Every church leader in America must read Rolling Stone‘s recent article about the rising number of homeless gay teens. This rise, rooted (partly) in religious parents cutting off gay children, leaves youth struggling to find shelter in even America’s most progressive cities. Homeless shelters do not always know how to house gay teens — or else they are not safe for gay youth.
Really? In 2014? Tragically, yes…
Our socially connected world is enthralled with the pseudo-reality of “online living.” This facade fuels constant-connectedness to mobile media where acceptance of LGBT+ youth is slickly rolled out. As teens devour online news, blogs, sitcoms, music downloads and a pipeline of coming out success stories, it “seems” safe to be gay.
This glossy version of reality convinces more and more gay youth to come out at earlier ages. When they do, many find that the real world is not so safe. They are exposed to bullying, teasing, exclusion, judgment and even family rejection.
If you want to do justice now, give $5,000 (or $50,000) to a local shelter that houses homeless gay youth. Or give generously to Dr. Caitlin Ryan’s research. Caitlin is a highly credentialed social worker who has led the way in chronicling the challenges gay youth face for several decades now. You could also send a volunteer work crew to help a shelter improve their facility.
Within the evangelical world, Lead Them Home has spent the last nine years creating church leader training resources to eliminate anti-gay bullying and lower suicide risk factors for gay teens. The two biggest factors are bullying and family rejection. You can contact us to learn more.
Right now, though, I ask pastors to publicly address their congregation over the next few Sundays with this simple message…
No matter what you believe about biblical sexuality, God calls you to love your child regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Bible never instructs you to disown your child. The church of Jesus Christ must lay down our lives to love gay youth. Parents, you have permission to love your kids whether they are gay or heterosexual. Jesus calls you to love well.
I meet parents who think their church expects them to respond harshly when a teen comes out. I talk to pastors who are utterly shocked to learn of this perception. This “perception gap” results from pastors discussing homosexuality as an issue about people “out there” and parents who are afraid to share that their own child has come out “in here” (in the church). We must close this gap.
I take responsibility for the wider conservative church and call it to act in justice upon this sad trend. However, it must be stressed that some pediatricians, counselors and LGBT+ community leaders also create problems when they encourage gay teens to demand that parents change their beliefs. When parents refuse, I know teens who have been advised to cut off their parents.
I neither question nor minimize the Rolling Stone story. Yet those who advise teens to disconnect from loving parents over “the belief gap” do real harm. Caitlin’s research is clear: family disconnection and/or rejection – whoever initiates it – increases suicidal risk factors for LGBT+ youth.
In this kind of crisis, it is critical to put “the belief gap” on the side. We must cooperatively address the root causes of gay teen homelessness. We cannot define love as unity in belief, but rather as tangible actions, attitudes and words. I know many conservative parents and pastors who “radically love” their gay teens. This unconditional love is critical: it should not be criticized in a manner that strips teens away from parents – and their church.
At the same time, some conservatives only see homosexuality as an abomination – and they are not about to increase care. One high-level church leader told me privately: “Your focus on gay teen suicide prevention promotes gay marriage.” I could only drop my head in deep disappointment. Thankfully, for every church leader like that, there are hundreds highly committed to increasing care and inclusion for LGBT+ youth.
Let’s get to work! Donate generously to Caitlin’s work. Support local shelters that house gay youth. Pastors, address your congregation over the next few Sundays. We are the church of Jesus Christ. We can reduce the occurrence of these tragic stories.
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