A new birth: Faith and equality for LGBT youth, families and the nation

This season, Americans of all religious stripes this year may have to admit to their children that they’ve been perpetrating … Continued

This season, Americans of all religious stripes this year may have to admit to their children that they’ve been perpetrating an untruth. At a time when we’re told not to forget the “reason for the season,” many must close the door on a part of their son’s or daughter’s childhood and tell him or her that certain stories about mostly-eaten cookies, hand-scrawled notes, and soot smeared on the floor were really not true. But life for those children will go on. They’ll just be a little older and a little wiser. Not so for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children.

For some families like Jane and Joe Clementi, whose son Tyler killed himself in 2010 after being bullied and humiliated for being gay, this holiday season will be a far more difficult one. These families and others have suffered a tragic loss because their children were made to believe ending their lives would be better than growing up gay in America. The day-to-day gifts of joy they gave their parents, siblings and friends stopped with their deaths – and nothing will make what could have been their futures, their lives and their gifts to those around them a reality.

There is a common culprit here: the misuse of religious teachings to justify stigma and hostility against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, especially youth. Let’s hope that during this season, people across this nation will pause for a moment to recognize that this is just as wrong today as it has been in the past.

I used to be on the side of that stigma. I used to believe that LGBT identity was incompatible with scripture – that LGBT youth had no choice but to either attempt to become straight, or to lead celibate lives, denying their sexuality altogether. But I came to recognize that I was wrong, and that we are all equal in the sight of God. To that end, I helped co-found Faith in America, which works to end the harm to LGBT Americans from religion-based bigotry. And we have just launched a new Web site, Faith and Equality, which features the voices of men and women like Jane Clementi, to promote a message that all of us – especially LGBT youth and their families – need to hear: that religious conviction and LGBT equality are not opposing values, but are one and the same.

For if there is not clarity in the minds of some people of faith as to why the anti-gay religious industry’s war must end now, it really should be obvious. Do we as communities of faith want to support a social climate that would make a young person feel death is preferable over life? What a terrible lot for a faith community if that is the case – and unfortunately it is, thanks to many in our society who seek to plunder the souls of LGBT youth.

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, recently linked marriage equality to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. As astonishing as that sounds, some pastors have been even more direct in saying God is punishing America because of the mere existence of gay people.

For most adults, such diatribes seem absurd. However, to an LGBT 12-year-old, 15-year-old, or 19-year-old, these painful messages are often taken in rather than cast off. As it enters the psyche of that young person, it tears them to pieces. Our youth hear that they are sinners, unclean, undeserving of the same rights that other Americans enjoy, and unworthy of God’s love – much less ours. We believe that anti-LGBT rhetoric becomes an action.

Gay and lesbian individuals are not the only Americans who have been relegated to second-class citizenship at the hand of misguided religious teachings. African-Americans were once labeled as a cursed lot. Women also have been denied equality in this country, as many believed they stood more in favor with their God by standing opposed to full equality for women.

Many religious Americans look back on those periods in history and recognize these teachings as misused and misconstrued to deny African Americans and women full equality. Yet too many Americans today fail to view the history of religion-based bigotry against gay and lesbian citizens with the same clarity and fairness.

If one segment of society should shout out its opposition to violence against youth, it should be our faith communities and persons of faith. Whether the outward violence of a sick individual or the violence that is inflicted through more subtle emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds, this holiday season must mark a new beginning.

Let’s resolve that 2013 will be the point in history where we no longer offer the imprimatur of respectability to the notion that a person’s sexual orientation is something to be shamed and condemned, nor to anyone who promotes that notion

Here Faith In America asks of people of faith of all stripes beginning today, throughout the holiday period and throughout every year to come: When you are sitting at the table of fellowship, and someone implies that the affirmation of LGBT people is somehow a moral stain on our society, speak up for what you know is right.

Let the person know that his or her attitudes and words in fact demean the very ideals of joy and peace that the holiday represents. In your own way, tell those sitting around you that it is time to put religion-based stigma and hostility against gay and lesbian people in its rightful place as a great social injustice of the past.

Let the youth sitting at that table hear this truth.

Brent Childers serves as executive director of Faith In America, an advocacy organization working to educate the public about the harm caused to LGBT youth and families by religion-based bigotry.

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  • Bronxgirl

    Thank you for such a wonderful and honest article. I feel that many of these so-called “religious” people use the bible and it’s teachings to hide behind their bigotry. And it’s true that perhaps adults have more perspective when hearing such discriminatory rhetoric, but young people don’t have the maturity to take those words in their stride. Last year my (Indianapolis) PFLAG chapter held a panel discussion on bullying. We learned that between September and October 2010, at least 15 boys committed suicide due to bullying because they were gay or perceived to be gay. I have read things that people say such as “gay people are a sub-species” to “gay people will mean the end of civilization as we know it.” As the parent of a gay son, I find these statements insulting and hurtful. I recently read that one pastor wanted to round up all the gays and lesbians and put them in a concentration camp. This pastor cannot know that I am Jewish and how terrifying these words sound. More people have to step up and stop this type of hate speech. Too many of these people are getting away with it. Thank you for what you are doing to make a difference!

  • AgentFoxMulder

    The belief that something is a sin does not necessarily lead to either bigotry or bullying. If it did, we would see bullying violence against adulterers, against drunks, against thieves, etc. No there is something different at the heart of that kind of violence. And by continuing to blame it on religion, Mr. Childer’s side are missing the root cause of the issue.

    There is no correlation between religious teachings regarding people of other races, women and homosexuality. The teachings that were used to foster bigotry against African Americans were truly erroneous. So much so, that I continue to scratch my head as to how anyone could actually read the Bible and believe that the African race is any different than any other race. No, I believe that in the case racism, the bigotry came first and distorted the understanding of scripture.

    In the case of equality for women, the teaching of scripture is debated as to the role of women holding office in the CHURCH. But it is quite clear that Christ actually elevated the status of women by any fair reading of the gospels.

    Unlike race and gender, however, homosexuality is CLEARLY stated in scripture to be a sin. The verses involved leave no room for misinterpretation. And if Mr. Childer’s believes in equality, I must assume that he believes religious disapproval of adultery and theft and drunkenness are also bigoted.

    Bullying is a sin. Bigotry is a sin. They both violate the second of the two greatest commandments. Yet we don’t call it bigotry to be against bullies and bigots. Is it only bigotry to believe that homosexuality is a sin?

    I have little doubt that our culture will fully accept homosexual lifestyles in time. But I do NOT believe that our cultural acceptance of something changes God’s perspective on what is and is not sin.

  • Catken1

    “There is no correlation between religious teachings regarding people of other races, women and homosexuality. The teachings that were used to foster bigotry against African Americans were truly erroneous. ”

    Yes, those were Other People’s Prejudices, and therefore they’re illogical and nonsensical. This is MY Prejudice, and therefore it is Right and Set in Stone.

    “Unlike race and gender, however, homosexuality is CLEARLY stated in scripture to be a sin. ”

    And of course, we in America do not ever have the freedom to question Scripture, do we?

    Never mind that scripture was written in a time when due to high infant death rates and the need to defend the tribe against outsiders, it was important to coerce every fertile person into breeding as much as possible, and therefore authorities did their best to condemn non-procreative sex. Never mind that we are now in a vastly different position, as a society, one in which overbreeding poses far more of a danger to us than underbreeding. Nope, the rules must NEVER, EVER change, even if the situation does.

    That’s about as logical as arguing that if your mother tells you to clean your plate when you are a child who needs all the nourishment you can to grow, and when the portions she has doled out to you are reasonable for your age and health, you must still clean your plate even when you are an obese adult and your plate has been filled by a restaurant’s judgment with more unhealthy food than any one person should eat in a day.

    “Bullying is a sin. Bigotry is a sin. They both violate the second of the two greatest commandments. Yet we don’t call it bigotry to be against bullies and bigots. Is it only bigotry to believe that homosexuality is a sin? ”

    Bullying and bigotry directly harm other people. So do adultery and theft and drunkenness. Try again.

  • Catken1

    “But I do NOT believe that our cultural acceptance of something changes God’s perspective on what is and is not sin. ”

    When you can provide any evidence whatsoever for a god, let alone one who calls love and family “sinful” just because of the genitals possessed by the heads of the family, then we’ll talk. Until then, your deity has no place making civil law for the rest of us, any more than we have requiring you to make your family arrangements based on Sharia law or Pagan laws or any other religious doctrine.

  • Catken1

    “The belief that something is a sin does not necessarily lead to either bigotry or bullying. If it did, we would see bullying violence against adulterers, against drunks, against thieves, etc.”

    Ah, but adultery, drunkenness, and theft can tempt anyone. Homosexuality is only tempting to some people, and therefore offers a perfect platform for those religious hetero sorts who like to feel superior to others, and who view bullying others as a way to make themselves feel better. It’s a great ego booster, to view yourself as “immune” to the “sin” those Bad People Over There are indulging in. And those of the leadership who ARE gay by nature are taught that, in order to keep their power, they need to scream even LOUDER about the evils of homosexuality in order to keep their own sexuality under wraps, under cover, in hiding rather than lose their power.

    Besides which, homosexuality threatens the power structure of many religions, the power structure based in strict enforcement of sex-based roles. You’ll notice those churches that still act as though one’s entire function in life is set at birth by one’s sex, those churches especially that still demand male dominance and male rule over women, are the most likely to condemn gays, because homosexuality is deeply threatening to their power in a way that theft, adultery and drunkenness aren’t.

  • DavidJ9

    Why do “conservative Christian” groups treat women as second-class citizens? Why do they refuse to acknowledge that Jesus taught that we must treat our neighbor as ourself and that everyone, even gays and blacks and women, are our neighbors? Why do these people even get to claim that they are followers of Jesus?

  • Catken1

    Because the male leadership of those churches, by defining women as second-class citizens, give themselves a power base where they have others to dominate, people unquestionably declared subordinate to them and to their will. Male dominance also ensures that women have less power, less control, less security, and are more likely to turn to religion as a consolation.

    That’s why homosexuality and abortion are at the center of those churches’ hate list. Birth control, too, for some, but it’s too readily accepted now for them to really have much traction in fighting it. Homosexuality denies the importance of sex-defined roles in marriage and family, since it shows that you do not have to have a dominant/subordinate relationship based exclusively on sex to have a real marriage and a happy, secure family. Abortion and birth control mean that a woman is no longer tied down to her reproductive abilities, having all of her energy and strength taken up in bearing and bearing and bearing until it kills her, and therefore that she has more time and energy to devote to other things, including activities that allow her independence from male domination and control. That is a large part of the reason why the church spends so much more energy on those issues than on condemning sins like theft, abuse, cruelty and murder, which do not threaten their power and control.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Catken and David, you have predictably both missed my point.

  • Catken1

    Your point being that the Bible says it’s a sin, we must never ever question the Bible’s word even if our social, moral and community context has changed drastically since then, and therefore it is wrong and sinful for Christians to accept homosexuality as the natural human variation that it is. But that calling it a sin to be gay, and making a much bigger fuss in public about the sin of homosexuality as opposed to sins that actually hurt people (so that you all have people to feel superior to, and can feel smug about your not being tempted by that particular sin), doesn’t lead to bullying, at all, never mind that it does and has. We get that. It’s just stupid.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Still missing it.

  • Catken1

    So what is it? Enlighten us with your superior wisdom, oh one who is holy enough to understand why God gave love and marriage to most of his children and told them it was good, but then turned on others and told them to hide his good gifts away in the closet lest he set them on fire for enjoying them?

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Of course, I don’t believe in the evolutionary world view so I actually DO consider bullying to be a sin and NOT a natural part of the human condition. Still, the article offers a glimpse into the perspective of the world through the eyes of the evolutionist.

  • Catken1

    It can be both. Many things which have evolutionary purposes are also wrongs. Evolution is an amoral process, and does not necessarily accord one-for-one with human morality.

    And do you also not believe in gravity? Or is evolution the only fact you deny because it suits your religious views to do so?

  • itsthedax

    “… through the eyes of an anthropologist.”

    Fixed it for you.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    an anthropologist who believes in evolution enough to use it in his thesis regarding the origin of bullying. Whew! I like my original way of saying it better. “Evolutionist.”

  • ThomasBaum

    AgentFoxMulder

    You wrote, “Of course, I don’t believe in the evolutionary world view so I actually DO consider bullying to be a sin and NOT a natural part of the human condition.”

    If you believe in sin than you probably believe in the fallen nature of man, do you?

    If you do, than don’t you think that the fallen nature of man is a natural part of the human condition?

    Aren’t we called to “rise above” our fallen human nature?