Did you see the courageous and prophetic response given by the United Methodist Church in response to the recent spate of LGBT teen suicides?
I know, me neither.
In light of these recent tragedies, perhaps it’s time to look at the church’s liability, or at least their culpability in the suicides of teens who feel repressed, hated, and bullied by society and institutions in our society.
Consider Jamie Nabozny of Ashland, Wisconsin. A public high school student in the mid 90’s who was bullied, threatened, and terrorized because of his perceived sexuality. School officials knew of the abuse, but said, “Nabozny should expect it if he’s gay.” To make a long story short, he sued, and a Federal Appeals Court finally ruled in his favor, finding that the school district could be held liable for not stopping anti-gay abuse. When the lower court then ruled that the officials were to be held liable, the district quickly settled for a million dollars.
So it follows, does the church by its pronounced stand on homosexuality have blood on its hands?
There is undoubtedly a United Methodist Church in every community that the bullied and now dead children once lived. In every community where a child committed suicide, that church was a reminder to those kids that they were not equal in the sight of God. Some of those churches are undoubtedly conflicted about that stance, and others are quite happy to remind their community that homosexuality is an abomination in the site of the Lord, “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and is not to be tolerated.
Some of us make jokes, others become enraged, and certainly we all cluck our tongues when we discuss the Catholic church’s problems with child abuse: how shameful it is that the institution has actively sheltered the abusers while leading the lambs out to the wolves. Is their error of commission any more grievous than our own errors of omission? How can we continue to ignore the cry for relief from our own discrimination?
Outside of the church, the response to the bullying deaths has been notable. The president of the United States proclaimed yesterday that “homosexuality is not a choice.”
“We’re all children of God,” Obama said. “We don’t make determinations about who we love. That’s why I think discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong.”
15 year old Billy Lucas killed himself in his grandmother’s barn where his mother would find his body, hanging from the rafters. She would later refuse to write an obituary or have a public funeral for him, because “she didn’t want those kids who had hurt him to see him.”
The provocative sex columnist Dan Savage wrote in his syndicated column
” He (Billy) reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body…. I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”
Savage started a website and a YouTube channel called “It Gets Better”, devoted to posting messages from people who want to counsel young people that there is a life and hope beyond the bullies. (Episcopal church bishop Gene Robinson has posted a video.) Some of the videos are incredibly poignant. Savage notes that in real life, gay adults are never allowed to even talk to children about sexuality, so his internet campaign has become an accessible way for teens to get a message of hope and not harm.