No one will ever really know. There are likely many answers that he took with him to the grave. On more than one occasion, I wondered if Levi might be gay. Was he gay? No one will ever know. If I look at the total picture, I believe it is ‘possible’ that he was gay. But I cannot prove it. And you know what, I don’t need to. ONE suicide, for whatever reason, is one too many…
One blind spot we have as evangelicals is that we have a history of moralizing other people and basing our faith on our moral positions. I am not suggesting that morality is unimportant – but I am suggesting that people are very, very important to Jesus. He knows that we are all broken canisters unable to do good or stop doing bad. He knows we are broken to the core and that we are often further broken by wounds inflicted upon us by others. Jesus died on the Cross for ALL of this sin.
I look at a lot of websites and I note that many churches describe their pastoral care as ‘Biblical counseling.’ This description doesn’t bother me – I believe Biblical counseling is exactly what we all need. But the common meaning of this phrase does bother many because it often implies that we are more concerned about morality than we are helping people.
My problem is this: people who seek help are usually hurting. I have been involved in recovery ministries for many years. I am amazed at what we tell the 45-years old that we won’t tell the 15-year old LGBT+ teen. To the man who has three failed marriages due to alcohol and gambling addictions that lured him into sex addiction including prostitution and all manner of public sex-capades, we tell him – You are loved by God. If you’re here today, we simply want you to know that Jesus loves you. He loves you unconditionally. You are welcome here because we’re ALL sinners. God loves sinners…
Why do we do that?
The Christian band Leeland writes in their song Beautiful Lord, “…it’s Your mercy that has made me free.” We know that someone caught in the chains of addiction will only experience freedom once they realize that God is not after them with a two-by-four. We know that they have never truly experienced unconditional love – the ONLY thing that will draw them toward God…the ONLY One who can help them gain freedom. We know that underneath all the addictive and distorted drives we often find a great deal of pain. People are hurting…
We do this for the 45-year old. We often do not do this for the 15-year old LGBT+ teenager.
People who sin in ways we do not are usually hurting people. We should know this because we are also hurting people who know what it has been like to try to overcome various sins in our lives – even as mature believers. In light of this, I am convicted that we’ll tell this composite 45-year old man something we won’t tell the 15-year old LGBT+ youth. I guess it’s some kind of warped system where we decide that people need to know how sinful and immoral they are so we push them out into their immorality so that they will experience destruction and repent and come back to us so that we can tell them how much they are unconditionally loved.
This troubles me and causes my heart to ache. I care about 15-year old LGBT+ youths as much as I do 45-year adults who’ve made a mess of their lives. We all do it. How on earth can we expect that teenagers will be any different?
I want to tell that 15-year old teenager that Jesus loves them…HE LOVES YOU unconditionally. This is Biblical counseling…it’s a great place to start.
I refuse to moralize the 15-year old gay teen and present her with a tightly wrapped box of God that demonstrates why I am in the box and she is outside the box. I refuse to do that. Why? Because I’ve seen the underlying, unspoken, unheard pain that gay teenagers experience through their sexual development. There is shame. There is self-hatred. There is fear of rejection. There is fear of conditional love. And there are often suicidal thoughts.
I am not so interested in proving to this teenager why his underlying romantic desires are sinful. I am more interested in establishing a foundation of safety where his life can be preserved. If his life is preserved because he is encountered with unconditional love, then we are better able to keep that teenager in the church. And the longer he can stay in the church, the more we can help him overcome his underlying, unspoken pain…by the powerful, unmatched, unconditional love of God. We can convince him that his life is extremely valuable – which it is! – if for no other reason than the fact that he is God’s child.
This does not mean that we avoid moral truth…it simply means that we present that truth very, very carefully. We certainly do not LEAD with it. Show me a person struggling with any sin showing up in the pastoral care office of a local church, and I’ll show you a pastor who patiently engages them recognizing that the sin is not likely to go away until they understand just how much God loves them and forgives them of ALL their sins. But show me a LGBT+ teen and I’ll show you a number of pastors who feel they’ve disappointed Jesus if they don’t tell – kindly tell – the teen just how sinful homosexuality is. That teen likely needs a healthy, heterosexual, pastoral, fatherly figure in their life to feed the deficit in their soul. Instead, they get a moral rock lobbed at them.
Such teens walk out the door of the church and they never come back. Pastors walk away saying, I guess she didn’t want help. Lost in the matter is the biased treatment that this 15-year old teen receives from us compared to the 45-year old man who has committed a load more sin.
My friends, I will protect such youth! I will protect them because Jesus loves them. I will protect them because suicide sickens me. I will protect them because I know what pushes young people toward suicide. Suicide is a great temptation for those who feel as if the world operates in a box that they cannot fit into. The pressure of expectation builds. The guilt of personal failure builds. The oppression of temptation builds. The hurt of condemnation builds. The rejection of conditional love builds. Soon, they get wrapped up so tightly inside that they can no longer see a way out. Death starts to look better than life…
God forbid me to argue about gay teenager suicide statistics when there are young people in our youth groups every week who are contemplating suicide as the answer to escape the pain they feel. As the Apostle Paul might say, May it never be! May I never do this to a young person…
As founder and president of LTH, I take the risk of suicide very seriously. If you are suicidal, please click here for helpful resources. I simply cannot miss the opportunity to tell you that God unconditionally loves you. He cares deeply for you. He has a great plan for your life. He wants to help you get through whatever pain you might be experiencing that is leading you to consider taking your life. His great Gospel is for you, my friend.
God sees the entire person that you are. He loves you and He wants to bless you and use you to be a blessing to other people. We want to be a support for you. If you need help, simply click here for various resources that are available.
If you ever need to talk with someone and cannot reach family or a close friend or your counselor or pastor, I want you to know this: I invite you to contact us at (978) 212-9630. You are very valuable and special to God…and to us. Jesus wants to comfort you, and we want to help you. So if you are in crisis, you contact me if you are unable to find local support. My toll-free number lists my cell phone number if you need to reach me immediately. Know that someone is here to listen…
God bless you.