The evangelical community will be held to a very high standard in terms of how we care for LGBT+ persons given that we hold to a theological belief that prohibits their expression of same-gender love and romance. While I said in the prior post that evangelicals do not prevent gay people from living full lives today, the fact is that our community has a 30+ year history of fighting against LGBT+ rights to serve openly in the military; adopt; marry; and obtain same-gender partner health care benefits. All of this constitutes a “posture” that is viewed by a sizable portion of our society as bigoted – even hateful.
In light of this, we should not be surprised that 65% of Americans perceive our “religious messages” as a factor contributing to gay teen suicide. To close this series, I would like to share several ideas for healing this perception.
(1) When Fred Phelps comes to your town, join with the LGBT+ community to stand against this hateful religious message. Contact your local police department and take a few LGBT+ leaders to lunch. Let them know you want to be notified whenever Westboro Baptist Church comes to town; and let them know that your congregation will volunteer to be part of the human shield.
(2) Transcend politics and culture war by getting involved in your local school district’s attempts to prevent bullying. Bullying is a top risk factor for gay teen suicide; it kills. We must protect gay teens. Remember: nearly every parent of the gay teens who have recently died are not blaming evangelicals for their beliefs – they are blaming ineffective anti-bullying policies and schools that have been unresponsive to bullying complaints. We must stand with these parents, as well as teens who are still alive and suffering from bullying.
(3) Do not remain silent in the wake of this current gay teen suicide crisis. See Lead Them Home’s new Facebook event, Evangelicals Grieving The Gay Teen Suicide Surge. Let your congregation and your community know that you care about these young lost lives. This is a simple thing to do – and many are responding. Join the effort! See RESOURCES for more details or contact me. Please share our event with other church leaders.
(4) Do not compromise your theological convictions, but never allow your theology to turn into legalism. If you are not investing creative energy in attempting to maximize hospitality offered to LGBT+ people in your church, you may be falling into legalism. We should not be content that gay people do not sense much welcome in our midst. We must work hard to nourish -rather than chop at the roots of – faith in gay people.
(5) Encourage evangelical parents to engage their LGBT+ teens – instead of moralizing them or limiting interaction. If we believe so strongly that homosexuality is rooted in relational deficits, we should be about the work of repairing those deficits. Our Family Care Seminar can help you accomplish this objective. We must recognize that rejected gay teens may be 8 times more likely to attempt suicide. Even small reductions in rejecting attitudes and behaviors can significantly lower suicidality.
Some will suggest that the RNS poll results are inflated because the media’s focus on gay teen suicide was peaking around the time the telephone interviews for the poll were conducted. This is a valid point. However, whether 65% or 35% of Americans believe there is a connection between our religious messages and gay teen suicide, this perception is not nearly as important as the real lives that have been lost. It is not a particular poll or people’s perceptions but the problem itself that we must address. We have work to do.
The “work” we have to do has nothing to do with a change in our sexual morality doctrines and beliefs. We can keep our faith and its’ teachings; it is our “posture” that must shift. How can churches get this right? Join me next time to find out.
(1) Religion writer John Shore takes a more critical view on the danger of our scriptural beliefs. I think it is valuable to understand his position. It is intuitively obvious that a prohibitive view does cause pain for gay teens. My point in this post is simply to suggest that mitigating factors can help reduce this pain. These mitigating factors are significant, but may not be fully accessible to teens.
(2) Dr. Ritch Savin Williams, professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University and author of The New Gay Teen, offers an optimistic view that 90% of gay teens are thriving. Some of the mitigating factors I reference above give credence to his position. That said, I know a heck of a lot of gay teens who struggle.
(3) Read the November 6, 2010 Boston Globe article, “For Gay Teens, It Still Needs To Get Better.” The article stresses the importance of family acceptance, but also recognizes the reality of bullying that gay teens face. Most of these dangers are rooted in secular sources unrelated to “religious belief.”
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