” The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly.” Or should it be, the LORD hardened the heart of Republican politicians, fundamentalists and conservative Christian pastors, so they pursed the gays, lesbians and transgendered, who were marching out boldly.
The headlines have seen a rash of suicides lately. Suicides of young gay men that have felt death was a better option than the humiliation, rejection, and utter virulence that they receive from those around them. When the news of Tyler Clementi first started circulating, I was surprised by the focus of most of the articles and the direction that anger was being vented. The majority of the articles held up Tyler’s death as a wakeup call to bullying in our schools. I remember what bullying was like when I was younger, throughout elementary school, middle and high schools. I know how powerless it can feel like to be targeted in school and become the punchline of every joke. I remember how utterly demoralizing and emotionally crushing it was when jocks or more privileged students would humiliate me in order to make themselves feel more elevated, hiding from themselves their own insecurities. Add onto that puberty and sexual self discovery, and you have living hell. My heart breaks when I see other kids getting picked on. And to see children pick on each other, beating up the defenseless, or sending them off crying, we as adults can look at this and proclaim how wrong it is. It’s obvious when children do it, and most adults will teach that it’s inexcusable. Then why is it excusable when adults do it? Bullying isn’t a childhood phenomenon. The world is full of adults that never left childhood behind. These are adults that bullied on the playground and now bully others from seats of power, in congress, the senate, our churches… What kind of message do we hope to send to children when we tell them that bullying is bad when they can see that the adults in their world are far more insidious bullies than any child could imagine being. It’s the adults that are setting the example for these children, and the children are dutifully following that example to the T.
And this is what has surprised me about most of the coverage up until only recently. The outrage is about bullying. The articles and advocates are all decrying bullying in our schools. And granted, bullying is a serious issue, but for these specific suicides, it’s only part of the problem. With the addition of Raymond Chase, we now have five suicides of gay youth in only three weeks. These five young men died because they could not feel safe being gay in our society. Where on earth would they have gotten that idea? Is it from outrageous pastors like Bishop Eddie Long, Rev. Phelps, or any number of other conservative Christian pastors? Is it from Christian lobbyists that spend obscene amounts of money convincing politicians that gays, lesbians and transgenders should be treated like second class citizens? Is it from entire denominations that spend millions of dollars on campaigns, commercials and billboards telling the world why gays, lesbians and transgenders are evil and a threat to our very society? Is it from a Senate that just declared being out and gay in the military is still wrong and a danger to our country in their eyes. I wonder…
Only recently have I seen comments on the possibility of a hate crime being filed in court on behalf of Tyler. Why this was in question before, I’m not really sure. Do people really think that Tyler would have been targeted the way he was if he were straight? Or would the humiliation have been as severe had he been recorded kissing a woman? When society teaches that being gay is wrong and shameful, it is no wonder that youth feel so ashamed that they think death is the only way out. Focusing on bullying allows those who are actually perpetuating these crimes off the hook. A conservative politician can stand up and say how horrible bullying is to have led to this, and come across as compassionate. But that ignores the fact that the same politician who condemned homosexuality as an abomination according to his religion and proved by his votes that homosexuals are not deserving of equal civil or humane treatment as heterosexuals, the fact that his stance condoned the heterosexism of the bullies and condoned actions that led to an exceptionally gifted young man’s death.
Every conservative pastor that has ever preached against gays gets to take credit for these bullies and the suicides that follow. Every conservative politicians gets to take credit for encouraging a society that leaves the suicide of innocent young men and woman as its final goal. Every organization that has excluded people because of their sexuality (like the Mormon led Boy Scouts of America) can be blamed for these young deaths. Every parent that has kicked their child out of the house or refuses to support and acknowledge their child’s sexuality while still claiming to love them gets to take credit for these deaths. And every Christian that has ever spoken against homosexuals as sinful or unacceptable before God gets to take responsibility for these death. You didn’t hold the knife the slit the wrist? But you did. You didn’t open the bottle of pills that causes the death, but you did. You didn’t physically push Tyler off that bridge, but you did. You created a world of such hostility and hatred that these young men and women were afraid to live and be the children of God that God had made them to be.
When tragedies like this happen, I feel it’s important to focus on the big picture and to not let off the hook ALL the people who caused these deaths to occur. Sticks and stones can break our bones, but it’s words (your sermons, your bills, Prop8, you lobbying, your commercials, your anti-gay rhetoric, your endless pamphlets) that actually kill people. Jesus taught us to love one another. To all my conservative christian brothers and sisters, please, for the love of God, please see what your angry, fearful, and hateful words lead to. Please, let us start talking together rather than shouting over picket lines. Let us sit together at one table in prayer instead of condemning the other to hell. Dear God, may we find a space for love in the midst of all this pain.
Fr. McNichol’s wrote an icon called “The Passion of Matthew Shepard” some time ago and he dedicated it to the 1,470 young men and women that commit suicide every year because of their sexuality. Accompanying that icon he provided a rereading of Psalm 31. For all the gay, lesbian and transgender youth out there, know that you are loved, you are cherished, and while times may seem hard there is help for you and there is always hope. Below is Fr. McNichol’s rereading of the Psalm which I think covers all of that. God’s Peace.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted with grief, my soul and body also.
Strong, as I am, I stumble because of my inequality,
and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of my adversaries, a horror to my
neighbors, an object of dread to my
acquaintances; when they see me in the street
they turn quickly away.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have
come to be like something lost.
Yea, I hear many whispering -terror on every side! -as
they scheme together against me, to take my life.
But I trust in thee, O Lord, I say, “Thou art my God.”
Rescue me from those who persecute me!
I will rejoice and be glad for thy unfailing love,
because thou hast cared for me in my distress
and thou hast not abandoned me
but hast set me free.
Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen!