After teen suicides, gay opponents look inward

October 18, 2010

(RNS) When Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself after his roommate allegedly broadcast his sexual encounter with another man, the Rev. R. Albert Mohler wondered if anything could have prevented the 18-year-old's suicide.

"Tyler could just have well been one of our own children," said Mohler, a father of two and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who criticized the Christian treatment of gays on his blog.

"Christians have got to stop talking about people struggling with sexual issues as a tribe apart."

In the wake of a spate of gay youths who were bullied -- and some who took their own lives -- Mohler and some other vocal opponents of homosexuality are taking new steps of introspection.

While defending traditional Christian teaching against homosexuality, they say divisive and condemnatory rhetoric needs to be replaced with actually getting to know a gay neighbor or classmate.

Some have gone even further. Exodus International, a leading "ex-gay" group, pulled its sponsorship of the annual "Day of Truth," which encourages students to express their disapproval of homosexuality.

Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, recalled the pain of being a middle schooler who was bullied because peers thought he was gay. The recent suicides led him to think his organization needed to lead the way in encouraging less "polar" ways of addressing sexuality.

"I think the church really needs to approach these issues in a much more conversational, relational, service sort of way," Chambers said. "Not to change our position about biblical truth -- because we haven't done that -- but to really understand that whether someone agrees with us on this issue or not doesn't mean that they're not our neighbor."

On Tuesday (Oct. 12), Mormon officials received 150,000 signatures on a petition that criticized a top church leader for condemning gay marriage and declaring that a homosexual orientation can and should be changed.

Noting Mormons' own history of persecution, church spokesman Michael Otterson said there is "common ground" between Mormons and gay rights supporters on the topic of standing against bullying and harassing young gays.

"Our parents, young adults, teens and children should therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex," he said.

The current issue of an Assemblies of God ministers' journal discusses pastoral counseling on homosexuality, and while the church maintains that homosexual behavior is "against God's word," leaders say hatred and bullying are entirely inappropriate.

"It's that balance between conviction and compassion and we are really trying to walk a line," said the Rev. James Bradford, general secretary of the Pentecostal denomination.

Gay rights groups, meanwhile, remain skeptical. Such sentiments are a positive "step in the right direction," said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, but they do not go far enough.

"If we reach out in love, and yet our real message is that who you are as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person is not beloved in the sight of God, then that reaching out may in fact be under false pretenses and could in fact be even more dangerous," said Voelkel, a minister of the United Church of Christ.

In recent weeks, blogger John Shore has found many evangelicals grappling with these issues in their comments on his blog post that connected Christian opposition to homosexuality with gay teen suicide.

Shore, a progressive Episcopalian from San Diego, said he can't applaud evangelicals who say they are sympathetic to gays but also condemn their behavior as sinful.

"It doesn't matter during the course of the day how often I move to defend the gays if at the end of the day I am convinced that the way they are is an abomination to God," he said.

Pastor Mike Cosper of Louisville, Ky., said he agrees with Mohler that the church could be less judgmental about homosexuality, and believes evangelicals shouldn't get any more "fired up" about it than they would about greed or any other sin.

Yet he disagrees with advocates like Voelkel who wish conservative churches would change their viewpoint on sin.

"The reality is we have historic faith, we have a belief and we have plenty of anecdotal and testimonial evidence of people who've said I've walked away from this lifestyle," said Cosper, whose Sojourn Community Church has hosted conferences to help pastors "shepherd people through that journey."

Religious leaders aren't ready to lay the blame of the suicidal deaths of gay teens like Clementi on themselves. But Mohler said gay friends in his congregation have helped him realize he should not consider homosexuality "someone else's problem."

"Do I think the church is primarily to blame? No," said Mohler. "But does the church have a responsibility? You bet. ... I'm not suggesting there was some congregation that failed (Clementi). My concern is that we're failing many others."


Church is to blame

Yes, conservative churches are primarily to blame for anti-gay bullying and bashing; they have been authorising and encouraging it for decades. Our (Council on Homosexuality and Religion) research and literature surveys found that most homophobic bullies and bashers have authoritarian personalities. They consider they are doing what authorities, or some of them at least, want. Happily, secular governments do not permit the church its traditional responses (torture and brutal execution), but that has not stopped the incessant preaching that: 1) homosexuals and homosexual relationships are inferior to heterosexual, and 2) that acceptance of homosexuality is damaging to society, families, heterosexual relationships, and whatever else they can think of, such as causing earthquakes, famines and droughts. Conservative christians have blood on their hands.

Sorry but that is not the case

The Bible says that ALL sins are no greater than the other. Homosexuality is a sin, just as is sex outside of marriage, group sex, sex with children, animals, etc. any type of sex outside of a monogamous marriage is a sin. Coveting the neighbors wife (fantasizing/staring) is a sin. God has a certain way that He wants things to be, the preferred way that is best for the people and society. And this way has brought us to the Western world as we know it today, a civilized way of existence as a result of following His way. Unfortunately with the pendulum swinging as it always does, other forces are doing all they can to change and break away from God's preferred way for the people. We already know this from what the Bible says in Revelations. Media manipulation and activists are doing all they can to foist their ways upon the society and normalize the behavior. Many people have fallen for "but it's biological". It has not been proven. I think that homosexuality is in some cases probably biological and other cases environmental, cultural. There is also a thing called "fluid sexuality" meaning in a lifetime a person might go one way or another. The Bible is telling those that read it and understand it to live the closet way possible to His way, and that is not promiscuity, with no morals and hedonistic mind set. The fact that there is AIDS/HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases should be a testimony that any immoral and promiscuous lifestyle is against nature and disease is the outcome. I read about "bug parties" and "gift givers/bug chasers". This reckless behavior and disregard for life can only be Satan working on the minds, hearts and souls of these men. Read:

Now, whose hands are covered in the blood of homosexuals? Not followers of Christ. Not God. How about blaming SATAN, you'd be looking at the truth. The church is providing a way for those whom are being real with themselves to come correct and avoid a life of death. I find it MOST interesting that the liberal media and other forces in the world arena are attacking the Bible and blaming the Bible for the suicides of gay youth, when in actually look at the above link, read about statistics and you come to your own conclusion about reality. The gay community is not facing the death issue in their own backyard but trying to place blame elsewhere. I am not buying it.

If all sins are equal, and it

If all sins are equal, and it is safe to assume that you have committed sins as have all people on this Earth, then you are equal to homosexuals or at least that is what your argument is stating. And don't even start with your "HIV/AIDS being God punishing people" crap because then that would mean every disease is a punishment to people. What has a newborn baby who has down syndrome done in his/her life to deserve that disease? Nothing, its just a part of nature and not God particularly punishing anybody just as STDs are natural and are not some secret ploy of God to punish all the people who have sex with multiple partners at some point in their lives. A person could practice abstinence their entire life and finally have sex with the person they love and contract an STD that way, would you say then that that person deserves it? It's the ultra conservative people in the world like you that are the real problems in society because you are all a bunch of hypocrites. As a good friend of mine always says, "faith is too often blinded by religion." You would do well to think about that before you post such ignorant comments about serious topics such as this. And to finish off this comment I'd like you to seriously ask yourself, "how would you feel if you had a son/daughter who was openly gay and was feeling the pressure of being bullied?" My bet is that with your ignorance you would try to "drive Satan" from him/her but in reality you are just pushing him/her closer and closer to the edge.

What I don't understand is...........thoughts from a UU.

Why is this even an issue?
How is it reasonable to try to save someone from going to hell because they are gay by tormenting them to the point of suicide? Also frowned upon last I checked. What does your god say about torment and persecution?
How does it affect you in any way if a person is gay or not?
When did compassion make it's exit from Christianity?
When did it become your job to judge?
Who empowered you to be the authority on what god meant?
Why can't we acknowledge that the human's who wrote the bible texts may have been fallible/biased/ignorant?
Why can't you just let people live their own lives, not hurting anyone, falling in love with who they fall in love with and let them have their day of judgment (if that exists as you say it does) with your god (if he exists as you say he does)?
Do you believe that he is incapable of handling his judicial position?
Why do feel he needs your assistance with judgment here?
Why can't you acknowledge that the fact that you believe something doesn't make it a universal truth for everyone?
Why does a legal document in a country that boasts religious freedom have to conform to the specific definition of marriage as defined by a particular religion?
Why can't a person get married in their accepting faith and have it honored by the government, and if the Christian (or any other religion) church doesn't honor it, so be it?

glad to see the spirit of christ

its wonderful to see the spirit of Christ being reflected in the Christian leaders mention in the article.....unlike some of the comments.


"That is not the case," you are out of your mind.

Blog about this sense of shared responsibility

I'm a writer in Grand Rapids, MI - which has one of the highest per-capita number of churches and Christian schools in this nation or any other. This blog is intended to engage conversation about the freedom of religion protections in the First Amendment, I hope you like it.
Freely comment and share.


A huge unexamined assumption is being made here

Please demonstrate that ANY of the people involved in bullying gay people to death have ANY connection with conservative Christianity whatsoever. In the Rutgers case the two people involved were Indian and Chinese. And they come right from my own extremely liberal school district where they are taught from day one that there are no "right or wrong" sexual values. Predicably the school system's response has been to unleash yet another wave of "all values are the same" teaching.

Most homosexual kids get picked on for exactly the same reason that all kids get picked on -- they are seen as "different" (and ANY difference is a motivator for bullies) and as being weak and defenseless." " act like a "girl -- therefore we will torment you". This has ZIP to do with Christians teaching that homosexuality is a sin.

Is harassment, or promotion of sodomy, the real cause?

Harassing any human being is absolutely uncalled for. I once had to personally intervene to stop a "mellow" Californian from harassing two gay men who were minding their own business.

That is not the 500-pound gorilla in the room, however. People have been harassing other people forever, and while it is very wrong, it is difficult to see how such a constant factor can be responsible for any INCREASE in teen depression and suicide. The 500-pound gorilla in the room, which is a RECENT development in America, and which is being scandalously ignored, is that fact that American society now encourages teenagers who are merely experiencing same-sex attraction, to physically ACT on that attraction, by engaging in sodomy, repeatedly, with multiple partners. Now THAT is a recipe for disaster. We encourage teenagers to engage in sodomy and then wonder why they are so messed up? These teenagers are need to be informed that they should NOT act on the attraction, IF they want to stay healthy (sodomy has killed more young Americans than have died in any foreign war America has fought in) and IF they want to have a realistic chance at developing heterosexual attraction (the highly-respected Dr. Robert Spitzer of Columbia Univ. has stated that the longer one pursues the "gay" lifestyle the harder it becomes to leave that lifestyle). Incredibly, school counselors, college officials, and others, led by the APA, encourage "self-exploration" and tell people experiencing same-sex attraction they are stuck with it and have no prospect of change, which is false and deceitful. Some people can change from that lifestyle, just as some alcoholics can recover from alcoholism, and the earlier they seek change the more likely is their success. All teenagers deserve to know there is a possibility of moving beyond same-sex attraction just like there is a possibility for recovery from alcoholism.

Mark Adams Brown
San Angelo, Texas
October 21, 2010