In the matter of a few weeks, we have witnessed five suicides of young people because of anti-gay bullying or abuse. And these are only the ones we know of. Whose heart does not break at these horrifying events that have led to such miserable grief and death?
It's a very sad fact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are over twice as likely to commit suicide as their straight peers. This unnecessary violence marks an immense failing on the part of our society. We, as fellow human beings, and especially as people of faith, must end this loss of precious life and step up to the challenge to fully welcome and shelter all our children -- no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.
It grieves me to the depth of my being that my church struggles endlessly over LGBT "issues," and that we read Scripture as if there weren't real LGBT people desperate for comfort right now. I see how these struggles effectively strangle any clear voicing of what the church should be shouting from the rooftops, and what it should be sought out for: embracing the downtrodden and oppressed.
One of the Bible's best-known examples of how we are to embrace the downtrodden is in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the story of one who is beaten by robbers and left by the side of the road. A priest and a Levite pass this man, but in the end, it is the Samaritan who takes pity on the man, bandages him, and pays for his food and shelter (Luke 10: 25-37).
Right now the church is like the priest and the Levite in this story, walking by the oppressed LGBT youth. This is marked by the fact that many Christian denominations, mine included, will fully recognize neither the ministry of those LGBT faithful who are called to serve nor the loving, committed relationships of their faithful LGBT congregants.
In Sunday school and church camp we show and tell eager eyes and ears that Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Our LGBT youth, especially those who are now struggling to find their way, need to see and hear that message, too. They must know that we are all precious in God's sight, and that there is no "but" in all. When we do not say this to our own LGBT sisters and brothers, we fail to say it to the world. We fail to stand with young LGBT people facing real oppression and abuse.
By these failures in love, and by calling our LGBT sisters and brothers in essence "unclean," the church persists in contributing to the thinking that leads people to cruelty, bullying, and abuse. And Scripture makes it very clear that such judgment on the part of the church is against God's wishes. As Peter learns, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane" (Acts 10: 15).
The truth is that we are each "fearfully and wonderfully made" in God's image (Psalm 139). With no exceptions. And God in Christ yearns with every fiber of God's being for the church to love. Period.
There is no waiting for the present generation to pass away. There is no waiting for somebody else to lead the way. Until we realize that LGBT people are the most beloved by God because they are the most downtrodden and abused among us, we will stink in the nostrils of God.
How on earth can we continue to witness our children bully each other and, in the most tragic of situations, take their own lives?
Scripture teaches me that the church is to be the suffering servant that God was in Christ. Christ's own tortured death was supposed to mark the end of this kind of human behavior. But attacks on innocents, like these over the past few weeks, did not end. So, we must have gotten that wrong. It will end when the church becomes the body of Christ envisioned in Scripture: the Samaritan who proved neighbor to the beaten and shunned, the suffering servant who embraces the sufferer.
If your heart breaks at the news of this month, if one of these could have been your child, if you see the senseless cruelty of these acts, then step up. Now is the time. Step up now.
Follow Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RevJanetEdwards