The following letter has been sent to Pastor J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention with copies to prominent Southern Baptist Convention church leaders throughout the country in an effort to educate them about the continued severe harm they bring to LGBTQ children and adults. The very teachings that ‘homosexuality is a sin’ is toxic to vulnerable young adults and causes far too much mental anguish up to and including taking ones precious life.
We included Southern Baptist churches where influential Americans attend so they could use their positions of power to effect real change, to help achieve true equality legally and spiritually.
Letter from Ed Oxford, Conservative Christian, Graduate of Talbot Seminary.
My name is Ed Oxford and I was born and raised in a Southern Baptist church by two incredibly amazing parents who dearly love the Lord. It was a great experience. I remember Sunday School and Training Union, contributing to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong for foreign and home missions, and many other traditions that still bring fond memories. My heart for missions began as a kid in that SBC church and, ultimately, resulted in answering God’s call to help fulfill the Great Commission by serving overseas in Japan. I later returned stateside and enrolled in Talbot seminary to grow in my understanding of God’s Word.
It was my Southern Baptist roots where I gained a deep appreciation for Scripture. My heart’s desire was to do my part in spreading the Gospel. I wanted to share Christ and disciple others and was gearing up for a lifetime of furthering the Kingdom of God.
But, I was gay.
Having heard many sermons throughout my life, I was convinced that God did not want me – nor could He use me. I was an abomination. I was “damaged goods”. I tried to change. Oh, I tried so hard! Prayer and fasting. Reparative therapy. The only thing that changed was that I experienced more and more depression. So I just held on to the hope that God would one day provide a way – some special pill, an accomplished therapist, or I would just miraculously wake up straight.
Church taught me that gay people were horrible and nasty. They had an agenda. They wanted to destroy the family and, ultimately, the Church.
But this wasn’t ME – I didn’t want to destroy the Church. I love God’s Church. And I love God with all my heart.
I recognized in my teenage years that I was same-sex attracted and thought it was just a stage I would grow out of. During college I realized it was not going away and in fact was getting more intense.
Depression continued. Pain. Self-hatred.
My Christian friends were angry with me that I wouldn’t (couldn’t) give up being gay and my gay friends were angry that I wouldn’t give up on the Church. I felt homeless.
So one day during my personal Bible study and devotional, I was reading Acts chapter 10 where Peter saw a vision of God letting a sheet descend with all kinds of unclean animals. Peter was disgusted by what he saw but God told him not to call them disgusting because God created these things and God had made them clean. As I reflected on those words, the thought came to my mind that “What if God was OK with gays”? I immediately dismissed such of a notion as horrible and satanically influenced. However, God’s Spirit continued to work on me, even seeming to offer the question, “Well, what would you do if an angel came down and told you that God was OK with you being gay?” (Kind of like Paul’s road to Damascus experience) I was shocked! I could not believe that my mind entertained such a notion! The Bible is clear on this issue, so there is NO reason for debate. IF I were to hear this from an angel, I would have written it off as Satan disguising himself as an angel because I felt that God’s Word was clear. Thus in doing so, I was declaring to God that the only way I would ever change my mind about homosexuality was if God showed me through Scripture. In that moment I had set a condition before God! God was going to have to convince me that Scripture was teaching something different than what I thought it was teaching.
About a decade later, after many episodes of extreme depression, I decided that I wanted to dig into this with all my heart, soul, and mind. I wanted to know the truth, regardless of what it entailed or revealed. I did not set out to prove or disprove any preconceived narratives. Instead I only sought facts in order to weigh the evidence. I started with the Greek and Hebrew texts and realized that I needed to study historical context of each of these texts in order to clearly understand the passages. So I put my seminary training of Greek and Hebrew to work.
One of the (many) things I discovered was that the word homosexual was not in any Bible until 1946, when it appeared in the Revised Standard Version (RSV). I was shocked! I want to know who put it in there and how they came to that conclusion. My research led me to the Yale University archives where the RSV translation notes are held. In September 2017, I traveled to Yale with author/researcher Kathy Baldock and spent many days searching for the answer to the question, “Why did this translation team make the historic decision to put the word “homosexual” into the Bible for the first time?”
The RSV translation team kept meticulous notes – we even found a grocery shopping list. This team of 22 men were extremely godly and ahead of their time. The letters they left behind showed how they encouraged churches and church leaders to include blacks and women on committees where important decisions were being made. Dr. Luther Allan Weigle, head of the RSV translation team, has been called the father of the modern Sunday School movement whereby he introduced curriculum that could be used to teach children about Bible stories. He was a big advocate for missions in Japan and China. And one time he received a letter from an elderly lady asking that he write Congress requesting the discontinuation of the poll tax. (Citizens in her town were required to pay $1 for a voter registration card. But poor families could not afford this and instead spent that $1 on much needed food, thus preventing their representation in elections). Dr. Weigle enthusiastically agreed and wrote a letter to Congress. Today we no longer have a poll tax!
On the third day at Yale we found the answer – AFTER we got to know this wonderful team of translators. The answer was found in an exchange of letters between a seminary student and Dr. Weigle. This seminary student challenged the usage of the word “homosexual” in 1 Cor. 6:9 and provided a detailed outline of his reasoning. Dr. Weigle responded and admitted that the translation team had indeed made a mistake and would seek to correct it in their next update. However, Weigle had just signed a contract stating that he would not make any changes in the RSV for 10 years. During those 10 years translation teams were working on the translations of the first NASB, TLB and NIV Bibles.
Learning this we then went to research in the translation notes of the NASB, TLB and NIV Bibles. It turns out that these versions used the RSV as their basis for including the word “homosexual” in their Bibles, not knowing that the RSV had retracted its decision.
The RSV committee decided the word “homosexual” was an inaccurate translation of “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” in I Cor. 6:9, and replaced it with “sexual perverts” (example of “sexual perverts” would be a dirty old man exposing himself to children on a playground). The RSV team admitted that the Greek word “arsenokoitai” was not condemning homosexuals, but instead those who were abusive in their pursuit of sexual encounters. The historical context shows that pederasty, sex with slaves, temple prostitution and other abusive forms of sex were prevalent in the first century when the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Even though the Bible contains 6 verses that condemn homosexual activity, it contains more than 200 verses which condemn heterosexual activity. So as researchers it is important for us to determine the TYPE of homosexual or heterosexual activity that is being condemned.
First century people had no context of same-sex, committed monogamous relationships, therefore they would not be able to have the perspective we are able to see after 150 years of studying homosexuality. We might as well ask them what they thought about iPhones! They would have no frame of reference. But Paul definitely did not approve of the reprehensible same-sex activity which involved various abuses. Hence his words in I Cor. and I Tim.
The three main English versions of the 1970s (NASB, TLB, NIV) are the translations that I grew up on. They are the most influential English translations in our lifetime! Since their publication some 40 years ago we have seen the largest amount of teen and young adult suicide in the history of the world. How can this be?? It is because we have been giving the wrong advice – advice which had been shaped AFTER the word “homosexual” entered the Bible.
Since our time in the Yale archives I have done an enormous amount of investigation. I traveled thousands of miles, spent tens of thousands of dollars on research, and interviewed hundreds of people. I ultimately realized that the evidence was incredibly overwhelming! I eventually had to admit that I had been wrong about homosexuality. I had to admit that my church and my denomination had been wrong about homosexuality. My Southern Baptist background taught me to approach Bible study as a Berean and the Bereans in Acts 17 wouldn’t even believe the Apostle Paul’s words until they studied the Scriptures and did their own due diligence. So for me to continue down the path of a non-affirming theology would have required me to discard the volumes of irrefutable facts that I had uncovered from intense research.
All of this reminds me of how we Southern Baptists made that atrocious mistake 200 years ago regarding slavery. Some Southern Baptist pastors felt that “if we abolished slavery, we might as well do away with the New Testament because we wouldn’t be following it anymore.” They actually believed they were being obedient to God’s Word by holding on to slavery. Ridiculous, huh! Looking back from our 21st century perspective, we find it difficult to comprehend that pastors taught such things. But for them, it was real. It was a matter of following their (misguided) understanding of God’s Word in order to hold on to slavery.
I truly hope the Southern Baptist leadership can make time to do their due diligence on this very important topic.
So much damage has been done.
Too many lives have been lost.
It’s time to fix this.
God bless you,
Letter from Grayson Hester, Lifelong Baptist, and Seminary Student.
My name is Grayson Hester, and I am writing to you in partnership with the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s True Faith Doesn’t Bully Campaign. I am an openly gay Christian.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church which met on a Southern Baptist College campus. My church remains a unique Southern Baptist church as it called a woman as senior pastor in 2017.Read More
Had I been raised in another SBC church in my area, it is quite likely I would not be writing this letter to you today. I say this with utmost sincerity and lack of melodrama. My impressionable four-year-old ears did not hear homophobic sermons from the pulpit. My youth minister affirmed me even before I had come out to him. I was able to come out to my parents and not be ostracized or ousted. I was more easily able to survive.
You see, the spiritual messages gay and LGBTQ+ kids receive from their churches lay the foundation upon which the rest of their lives are built. That I did not receive overtly homophobic ones means that I cannot just survive, but thrive, and pursue a calling into Christian ethics without undue trauma.
If I had gone to literally any other SBC church in my area — First Baptist Churches of Dandridge and Morristown, Tennessee immediately come to mind — it is more likely that I would have died by suicide by now. In fact, it’s five times more likely. It’s more likely that I would have rejected the church completely. It’s more likely that I would have engaged in self-harm. It’s 120 times more likely that I would have been homeless. These are neither extrapolations nor exaggerations. They are cold, hard facts.
The reality is: Those kids who grow up in non-affirming environments are more likely to die.
As more and more young people leave the church, and as more and more people come out as LGBTQ+, it is inexcusable for the nation’s second largest denomination to bide their time in discussing, with seriousness and Christlikeness, this crucial issue. While the denomination bickers over theological points, the very people you’re called to protect are ceasing to exist.
While you split hairs, people’s souls are torn in two. True faith does not bully. True faith does to the least of these what we would like to do for and to Jesus. True faith does not follow fear or rest easy with prepackaged answers. True faith, instead, answers the call of the oppressed and the outcast. The SBC has a chance to exhibit true faith and to rescue the church from its cancerous decline.
If you fail, you fail me. And, ultimately, you fail the call of Christ. The choice is yours.
Grace & Peace,
McAfee School of Theology, Class of 2021 / Master of Divinity: Christian Social Ethics
Diversity Committee Representative
Letter from Daniel Kerslake, lifelong Christian, Director/Producer, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO and FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.
Last week I bought the gun.
Yesterday, I wrote the note.
Last night, I happened to see your show on PBS, and just knowing that someday, somewhere, I might be able to go back into a church with my head held high…
I dropped the gun in the river. My mom never has to know.
I received this email the morning after a segment I produced for PBS aired in 1998 about Reverend Irene Munroe, a proud “street theologian” at Harvard Divinity School who also happened to be a lesbian. Simply seeing her story of deep and unabashed faith was enough for the 13-year-old homosexual boy from Iowa who wrote the email to rethink his own suicide. “If Irene could love God with all her heart and mind and still be a lesbian” he thought, “then maybe I really can too, and perhaps one day, I will walk back into a church with my head held high.”
Unwittingly, the church sends such dangerous and deadly messages to our young people…especially those who are experiencing same-sex attraction. Just as these beloved young people in our churches are learning that Jesus is love, they are also being told that who and how they love is wrong, sick and sinful. And those damaging messages, all too often, lead to suicide.
I, myself, was deluged by those deadly messages growing up in rural Pennsylvania. Our family was always in church, and so I was often hearing about the depravity of homosexuality, something I knew I was from a very early age. As a result, I learned to lie about who I was before I was 10 years-old, and deception, pretense, and “play-acting” became a way of life.
This is the reason I found the email from the Iowa boy so powerful, and why it has inspired my work since.
In 2003, I began work on a feature documentary film called FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO about five deeply faithful Christian families who each discover that they have a child who is wrestling with same- sex attraction. What these five beautiful families of faith discover through their experience is that they can love God and love their homosexual children at the same time. Despite what they may have been taught in church, they learn that those two things are not mutually exclusive.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007, was shortlisted for a 2008 Academy Award, and has since been translated into 24 languages worldwide. (It is widely available today on Amazon
Prime and iTunes.) But much more important than the accolades it has received, is the fact that the film has been screened in hundreds of churches and has been used by thousands of families of faith to work through challenges with same-sex attraction in their own families.
I’ve just finished a follow-up to FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO which is called FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO. As I’m sure you recognize, the title is taken from some of the last words of Jesus on the cross as he’s speaking to God about forgiving those who are killing him. Once again, this film is about deeply Christian families who are struggling with the new knowledge that they have either a homosexual or transgender child. Given the negative messages they’ve received from the church about same-sex attraction and “deviant” gender identities, this film is both tragic and hopeful.
Two parents featured in the film are conservative Christians Rob and Linda Robertson from
Seattle. They raised their four children in the evangelical tradition, so they were stunned and sickened when their 12-year-old son Ryan told them that he was a homosexual. Since in their mind homosexuality was a “deal breaker for God,” they sought counseling and ultimately placed Ryan in a conversion therapy “ministry” where he learned that through faith, God would take away his same-sex attraction.
When that didn’t happen, he felt rejected not only by his biological family and his church family, but by God as well. To quell his feelings of self-hatred and loathing, Ryan turned to drugs and subsequently lost his life…directly because of the messaging he received from his church and his family about how God created him to be.
Rob and Linda thought they were doing the most loving thing they could for Ryan. Everyone in their church told them that conversion therapy was the way to go and that they were doing the right thing, but tragically, their actions lead directly to Ryan’s death. Forgive them Father, for they knew not what they were doing. To find out how to see the film, go to www.fortheyknow.org.
I hope you will begin to truly and deeply understand how all of this “Biblically based” messaging negatively affects both individuals and entire families. You may think you don’t know any families who have members who are wrestling with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, but they are there in your pews, they are on your church councils, and they attend your Bible studies.
The outdated and dangerous teaching that experiencing same-sex attraction is a sin must end once and for all. So much has been learned, even in the last 10 years, about the immutability of same-sex attraction which further clarifies and emphasizes what we’ve been hearing from LGBTQ people for a long time, that a diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities is a gift from God to the Kingdom and to deny that is the greatest sacrilege. Unconditional love, not judgement and condemnation, is God’s best journey for us all.
Parents need to hear this message, children need to hear this message, indeed all of God’s Kingdom needs to hear this message of the holiness of unconditional love, and we are dedicated to spreading that good news.
In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution in which it renounced its racist roots and apologized for its past defense of slavery, segregation and white supremacy. The SBC joined the right side of history in regard to race in America that year, so won’t you consider joining us on the right side of history for LGBTQ folks, as well, before more grievous harm is done? I would also call upon you to take a leadership position to ending the systemic racism that continues to exist today. Top leadership in the US Congress, like Sen. Mitch McConnell, Congress Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Lindsey Graham are members of SBC churches. Call upon them publicly to legislate legal equality for all.
Let the burden of harming innocent, vulnerable people be lifted from your shoulders! I know from personal experience it is healthier for all.
Lifelong Christian, Director/Producer
Letter from Pastor David Key, Ordained Southern Baptist Minister.
Recently, you have received letters from Jane Clementi and Stan Mitchell, both imploring you to revisit your position on the matter of LGBTQ inclusion in the church you serve. As an ordained Southern Baptist minister, I understand the denominational culture that you find yourself in and the challenge you face. I remember the days when Southern Baptist folks taught the “Cursed Seed of Ham”, the “Pope as the anti-Christ”, “Jews killing Jesus” and “Eve having brought Sin into the World”. These and other misled paradigms caused too many Southern Baptists over the years to be racist, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and misogynist. It is a sad commentary on our common history and heritage.Read More
The language and attitude from the Southern Baptist Convention toward LGBTQ folks continue to cause similar damage today. Maybe you have been told that according to the Trevor Project:
– 39% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months with more than half of transgender and non-binary youth having seriously considered.
– 71% of LGBTQ youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year.
– 76% of LGBTQ youth felt that the recent political climate impacted their mental health and sense of self.
– 71% of LGBTQ youth reported discrimination due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I’m sure you are saddened by these realities. What we need is more from you. We need your leadership in shifting the harmful paradigms among fellow Southern Baptists. As Stan Mitchell encouraged you to lean into the Scriptures, I implore you to find a new hermeneutic that brings life instead of hurt, pain and suffering. Make your place in history by being that bold prophet and denominational leader that God called you to be. Call out your fellow SBC ministers to stop the harmful and toxic messages and stand for the dignity of all human life regardless of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. As the Book of Acts challenges us to proclaim the Gospel unhindered (akolutos), I encourage you to follow the Spirit and do the same.
Please take the next steps to shine God’s love into this world.
David W. Key, Sr.
Founding Pastor Lake Oconee Community Church
Letter from Pastor Stan Mitchell, Founding Pastor GracePoint Church, Nashville, Tennessee.
Recently, you received a letter from my friend Jane Clementi. In it, Jane implored you to sincerely revisit your position on the matter of LGBT inclusion in the church you serve. She did so, first and foremost, as the mother of two LGBT children: one living and one tragically deceased. As you know, the latter child, Tyler, died by suicide due to bullying directly specific to his being gay. Secondly, Jane’s appeal was levied on the grounds of her own evangelical and Baptist background. Herself a devoted Christian, Jane for many years held that homosexuality was a sin. And, finally, Jane’s letter was written on the grounds of her position as Co-Founder and CEO of The Tyler Clementi Foundation, an organization established in the memory of her son and on behalf of every child who has, or will ever, experience bullying for any reason.Read More
Earlier this year, I was honored to be invited by Jane and the Tyler Clementi Foundation leadership to join their board. As an ordained Evangelical pastor who has served several local churches as pastor over the past thirty plus years, I bring to the foundation a heart for the Christian Church, the Bible, and the Gospel. One of the most pressing expressions of my love for Christ and Christianity is my deep desire to see the Church shift its position on the matter of homosexuality. This shift is something I personally experienced at GracePointe Church in Nashville , TN., a church I helped found in 2003 and then led as Senior Pastor for the next sixteen years. As Pastor Emeritus now, I am deeply grateful to watch as GracePoint, a church that fully affirms the gifts and callings of LGBT people, continues to serve Middle Tennessee and the world beyond. It is truly a Christ honoring and prevailing community of faith.
It was the Spring of 2012 when GracePoint’s leadership made the important decision to lead our congregation into a period of discernment regarding the matter of LGBT inclusion. After two and a half years of study, prayer, and countless conversations, the decision was made to move as a local church to the position of full inclusion. Since that time, my life has become overly and wonderfully full — both in terms of time and in terms of meaning. I spend my days now working with LGBT people (especially youth) and their families as well as pastors and their congregations. Specifically, I work with these dear people as they faithfully and carefully strive to reconcile their faith to what they sense deep in their souls to be true.
Per the pastors and church leaders who come to me, most do so in the manner of the gospel character, Nicodemus. Privately, fearfully, searchingly, they come to me “under the cover of night.” Dozens upon dozens, perhaps into the hundreds now, they come to me seeking a safe place to do this sacred but difficult work. As I work with them, I do not introduce them to a new hermeneutic. Instead, I simply help them apply to scripture the same interpretive lens they have long been using, albeit selectively. It is my deep belief that the same biblically faithful lens which presently allows women to cut their hair, slaves to seek freedom, abused spouses to remarry, and on and on the list goes, when applied to the matter of sexual orientation, that same lens will produce in every church what it has so profoundly yielded in GracePoint.
Again, this is not a new hermeneutic or one that runs rough shod over the biblical text. No. Rather, this is one that takes seriously the words of Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion: “I have many things to tell you but you cannot bear them now. But when the Holy Spirit comes, He will lead and guide you into all truth.” From our earliest days, those misguided days when we excluded more than 99% of the world’s population on the cruel grounds of how they were naturally born (Gentiles), and forward, church history has made it abundantly clear — the Holy Spirit’s work of unfolding the text as human consciousness has the capacity to receive its rich truths has been an uninterrupted reality.
Time and space fails me (and due your credentials it is unnecessary) to detail the long list of corrective, reform, growth moments and movements the Church has experienced from its blessed inception. Truly, the biblical text has proven itself to be a time-release capsule, releasing its truth as the soul of the church has had the capacity to receive it. Ever and again we have proven ourselves to be a people who walk with a text we have not fully experienced. Just as in Acts 10,11, and 15, it is not scripture that stands in need of amendment but it is our reading of the text, informed by human experience, that proves itself to often stand in need of change. “You have heard that it was said…but I say unto you…” was not a rubric reserved exclusively for Jesus’ great Sermon On The Mount. Instead, this gracious work of the Spirit continues to the present day; and church history has done nothing if it has not proven this over and again. This process no more contradicts Jesus now than it contradicted Moses then. It is not the text that ever stands in question, but our “hearing” or reading of the text that proves itself correction-worthy.
My appeal, the appeal from The Tyler Clementi Foundation, to you is not that you dismiss Scripture but that you bravely lean into it. Allow the very human experiences of need, suffering, longing, and the receiving of God’s Holy Spirit not to cause you to dismissively override the text but to drive you back to it as it once did Peter, James, and the Jerusalem Elders. Allow the suffering and suicides of countless gay teens to drive you back to the text humbly asking, “Have we read this most faithfully and fully? Are we reading it most faithfully and fully now?”
Like Paul in First Corinthians 7, I believe we have no direct “command” or “word from the Lord” regarding this matter. What we do have is the slope or trajectory or spirit of the greater text and our history; and by this, we, like Paul, will be able to “give an opinion on this matter as one(s) who have been counted worthy.” And always, like the great apostle, we will do so beneath the canopy of “God’s mercy”, saying, as did he, “regarding these questions, (we) believe we have the mind of the Spirit.”
This is a hard ask I know. I know because I have been asked it. For years these same questions hounded me as a pastor of LGBT people, precious people who were either closeted or greatly sanctioned. Ultimately, I was willing to hear the answers to these questions regardless of the cost. And though the cost has indeed been great, I can wholeheartedly say, “What’s lost has been nothing compared to what’s been found. And all that death that ever were, if it were pooled together, could scarcely fill a cup set next to the river of life that now runs in me.” The reward of watching God’s “Spirit fall on these at it has on us” has been more than I can tell.
Prayerfully submitted for your consideration,
Rev. Stan Mitchell
Board Member Tyler Clementi Foundation
Letter from Jane Clementi, CoFounder and CEO of Tyler Clementi Foundation, Tylers Mom.
I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy. I am writing to you today as a mom, a person of sincere and deeply held faith, and co-founder and leader of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, an organization working to end all online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces, and faith communities. I am grateful to have this opportunity to share this message of hope, life, and love with you, with the strong desire that your ears, heart, and mind will be open to the transformational power that is available to you, so you will be able to reflect the love you have within you.Read More
As Scripture tells us over and over, we must “…. love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” But what is love and what does it look like? Scripture tells us that love does not harm and it does no wrong; it does not steal, kill, or destroy like the evil one but rather love gives life and gives it abundantly!
Telling another person that they are broken, less than, and forever separated from God because of who they are or who they love, does not give life and it is not loving. It actually is as far from love as one can get. Regardless of how the message that homosexuality is a sin is delivered, softly or harshly, it is a devastating message — a message that creates animosity within the hearts of parents, siblings, and other kin, leaving our youth to feel abandoned and alone in a cold world.
I actually see this as a form of bullying. Intentional, unwanted, and aggressive behavior where a power dynamic exists is bullying. When you, as a leader of a faith community, exert your authority and power over someone with less influence and control, and often timeless life experience to draw upon, this is absolutely a form of bullying. Continuing to preach these harmful messages of condemnation that elicit feelings of fear, shame and even terror might even be labeled by some as child abuse or religious and psychological terrorizing of innocent people.
These misinterpretations of Scripture have significant earthly consequences as I have learned all too personally. My son, Tyler Clementi, made national headlines when he was targeted because of his sexual orientation in an incident of cyberbullying in the fall of 2010. Tyler had just started his freshman year at Rutgers University. As my late son’s reality became twisted and distorted, his feelings of worthlessness and isolation must have taken over; tragically, he made a terrible and permanent decision in response to a temporary problem. On September 22, 2010, when Tyler could no longer endure his pain and despair, he ended his life in this world. He was only 18 years old.
As horrific and terrible as this bullying situation was, I have come to know there was so much more happening within Tyler during this time period. From what I have been able to piece together in the long and painful years since his death, his exposure to harmful teachings and misinterpretations of Scripture had led him to think he could not be a Christian and that he could not reach out for help from his family or perhaps, more specifically, from me. I wrestle every day with a painful weight of guilt for the many years of church teachings and traditions Tyler was exposed to — teachings and traditions of bias, discrimination, and prejudice that devalued his spirit and caused so much pain and shame within him.
These misinterpretations and teachings do not simply have earthly consequences, more importantly, they have heavenly consequences as well. You have caused far too many to fall away from their relationship with God because of your cloudy vision in reading Scripture. Using eyes from the 1st century, I sincerely believe you are not allowing the wisdom and knowledge God has been sharing with His children over the centuries to speak to your hearts or minds.
We know so much more today about the harmful physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects of these condemning and hurtful messages. Medical data and research including but not limited to the following:
– LGBTQ kids raised in condemning religious families are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
– And, their attempts are six times more likely to result in hospitalization and/or death – Although less than 10% of the general population identifies LGBTQ nearly half of America’s homeless youth are LGBTQ.
– More than a quarter of LGBTQ youth say they have been personally bullied or harassed since the 2016 presidential campaign began, compared to fourteen percent of nonLGBTQ youth.
– The level of depression and anxiety existing in the lives of LGBTQ teens and kids is sadly wildly outpacing those same maladies in other groups.
Think about this information; please let this data sink in for a moment. This knowledge is not news to God but maybe to people who will not open their eyes or minds to the simple fact that who we love is a God-given gift and cannot be changed. We are all different, with different gifts and traits, but we are all beautifully created in God’s perfect image. We might be able to improve some gifts but most gifts or traits cannot be changed. I will never be an opera singer and my eyes will never be brown, just like the simple fact that two of my three sons will never be attracted to women. This is not a congenital flaw but the gift of God. You must stop interfering with God’s will. Open your eyes and see the tragic consequences that your negative homophobic interpretations have caused in the lives of our loved ones. Please stop stealing our children away and leaving our families broken and destroyed.
Your insistence to hold to harmful doctrine is not helpful or encouraging. These teachings do not draw people to the love of Christ. Rather, your toxic messages add to the tremendous burdens of many, crushing their spirit and destroying so many lives and families. Your harmful teaching that homosexuality is a sin must stop. And it must stop immediately before any more innocent young people are harmed.
To stop your harmful and toxic messages would certainly be making a compassionate loving move forward for all those sitting in your pews. But for you to experience true healing and wholeness from your wrongful deeds, you need to take a full step forward and repent for the great harm you have caused to so many. People need acknowledgment of their pain and suffering and you need to give voice to the harm people have experienced because of your misguided dogma. Just as the Southern Baptist Convention did in 1995, apologizing for the role it played in the inhumane practices of slavery and segregation, now is the time to acknowledge the immense harm and pain your misguided interpretation of Scripture has caused to the LGBTQ community and their families.
This is such an important moment in history; you have the grace-filled opportunity to repair the harm and injustice done by your past teachings related to gender, sexuality, and racial inequality. Be an instrument of grace and take a leadership position in ending the systemic racism in America where so many of the roots trace back directly to the SBC practices and its members. Don’t just stand for the sanctity of human life in regards to the unborn but stand for the dignity of all human life, regardless of the color of skin, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. After all, “…what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Take this huge opportunity to shine God’s love into this world by being the leaders you were called to be on these very important issues.
These are huge steps to take for sure, but please know…you are not alone; many other Churches and denominations have already gone ahead, paving the way with repentant hearts as they have heard and responded to God’s compassionate and loving call on behalf of all His children.
I am grateful for your time in reading my letter. I pray it has fallen on open ears and tender hearts. This message was written to you on behalf of the affected parents and youth in your pews. They are there. Quietly there. Silenced there. I want them to know there is support for them. I want parents to know the truth that God would never expect them to turn their backs on their children, especially not for who God created their children to be or who God created their children to love. For those of us that are followers of Jesus Christ, it is essential that we reflect on the unconditional love that God extends to us. God never walks away from us and we must never walk away from our children. That is the truth parents must-hear. This is why we will be making all of our letters accessible to the public. If this letter tugs at your heart, even in the least, please reach out, I would welcome a conversation.
May God fill you with His peace, courage, and strength as you hear His call to take the necessary next steps to shine God’s love into this world.
In Christ’s love and peace,
CoFounder and CEO Tyler Clementi Foundation