Friday, October 15, 2010

How Religion Is Killing Our Most Vulnerable Youth

"It's time for "tolerant" religious people to acknowledge the straight line between the official anti-gay theologies of their denominations and the deaths of these young people. Nothing short of changing our theology of human sexuality will save these young and precious lives."
[You'll want to read all of Bishop Robinson's excellent piece in today's Huffington Post, but here's an excerpt:]

Despite the progress we're making on achieving equality under the law and acceptance in society for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, why this rash of bullying, paired with self-loathing, ending in suicide? With humility and heartfelt repentance I assert that religion -- and its general rejection of homosexuality -- plays a crucial role in this crisis.

On the one hand, Religious Right hatemongers and crazies are spewing all sorts of venom and condemnation, all in the name of a loving God. The second-highest-ranking Mormon leader, Boyd K. Packer, recently called same-sex attraction "impure and unnatural" in an act of unspeakable insensitivity at the height of this rash of teen suicides. He declared that it can be cured, and that same-sex unions are morally repugnant and "against God's law and nature."

Just as many gay kids grow up in these conservative denominations as any other. They are told day in and day out that they are an abomination before God. Just consider the sheer numbers of LGBT kids growing up right now in Roman Catholic, Mormon, and other conservative religious households. The pain and self-loathing caused by such a distortion of God's will is undeniable and tragic, causing scars and indescribable self-alienation in these young victims.

You don't have to grow up in a religious household, though, to absorb these religious messages. Not long ago I had a conversation with six gay teens, not one of whom had ever had any formal religious training or influence. Every one of them knew the word "abomination," and every one of them thought that was what God thought of them. They couldn't have located the Book of Leviticus in the Bible if their lives depended on it yet they had absorbed this message from the antigay air they breathe every day.

Add to that the Minnesota Family Council's Tom Prichard recently saying that the real cause of the suicides is "homosexual indoctrination," not antigay bullying, and that the students died because they adopted an "unhealthy lifestyle."

Susan Russell from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, points out how ludicrous these statements are in her "An Inch at a Time" blog:

Thirteen and fifteen year olds are not 'adopting a lifestyle,' they're trying to have a life! They're trying to figure out who they are, who God created them to be and what on earth to do with this confusing bunch of sexual feelings that they're trying to get a handle on. They need role models for healthy relationships -- not judgment and the message that they're condemned to a life of loneliness, isolation and despair.

On the other hand, what's the role of more mainline, more progressive denominations such as mainstream Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in these recent tragedies? Mostly silence. And just like in the days of the AIDS organization Act Up, "silence equals death."

It is not enough for good people -- religious or otherwise -- to simply be feeling more positive toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Tolerance and a live-and-let-live attitude beats discrimination and abuse by a mile. But it's not enough. Tolerant people, especially tolerant religious people, need to get over their squeamishness about being vocal advocates and unapologetic supporters of LGBT people. It really is a matter of life and death, as we've seen.


rick allen said...

"They are told day in and day out that they are an abomination before God. Just consider the sheer numbers of LGBT kids growing up right now in Roman Catholic...households."

I think this "it gets better" series is by and large a positive approach. I am sorry, however, that it has also been put to such polemic use.

I cannot speak for the other religions cited, but, no, Catholicism does not consider gay people "abominations," any more than it considers divorced people, or people living together out of wedlock, or sinners of any stripe, "abominations."

The Catholic Church proclaims an ideal of chastity that it finds in the sacred scriptures and tradition. It is an ideal that very few, homosexual or heterosexual, can fully achieve, just as almost none can manage to love our enemies or give all we have to the poor.

Of course there are hateful Catholics, and plenty of Catholics ignorant of their own Church's teachings, just as there are hateful and ignorant members of any church, sect or denomination. But are you really helping these young people by assuring them that Catholics, per se, consider these kids "abominations"? Shouldn't you instead be letting them know that even those like Catholics who continue to aspire to an older cherishing of virginity and chastity do not, on the whole, obtain it, and must fall back on the mercy of God, who does not desire the death of the sinner?


rick ... the challenge I hear +Gene making is to all of us to challenge our OWN faith traditions to end the homphobic rhetoric that plants the seeds of self-loathing in LGBT youth that can grow in to self-destruction when fed and watered by bullying, badgering and abuse.

I know many fabulously faithful Roman Catholics, Evangelical Protestants and yes -- even Mormons -- who affirm and celebrate the fully humanity of LGBT people -- including their vocation to find and make a family with the love of their life.

But when their leaders speak out and use language like "instrinsically disordered" in reference to homosexuals, they plant those sees of self-loathing and need to be challenged.

IT said...

Don't forget "gross moral evil", Susan.

Rick, my wife the former Catholic endured lies, vitriol, and bile from the pulpit in the runup to Prop 8 in CA--she was just a closeted pew sitter at the time. There is LOTS of hate in the RC church and any gay child sitting there would have been reduced to tears same as my wife.

Who is now Episcopalian, in a congregation that will celebrate our wedding anniversary with us tomorrow.

And did you hear about the Archbishop in Belgium who finds an "inherent justice" to HIV deaths?

Individual Catholics are amongst the most supportive of GLBT rightsin this country. The hierarchy, however, lurches ever rightward.

Martin T. said...

Why is everything that someone says against homosexuality classified as "homophobic"? Just because some people believe it's wrong, doesn't mean they are AFRAID of it.

IT said...

Martin T:
"it". More of the language of dehumanization.

You may not be homophobic, in a linguistic sense, but you are certainly heterosexist.

And while modern science and medicine view homosexuality as a variant (like red hair, or left handedness), you continue to think of it as a pathology.

Generally I find it most useful to consider left-handedness, against which many found Biblical justification, with very sad consequences.

but quite apart from the religious aspect, what's it to you that I am a gay, married Californian? Honestly, how has this damaged any straight person's marriage?

meanwhile, my mother (over 80) frets that her daughters (me and my wife) are in danger in these times from people saying "it's wrong".