Tuesday, October 05, 2010

An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Gay Youth Suicides

Dear Clergy Colleagues:

It’s Tuesday morning, and you are probably not quite ready to think about next weekend’s sermon. Perhaps you’ve already announced the upcoming topic in your newsletter. I am praying that you might be willing to change it.

You may know that October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a day that encourages gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people to publicly state who they are. In light of the at least five gay youth who killed themselves in September, it’s time for us to come together as religious leaders and say, “Enough.”

I’m hoping that next weekend from your pulpits you will come out with your support for GLBT youth and adults. Yesterday, I issued this challenge to the nation’s clergy in a column for the Washington Post. You can read it at http://ow.ly/2Oj7l

In part, it read:

All of us have teens and young adults who are gay or lesbian in our congregations, many who are suffering in silence and are at risk. A study done by my colleagues at the Christian Community, found that 14% of teens in religious communities identify as something other than heterosexual. Almost nine in ten of them have not been open about their sexuality with clergy or other adult leaders in their faith communities. Almost half have not disclosed their sexual orientation to their parents. And nonheterosexual teens who regularly attend religious services were twice as likely as heterosexual teens to have seriously considered suicide. Our young people are dying because we are not speaking out for them.

What if next weekend all of us told them from our pulpits how heartbroken we are by Tyler Clementi’s suicide and that we want to make sure that no young person in our community would ever feel such despair? Or perhaps you can begin to develop sexuality education programs in your community for youth and parents that include education about sexual orientation and gender identity. Include books in your congregation library about new theological understandings of sexual orientation and pamphlets from LGBT persons in your vestibules. Invite LGBT adults in your congregations to lead worship or education programs and tell their stories. Tell your teens and young adults that you love them, that God loves them and that you will stand with them in the face of bullying, victimization, and harassment. Invite them, beseech them to come to you or other trusted adults if they are even remotely thinking about taking their own life.

As a member of the Religious Institute network, I know that you support full inclusion of LGBT persons. I hope you’ll join with clergy across the United States in speaking out this weekend. For worship resources, see our online guide, Acting Out Loud.

You may remember that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” It is time for all of us to act.

In Faith,

Rev. Debra W. Haffner


Eric Folkerth said...

Debra: Thanks so much for this important and timely challenge. I have been praying much about this over the past few days, and do believe God is calling us to speak out this coming Sunday.

You have correctly identified that the silence of religious leaders and faith communities allows this bullying to take on a *theological* and *spiritual* acceptance that should chill us all.

Now is the time for religious leaders to speak. Thanks for issuing the challenge

Tyson said...

Thank you for providing that loud and strong voice in the Post. Now more than ever it's important that gay youth and other open-minded seekers have the chance to find a UU church.