Teen Suicide, The LGBT Community, And The Church

Recently, I wrote a paper about adolescent suicide as an assignment for a counseling class. While researching this topic, I came across some startling statistics that I feel like I need to share. First, did you know that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States?[1] In adolescents (15-24), suicide is the third leading cause of death[2]! That means that, after accidents and murder, suicide kills more of our young people than any other factor.[2] This blows my mind! Still crazier, this rate skyrockets for adolescents in the LGBT community, with suicide being the number one cause of death.[3] In fact, LGBT youths are “two or three times more likely to commit suicide” than there straight peers, typically as a result of “the debilitating effects of growing up in a homophobic society”.[3]  Some research suggests that upwards of 50% of LGBT adolescents attempt suicide.[4] I think it obviously points to a larger societal issue when nearly half of any one demographic attempts suicide. 

Now, I know that I’m discussing two subjects that most of my churched friends would rather not talk about – suicide (which is a subject that carries so much weight that it’s often considered taboo) and homosexuality (a subject that we’ve been taught to resent, or at the very least, ignore).  And, I know that even posting this is risky. But, not drawing attention to this issue is, in my opinion, a far greater risk. So, please, I urge you to consider what I have to say even though it might be uncomfortable.

Based on the statistics I just referenced, I can only conclude that the church has been grossly ineffective in working with the LGBT community. What we’ve done so far, how we’ve acted so far, the way we’ve spoken so far, what we’ve argued so far – it has not been working! The fact that we’ve so adamantly “hated the ‘sin’” while attempting to “love the ‘sinner’” has not been working. People are dying, and we’re not doing a good enough job of preventing that. I’m not saying that we haven’t had good intentions; I’m saying that our intentions aren’t cutting it. 

This post isn’t about arguing about the morality of homosexuality. In fact, at least in this forum, I hope that my personal views remain ambiguous, if only to make this point: It doesn’t matter what I think about homosexuality! It doesn’t matter what you think about homosexuality. Ultimately, what we think about someone’s actions or life doesn’t give us any right to treat those people with unkindness – or, even with less kindness than we treat people with whom we agree about 100% of everything. I’m not trying to say that you don’t have a right to think whatever you want to think. You do. But, your beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of someone’s lifestyle can’t trump your beliefs about that person’s value. If, as Christians, we believe that our Creator made us in His image, then we have a responsibility to treat everyone we meet with the respect and love they deserve as image-bearers of our God!

Our friends in the LGBT community have had it pretty rough – especially adolescents. What I’m suggesting is that we don’t make it any harder. I’m suggesting that we be voices that cry out loudly that hope is real! I’m suggesting that we be advocates and protectors of life! I’m suggesting that our churches and homes be a refuge from the voices that try to convince people that life isn’t worth living. I’m suggesting that we make sure that the people around us know that their stories are important, that their lives are valuable, and that we appreciate the contributions they make to our lives. To borrow words from Jamie Twokowski (of TWLOHA), I’m suggesting that we each become “a living breathing screaming invitation to believe better things”![3]

In all that I’m suggesting, I hope that I don’t give the impression that I think I have all the answers. I don’t. I’m as much or more at fault for the current state of things than anybody who will read this. But, I’m making a commitment to be intentional about my interactions with people – even people with whom I disagree. And, I hope that in reading this, you’ll consider making that commitment too. I think we can make a difference, don’t you?

References:

[1] American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2014). Understanding Suicide: Facts and figures. Retrieved from http://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures

[2] Center for Disease Control. (2012). Suicide datasheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

[3] McWhirter, J. J., McWhirter, B. T., McWhirter, E. H., & McWhirter, R. J. (2013). At risk youth: A comprehensive response for counselors, teachers, psychologists, and human service professionals (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole

[4] Mustanski, B., & Liu, R. (2013). A longitudinal study of predictors of suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42(3), 437-448.

[5] www.twloha.com

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3 thoughts on “Teen Suicide, The LGBT Community, And The Church

  1. Very good read. I agree whole heartedly. We’ve got to do better to truly love everyone as we love ourselves and be kind to those suffering in silence.

    Gina

    >

    • Gina,

      Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts! If we believe that God is Love, then when we refuse love to others we’re tainting their experience of God. I want to do better at this.

      -(eric)

  2. Pingback: Regarding the Death of Leelah Alcorn | (inspiration for conversation)

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