I have presented four factors to help explain why 65% of Americans believe “religious messages” about homosexuality contribute to gay teen suicide. They are: the prevalence of hateful messages about gay people; the visibility of insensitive messages about homosexuality; the church’s silence in the wake of gay teen suicides; and the rejection gay people directly or indirectly experience in (or from) the church.
The fifth factor is the orthodox belief that scripture forbids same-gender sexual relationships. For many people, this belief is highly offensive. They perceive it as an attack on gay people; one that reduces self-esteem and increases suicidality. While it is intuitively plausible that biblical prohibition hurts gay teens, our modern world offers significant mitigating factors that are worth noting.
First: homosexuality has been deemed to be immoral – or at odds with nature – by many religions and cultures for thousands of years. Despite this socio-historical fact, a May 2010 Gallup Poll found – for the first time ever – that a majority of Americans now consider gay relationships to be morally acceptable. Rapid diversification allows LGBT+ people to meet their emotional, mental, social, romantic and spiritual needs. In spiritual terms, there are more gay and gay-affirming churches than ever before. The hundreds of It Gets Better stories attest to all this. My point: those who hold to an orthodox view of sexual morality do not prevent gay people from living full lives; and they no longer are viewed as the sole “keepers” of truth. Gay people enjoy widespread scientific, societal and religious support.
Second: as I mentioned in an earlier post, three key factors are trending favorably for LGBT+ teens. They are: a downward trend in the general teen suicide rate; a decline in how often churches teach on homosexuality; and an increase in the sensitivity with which churches address homosexuality. My point: many churches care for LGBT+ teens more hospitably than ever before. Further work is needed, but the trend lines are moving in the right direction.
Third: gay researcher Dr. Caitlin Ryan has found that “family rejection” – as opposed to religious belief itself – is a top risk factor for gay teen suicide. Teens and young adults from highly rejecting families are up to 8 times more likely to attempt suicide. Dr. Ryan’s message to religious families is simple: without anyone changing their theological beliefs, even a modest lowering of rejecting attitudes and behaviors significantly lowers the risk factors for suicide.
Orthodoxy itself is not dangerous; it becomes dangerous when religious people use it as the basis for rejecting teens and/or use it as a basis for not helping to protect gay teens from bullying. To love others, to refrain from judgment and to protect those who are vulnerable are three of the most basic principles in the teachings of Jesus. Living this out does not water down orthodoxy; living this out protects orthodoxy from becoming legalism.
Join me tomorrow as I bring this review of the RNS poll to a close.
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