By Alli Hill
Two-thirds of Americans said they see connections between messages coming from America’s places of worship and higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth, according to research published by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.
According to the October study, which surveyed a random sample of 1,010 adults, more than four in 10 people gave religious organizations a “D” or an “F” on their handling of the issue of homosexuality.
Dr. C. Ben Mitchell, Graves professor of moral philosophy, said the findings might be a reflection upon recent media attention on the bullying and hazing of homosexuals following the recent death of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
In September, Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River and connects New Jersey to New York, after his roommate posted a video on the Internet of Clementi revealing his sexuality.
Mitchell said comparing the church’s message on homosexuality to the increase in suicides among gay and lesbian youth is challenging.
“It is difficult to say what the link to the suicides might be,” Mitchell said. “I am not sure we understand suicide enough to make a direct connection.”
Some churches, such as Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., take strong stands on homosexuality.
According to its website, www.godhatesfags.com, the church distributed fliers to United Nations ambassadors and much of the world’s free press stating, “All nations must immediately pass and enforce laws that make sodomy a capital crime — punishable by death.”
The controversial church is known for picketing outside of homosexual events and military funerals with offensive signs.
Mitchell said Westboro is everything Jesus is not.
“There is no reason a person struggling with his or sexuality would ever go to Westboro,” Mitchell said. “Jesus was firm, but he was never cruel. The church should be ministering to people where they are, to get them to become what God wants them to be.”
Churches in Jackson say they aim to treat homosexuality biblically, yet compassionately.
“I have talked to students before who were struggling with homosexuality,” said Jared Schueler, college pastor at Englewood Baptist Church. “Our unwritten church policy is to encourage these students in what the Bible clearly teaches, and therefore what we have to believe. The key to this issue is to speak the truth, but in a way that is loving and compassionate.”
He said churches must be careful about the way they approach the topic.
According to Schueler, because the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, believers cannot back down on the issue. He said the truth must be shared in a way that honors Christ, is loving and compassionate, but is also bold, which is a delicate balance.
Eugene Brandt, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Jackson, said the cultural debate of homosexuality being of free will or genetics holds little importance.
“Even if (homosexuality) is genetic, you are still responsible,” Brandt said. “Alcoholism can be considered genetic, yet people are still held responsible for it.”
He said his church would seek to love an individual struggling with homosexuality, but would challenge the behavior.