A year ago, I discovered an open secret I didn’t know existed; thousands of conservative Christian families had been forced to leave their conservative churches because their children came out as gay or transgender. I am a Catholic pediatric specialty therapist and have witnessed this firsthand on multiple occasions since I left work at a Christian school for secular employment almost three years ago. I have now met many conservative Christian families who left their churches because they had to choose between their LGBTQ child’s right-to-life or staying in the conservative church.
There is an overlap between the disability world with the LBGTQ world. The LBGTQ experience is three-to-six times higher in families who have neurodiverse children, such as a child with Autism. According to the medical consensus, the suicide rate for LBGTQ youth is twice as high in conservative religious homes than it is in more progressive Christian or secular homes. I now understand this due to meeting and working with these families.
When thousands of conservative Christian families are forced to leave their conservative churches because their children came out gay or transgender, many of them end up in secretive faith-based underground social media networks to seek how to best live their family’s LBGTQ experience in tension with their dearly held beliefs.
I am a pediatric therapist in one of the largest recovery groups that is helping Christian families survive rejection. These conservative Christian families are being ripped apart. LBGTQ teens, young adults, and their parents are taking their own lives by suicide after being shamed by others and forced to leave their faith communities and homes. In some cases, they must leave their state because the hard political right has become so entwined within many conservative churches and refuses to understand or consider modern science and how it can complement their faith instead of contradicting it. It’s all about “being right” in the fundamentalist eyes rather than tending to the wounded or caring if the wounded live or die, even youth.
I love this quote from Steven Mattson.
“Some people mistakenly believe that trusting in God requires them to distrust science, history, art, philosophy, and other forms of education, information, and truth. But intelligence is a friend of faith, and ignorance its enemy. God loves knowledge and truth, and any faith that objects to either is terribly misguided.”
The right-wing’s false narrative of mainstream science denial is costing the lives of LBGTQ kids and many others in the LBGTQ community. This is not surprising because the right-wing often deny mainstream science – consider vaccines, masks, earth science, the environment, and medicine, among other things – at the cost of vulnerable lives. Many right-winged conservatives who depend on sources like Fox News for their medical information, think they have become experts in very complicated fields, and think everyone else should comply.
Moderate to progressive faith communities need to stand with the state in shutting down gay conversion camps, reparative therapy, and other deadly church programs which have been widely discredited by the vast majority of medical professionals but which are supported by right-winged faith leaders like Dr. James Dobson. They are destroying peoples’ faith, lives, health, families, and existence – in other words, the right-to-life. Yet, they arrogantly call themselves, “pro-life.” My favorite Catholic Jesuit priest, Father James Martin says,
“A reminder when a politician is called ‘pro-life.’ Pro life means reverencing not just unborn child in the womb, but also the Black person who fears for their own life in their own neighborhood, the inmate death row, the starving homeless person in the streets, the migrant family at the boarder, the LBGTQ teen tempted to suicide in a rejecting family, and the poor family without health care in the inner city. Pro life means pro all lives, not just some lives.”
I often hear, “it’s ok if we disagree.” James Baldwin, a black human rights activist said, “I say, It’s fine to disagree until that crosses over into someone’s else’s human rights. We can disagree and still love each other except when your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and humanity and my right to exist.”
I have some suggestions for the conservative church.
1- When a child comes out gay, tell them you are proud that they worked up the courage to share this part about themself. Mainstream science tells us to affirm, especially the initial bravery of coming out because this immediately drops the chances of suicide.
2- Do not condemn the child or the family. Doing so increases the chances of suicide and/or can cause irreversible damage.
3- Church clergy need training in this area and need to follow mainstream science, not rogue leaders who are denying science such as conservative faith leaders who say that sexual orientation and gender identity are choices. Those who support gay conversion therapy, changing the person, or coercing the person are indeed denying mainstream science and can be deeply damaging. Even for the LBGTQ person who wants to change their own sexual orientation, stay celibate, or not be openly transgender, most are incapable without catastrophic damage to themselves, even death. Even in Catholic theology, God does not hold someone accountable for what they are incapable of doing. So in short, unconditional love, support, and as much affirmation as the church can handle are what the church should offer.
I want to apologize to the LBGTQ community, their families, and even the Episcopal Church for not understanding all of this sooner. I have believed and acted upon things I was ignorant about. Jesus Christ is unconditionally loving while the conservative Church many times shows the opposite. This is why I left 25 years of conservative churches and moved to more progressive urban Catholic circles.