This week, I am identifying factors that may explain a recent poll showing widespread public perception that “religious messages” about homosexuality from the church contribute to gay teen suicides. We have looked at two factors so far: first, the prevalence of hateful messages like that of Fred Phelps and Andrew Shirvell; and second, the prevalence of insensitive messages from conservative advocacy groups.
The third factor is our silence following recent gay teen suicides. This wave of lost lives suggests an epidemic, a surge or a lack of awareness about what already has been happening for years. Whatever scenario you hold to, my question is this: do we actually hear about these young bullying victims from the pulpits of our churches?
Do we remember the grief of mothers and fathers who have lost children to suicide? Do we address the dangers of bullying to protect our own youth? Do we implore our youth (and adults) to refuse to be part of teasing or bullying those who are different? Where does this tragedy surface in our churches? Do we refer to it in sermon illustrations? Do we devote an entire sermon to it? Do we include this issue in corporate prayer during worship? How does the world know that we care about what is happening to these young gay teens?
As I survey sermons across the country in the wake of this tragedy, I am finding that beyond the Facebook world our evangelical response is heavily bent toward silence. That said, the silent voice is not silent at all; it translates into a “religious message” that speaks quite audibly about how we handle homosexuality. At a minimum, it says that we are uncomfortable with gay people. Or maybe we are afraid that expressing condolences might condone sin. The worst case scenario would be a doctrinal hardness that keeps us from feeling the depth of sorrow that is warranted in these tragic deaths.
To overcome perceptions that our “religious messages” contribute to gay teen suicides, we cannot be silent. If your church leaders are looking for a biblical response to counter silence, I invite you to contact me and ask about my Shift 20.20 leader training module. It offers practical and tangible ways that your church can reach out to and care for LGBT+ people in the church. Please share this opportunity with other church leaders.
As a pastor, you can take one easy step to express Christian compassion for the gay teens who have recently committed suicide. Simply refer to them in your sermon or pray for them during corporate prayer this Sunday. You might want to check out the bullying that Asher Brown or Billy Lucas endured before finally succumbing to suicide. Or read my post on the Justin Aaburg memorial video set to the beautiful but tragic song “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry. In this time of national grief, it is important to let people hear your voice…
Join me in the coming days as I wrap up my analysis of the RNS poll.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Beyond Facebook and other online discourse, do you hear your local church addressing the bullying and suicide deaths of gay teens? To add your feedback, simply use the comment form below. You may elect to comment as “Anonymous.” Share this article on Facebook, Twitter, Buzz or by email. Share Lead Them Home with others today.