Gay Kids Committing Suicide - What Can the Church Do?
The Huffington Post had an article out a few days ago about LGBTQ kids and suicide. And it’s alarming. [First of all, a note. The data is from 2011, which means that this information is seven years old. I don’t know how much things may have changed since then. Also, the data for trans people was too small to be analyzed. Moving on.] LGBTQ people 18-30 who claimed to be religious were far more likely to be suicidal or to have attempted suicide recently than non-religious LGBTQ young people. In addition, for heterosexual people, religious activity actually was protective against suicidality. And, not surprisingly, suicidality was higher for LGBTQ people than heterosexuals.
I have a 23 year old daughter who is bisexual. These numbers disturb me greatly. How high is her risk for suicidality? She’s currently non-religious. I suppose I should be grateful for that. Ha.
How is this happening? How are we, the church, making our brothers and sisters feel so unloved and uncared for that they are considering suicide. I’m sure that some people are going to say that they are depressed because they are sinning. That this is a choice that they need to stop making. Really? Who chooses to be gay in a society like ours that still does not support “coming out”? No. Gay people don’t choose this “lifestyle”. They are born attracted to people of the same sex.
I guess being told over and over and over and over that your deepest feelings are sinful can mess you up pretty good. Most Evangelical churches teach that homosexual activity is a sin, even if homosexual urges aren’t. More fundamental churches may even teach a more explicitly damaging theology and say things like “God hates fags”. Which, by the way, isn’t in the Bible. I’ve read the whole thing and it isn’t there.
I can see how you could feel like your existence is invalid if you grow up in even an Evangelical church - like my daughter did. The youth group focused on saving sex (heterosexual) for marriage. Lots of purity stuff. Mostly sideways mentions of homosexuals not “walking the straight and narrow”. The primary mention of homosexuality was from the pulpit for the very occasional sermon about LGBTQ stuff and how we should oppose marriage equality (because we can’t share civil rights with the gays).
But, here we are now. There are probably young adults in every Evangelical church in the country dying inside and thinking about dying physically. How do we help them? Loving them in a condescending “Jesus loves you but wants you to be celibate” way is not very helpful. Preaching at them is also not useful. Our LGBTQ friends and family need to be loved unconditionally. Not like a project. Like the friend or family member that they are.
We need to relearn everything that we ever thought about homosexuality. I recommend starting with The Reformation Project. They have a tab where you can get a basic understanding of how we can integrate our LGBTQ brothers and sisters into our churches. You can also order God and the Gay Christian. This book makes an eloquent argument for homosexuality, appropriately expressed, being a part of God’s plan. This information is not only good for those of us on the outside, but it can also help our LGBTQ friends and family who are struggling with their identity after being told for years that they have no place in the church. The Reformation Project (and other organizations, but this is the one I know most about) wants to help LGBTQ people see that their sexuality can be part of God’s plan, that the “clobber passages” in scripture really aren’t so scary, and that God loves them and offers them the same salvation and grace that he offers all of us.
When our churches are willing look at this issue head on, we may find ourselves updating our way of thinking. (Another good book is Changing our Mind by David Gushee). The information is there, just like in abolition, the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Rights movement. We just need to do the research. We need to really use the tools of hermeneutics and exegesis to get past the surface reading of texts. What does the Bible really say?
In the meantime, our young people’s lives are at stake. They are either going to remain depressed and suicidal or they are just going to leave the church. Neither is a good options. What will we do, Church?