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After teen suicides, gay opponents look inward
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
October 14, 2010

After teen suicides, gay opponents look inward

After teen suicides, gay opponents look inward
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
October 14, 2010

When Rutgers University

freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself after his roommate allegedly broadcast

his sexual encounter with another man, Albert Mohler wondered if anything could

have prevented the 18-year-old’s suicide.

“Tyler could just have well

been one of our own children,” said Mohler, a father of two and president of

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who criticized the Christian treatment

of gays on his blog.

“Christians have got to stop

talking about people struggling with sexual issues as a tribe apart,” he wrote.

In the wake of a spate of

gay youths who were bullied — and some who took their own lives — Mohler and

some other vocal opponents of homosexuality are taking new steps of

introspection.

While defending traditional

Christian teaching against homosexuality, they say divisive and condemnatory

rhetoric needs to be replaced with actually getting to know a gay neighbor or

classmate.

Some have gone even further.

Exodus International, a leading “ex-gay” group, pulled its sponsorship of the

annual “Day of Truth,” which encourages students to express their disapproval

of homosexuality.

Alan Chambers, president of

Exodus, recalled the pain of being a middle schooler who was bullied because

peers thought he was gay. The recent suicides led him to think his organization

needed to lead the way in encouraging less “polar” ways of addressing

sexuality.

“I think the church really needs

to approach these issues in a much more conversational, relational, service

sort of way,” Chambers said. “Not to change our position about biblical truth —

because we haven’t done that — but to really understand that whether someone

agrees with us on this issue or not doesn’t mean that they’re not our neighbor.”

The current issue of an

Assemblies of God ministers’ journal discusses pastoral counseling on

homosexuality, and while the church maintains that homosexual behavior is “against

God’s word,” leaders say hatred and bullying are entirely inappropriate.

“It’s that balance between

conviction and compassion and we are really trying to walk a line,” said James

Bradford, general secretary of the Pentecostal denomination.

Gay rights groups,

meanwhile, remain skeptical. Such sentiments are a positive “step in the right

direction,” said Rebecca Voelkel of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,

but they do not go far enough.

“If we reach out in love,

and yet our real message is that who you are as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or

transgender person is not beloved in the sight of God, then that reaching out

may in fact be under false pretenses and could in fact be even more dangerous,”

said Voelkel, a minister of the United Church of Christ.

In recent weeks, blogger

John Shore has found many evangelicals grappling with these issues in their

comments on his blog post that connected Christian opposition to homosexuality

with gay teen suicide.

Shore, an Episcopalian from

San Diego, said he can’t applaud evangelicals who say they are sympathetic to

gays but also condemn their behavior as sinful.

“It doesn’t matter during

the course of the day how often I move to defend the gays if at the end of the

day I am convinced that the way they are is an abomination to God,” he said.

Pastor Mike Cosper of

Louisville, Ky., said he agrees with Mohler that the church could be less

judgmental about homosexuality, and believes evangelicals shouldn’t get any

more “fired up” about it than they would about greed or any other sin.

Yet he disagrees with

advocates like Voelkel who wish conservative churches would change their

viewpoint on sin.

“The reality is we have

historic faith, we have a belief and we have plenty of anecdotal and

testimonial evidence of people who’ve said I’ve walked away from this

lifestyle,” said Cosper, whose Sojourn Community Church has hosted conferences

to help pastors “shepherd people through that journey.”

Religious leaders aren’t

ready to lay the blame of the suicidal deaths of gay teens like Clementi on

themselves. But Mohler said gay friends in his congregation have helped him

realize he should not consider homosexuality “someone else’s problem.”

“Do I think the church is

primarily to blame? No,” said Mohler. “But does the church have a responsibility?

You bet. … I’m not suggesting there was some congregation that failed

(Clementi). My concern is that we’re failing many others.”