According to a recent Religion News Service (RNS) poll, 65% of Americans believe that negative “religious messages” about homosexuality contribute to gay youth suicide. One factor driving this perception is the prevalence of hateful religious messages by singular voices like Fred Phelps that wrongly get extrapolated across the wider church. In my last post, I showed why Phelps is not part of the evangelical community.
The second factor driving perceptions in the RNS poll is the prevalence of conservative culture warriors who offer insensitive statements about homosexuality. While most evangelical churches have progressively moved away from culture war over the last decade, we are part of a religious movement with a 30 year history of investing heavily in it. This history still speaks loudly. Complicating this further is the fact that a sizable number of evangelical advocacy groups continue to front line the culture war.
Whether we like it or not; whether we support these voices or not; whether we are involved in culture war or not; we are inextricably connected to these “religious messages.” One religious conservative of a well-funded advocacy group recently made the claim that bullying is not the cause of gay teen suicides. Instead, he suggested that these teens likely kill themselves because they know they are “abnormal.” Unfortunately, our (perceived) spokesman tried to score culture war points in a time of grief for many families across our nation. His comments were published widely generating a firestorm of online debate just days before the telephone interviews were conducted for the RNS poll.
Is it any wonder that this poll suggests a widespread backlash against the church? We must have other voices within the evangelical community who know how to grieve with those who are grieving; and others who are willing to take action to protect gay teens against bullies. If we do not speak up, hateful and insensitive voices will continue to represent the rest of us in extremely ineffective ways.
As I mentioned in my prior post, we cannot lay the entire blame on Fred Phelps and a few conservative political leaders. We must take direct responsibility for perceptions that our “religious messages” negatively impact gay people and contribute to gay youth suicide. We must dig deeper to look at what is going on within “our” churches. We will do that in the coming days here on Lead Them Home.
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