I have covered three factors explaining why 65% of Americans in a recent Religion News Service poll believe that “religious messages” about homosexuality increase gay teen suicides. First, there are hateful voices like Fred Phelps and Andrew Shirvell that get extrapolated across the church. Second, there are evangelical connections to conservative religious advocacy leaders who offer insensitive remarks. Third, our silence in the wake of the current gay teen suicide tragedy conveys – to many gay people – that we do not care.
This is the hardest post to write, because some may view what I am about to share as an egregious attack on the Body of Christ. What needs to be said must be said, but I do so in a humble spirit with a desire to help, not hurt, the church. I am an evangelical. Like you, I care about the fruitfulness of the Gospel.
The fourth factor is the reality that many gay teens experience conditional inclusion, rejection and judgment in our midst. I have encountered numerous families whose children have been asked to leave youth groups simply because they believe they are gay. Most of these kids are not sexually active; neither are they promoting pro-gay theology. The belief that they are gay becomes the threshold for expulsion.
While this form of expulsion might seem rare, there are kinder versions of it that are quite common. I have met dozens of teens who have been asked to step down from nominal positions of service. They can no longer make announcements; or sing in the worship band, or play piano at bible study or be part of mission trips. As these young people exit the church, they are propelled into the Gay Community where they tell the world of our “religious messages” – messages of condemnation and exclusion. Sadly, we end up propelling these young adults into the Gay Community right at the formation stage of their adult spiritual faith.
I am not suggesting that we adopt an “anything goes” approach that neuters church boundaries. I am also not suggesting that these issues are easy to deal with. The truth is: many of these situations are quite complex with challenging ramifications whether boundaries are implemented or not. I am simply asking this question: how much energy do we invest in creatively maximizing the welcome that gay teens experience in the church?
My Shift 20.20 leader training module offers a biblical route to accomplishing this goal. Simply contact me to schedule this training with your staff. On Monday, we will look at a fifth factor driving public perception in the RNS poll. Join me.
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