The Book of Discipline affirms LGBTQ+ persons are of sacred worth. In order to carry out the traditional Methodist charge of “first, do no harm,” bishops, pastors and church leaders need to be aware of measures that can save lives.
The pain is palpable. Reaction is strong. How do we help? Where do we go? What can we offer? With these and other questions, churches, pastors, and others are wondering how they might help LGBTQ+ persons following the adoption of the Traditional Plan at the Special General Conference in St. Louis, MO. It appears that, worldwide, the denomination is going in a more conservative direction, which will cause undue harm to LGBTQ+ persons, both youth and adults.
While LGBTQ+ adults are more equipped to protect themselves, or even attend a different church if need be, the same cannot be said for LGBTQ+ youth. This is part of the grave concern, as youth who attend services with parents or caregivers often do not have a choice but to attend services with them, and for some, being a part of an insensitive youth group.
Hearing or being taught homophobic messages at church can and will likely contribute to a person’s self-perception that often leads to low self-esteem, even to mental health issues. This, of course, is related to prejudice and stigma that some LGBTQ persons face, such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, and so on.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2018 found a link between judgmental religion and suicide among gay and questioning youth, particularly where religion was important to them. This study included data from a 2011 University of Texas at Austin’s Research Consortium, where it indicates that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among LGBTQ persons ages 10-24.* The study showed that questioning individuals were three times more likely to attempt suicide. For gay and lesbian individuals, religion was associated with 38 percent more likelihood to have suicidal ideation (thinking).*
John Blosnich, the co-author of the study, from the West Virginia University’s Injury Control Research Center, noted that sexual minorities may worry what their sexual orientation means for their families, especially those who are religious.
To combat injuries, be familiar with the signs of suicide. Go to the websites of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or Mental Health Ministries to familiarize yourself with these signs. Some signs of potential suicide from the Trevor Project include some of the following:
- Not care about their future: “It won’t matter soon anyway.”
- Put themselves down: “I don’t deserve to live. I suck.”
- Express hopelessness: “Things will never get better for me.”
- Say goodbye to important people: “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. I’ll miss you.”
- Have a specific plan for suicide: “I’ve thought about how I’d do it.”
- Talk about feeling suicidal: “Life is so hard. Lately I’ve felt like ending it all.”
- Have a burst of cheerfulness after a period of sadness.
Startling Suicide-Related Statistics
NAMI provides us with some startling statistics that include:
- LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide or engage in self-harm
- Questioning youth are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide or engage in self-harm
- 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation (thinking about it)
To learn more about some of the experiences and hostility that LGBTQ+ youth experience, which can contribute to suicide and self-harm, check out the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) National School Climate Survey and the It Get’s Better Project for LGBTQ+ youth.
Mental Health Support
According to NAMI, LGBTQ+ persons are 3 times more likely to have a mental health condition. NAMI’s website offers a list of signs of mental illness and a short video presentation.
If you feel that a youth or an adult might be suffering from a mental health condition, access to treatment is recommended. If it’s available in your area, dialing the health and human service referral hotline at 2-1-1 is one easy way to find treatment providers. Also, providers who offer inclusive services or specialize in this area can be found at the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s Provider Directory.
Substance Abuse Support
The Center for American Progress states one of the main reasons some LGBTQ+ persons turn to substance abuse is because they live with a high level of stress because of social prejudice and discriminatory laws. Estimates by NAMI indicate that 20-30% of LGBTQ persons abuse substances compared to 9% of the general population. Alcohol abuse exists among 25% of LGBTQ persons, compared to 5-10% of the general population. Many times, people turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with feelings, often not realizing that an addiction is developing.
Being a part of a discriminated social group is stressful for many LGBTQ persons, whether a youth or an adult. If substance abuse is suspected, having a conversation with the youth or adult is recommended along with a referral to treatment (dial 2-1-1 for a referral or contact your local health department).
As you can imagine, overdoses can be deadly and encouraging a person to consider treatment is one of the most compassionate things you can do. If the person isn’t receptive in the moment, don’t try to win them over, or argue with them. Keep the door open to where they’ll feel comfortable with you to return for future conversations. Just offer your assistance if they ever need it, but with boundaries (e.g. not giving them money). And at some point, bring it up again. Being non-judgmental and empathetic is recommended when approaching the subject.
Help is Available
There are more resources available than you might think when serving LGBTQ+ persons. For example, the Trevor Project offers 24/7 crisis and suicide prevention lifeline for LGTBQ+ youth. Here are available resources:
- Trevor Lifeline 1-866-488-7386 (24/7)
- TrevorChat (3-10pm ET Mon-Fri) a confidential instant messaging service
- TrevorText – (3-10pm ET Mon-Fri) a confidential service that connects LGBTQ youth with a counselor. Text START to 678678.
- For transgender support, the Trans Lifeline offers a hotline that offers emotional and financial support. The Trans Lifeline’s Hotline is 877-565-8860.
- The Tyler Clementi Foundation offers a plethora of resources that addresses bullying, suicide prevention, and other helpful resources for affirmation and support.
Affirming Individuals & Families
The Book of Discipline affirms LGBTQ+ persons are of sacred worth; however, not ordaining individuals because they’re self-avowed practicing homosexual conflicts with the sacred worth affirmation. To be accepting of LGBTQ+ persons is also to be accepting of their relationships – not forcing them to be celibate or closeted. Denying their relationships, really means denying who they are as individuals. In order to reverse potential harm that may come from the denomination’s stance or from homophobic views, bishops, pastors and church leaders can do a number of things to be affirming to LGBTQ+ persons and their families.
- Expand your knowledge about sexual orientation and gender identity
- Know key LGBTQ+ definitions
- Deepen your LGBTQ+ knowledge
- Create a welcoming environment (e.g. posting a nondiscrimination policy, unisex bathrooms, etc.) For more tips, check out the website.
In addition to these above, BWARM recommends churches consider becoming a reconciling congregation or at least a welcoming/affirming faith community, and connect with Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC), Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), and the like. Sometimes, collaboration with community organizations works just as well.
There is no doubt that Christ calls us to be compassionate. In this call, he echoes the tapestry of compassion stories and verses in the Old Testament. For example, from The Message Translation, Zechariah 7:8-10 reads,
“‘Treat one another justly. Love your neighbors. Be compassionate with each other. Don’t take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor. Don’t plot and scheme against one another—that’s evil.’”
Help LGBTQ+ persons to feel like they belong, not like a visitor or deemed as the stranger. This certainly holds true for same sex couples and their families being welcomed.
Arguments Don’t Help
There are some who believe that any orientation other than heterosexuality is wrong. They may share Bible verses that support their understanding. The same can be said about those who believe that homosexuality and different gender identities are a part of God’s creativity.
However, arguing with others is not helpful and only serves to cause division. People on both sides of the aisle, can have their own opinions and beliefs. That’s okay, as long as it’s not infringing on others. Encouraging tolerance and fostering acceptance in worship settings work better than hurting one another.
Sharing the love of Christ with one another is how we make disciples. It’s worked for millennia.
An overlooked verse from Leviticus still holds true to today. It reads, Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18) We strongly recommend affirming LGBTQ+ persons and their families. We need them, like they need us, to better represent the body of Christ. The resources listed above are just the beginning and those needing assistance are encouraged to check them out or other resources. Being in relationships with diverse people enriches us and the church as a whole.
Bollinger, A. (2018). “Religion can make gay youth more likely to commit suicide.” LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved from www.lgbtqnation.com/2018/04/religion-can-make-gay-youth-likely-commit-suicide/.
Harding, A. (2018). “Religious faith linked to suicidal behavior in LGBTQ adults.” Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-lgbq-religion-suicide/religious-faith-linked-to-suicidal-behavior-in-lgbq-adults-idUSKBN1HK2MA
Kuruvilla, C. (2018). “Chilling study sums up link between religion and suicide for queer youth.” Huffington Post. Retrieved from www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/queer-youth-religion-suicide-study_us_5ad4f7b3e4b077c89ceb9774.