Dear Clergy Colleagues:
It’s Monday 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.
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.
Yes, you. Studies show that almost six in ten clergy from mainline denominations support the full inclusion and acceptance of LGBT persons, yet more than eight in ten of us know that our faith communities are capable of becoming more understanding and helpful towards gay teens or those struggling with questions about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Other studies have found that eight in ten of even the most progressive clergy don’t have programs in their congregations to support LGBT youth. It is past time for us to “Act Out Loud.”
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. We have known for more than thirty years that at least one third of all suicides to teens are to gay youth.
Our young people are dying because we are not speaking out for them. Ask yourself honestly, do the LGBT youth in your community know that you welcome and support them? How would they know? Would they come to you as their minister, rabbi, or imam to talk about these issues? Would a LGBT youth feel welcome in your faith community’s youth group? What have you done to make sure that these youth know they are loved and supported, that you understand that they too are God’s children?
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. There are many resources available to help you preach, educate, counsel and pray on these topics.
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.