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
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
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
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
“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.”