After Tyler Clementi’s Death, His Parents Left Their Anti-Gay Christian Church

In 2010, Tyler Clementi, a gay college student, committed suicide after his roommate (and another student) secretly videotaped him hooking up with another guy.

Weeks later, the Illinois Family Institute — in all their Christian love — tried to pin the blame on everything they could think of revolving around his sexuality:

Perhaps if Tyler had not been taught the bleakly deterministic view that he was “born” homosexual, he would have had more hope for the future and would have been more likely to resist homosexual temptation.

Perhaps if the culture had not filled Tyler’s head with titillating homosexual images and fallacious ideas, his conscience would have been stronger than his impulses.

Perhaps if university life were not so decadent and hedonistic, students would not be engaging in sexual acts — heterosexual or homosexual — with the ease and frequency with which they do.

There’s no admission, of course, that Christian-led anti-gay bigotry played even a small part in Tyler’s wanting to end his life.

An article in today’s New York Times, though, suggests otherwise. Talking to a reporter nearly two years after the tragedy, it appears that his parents at the very least feel like the church they belonged to led them down the wrong path in handling their son coming out to them. The headline of the article is “After Gay Son’s Suicide, Mother Finds Blame in Herself and in Her Church“:

Tyler Clementi’s parents (Richard Perry – The New York Times)

The Clementis continue to blame the bad luck of a roommate lottery and the cowardice of students who failed to step up and say that the spying was wrong.

But their son’s suicide has also forced changes, and new honesty, upon them. They have left the church that made Ms. Clementi so resistant to her son’s declaration…

At the time Tyler sat down to tell his parents he was gay, [his mother] believed that homosexuality was a sin, as her evangelical church taught. She said she was not ready to tell friends, protecting her son — and herself — from what would surely be the harsh judgments of others.

In the months after Tyler’s death, some of Ms. Clementi’s friends confided that they, too, had gay children. She blames religion for the shame surrounding it — in the conversation about coming out, Tyler told his mother he did not think he could be Christian and gay.

She decided she could no longer attend her church, because doing so would suggest she supported its teachings against homosexuality. And she took strength from reading the Bible as she reconsidered her views.

“At this point I think Jesus is more about reconciliation and love,” she said. “He spoke more about divorce than homosexuality, but you can be divorced and join a church more than you can be gay and join churches.”

None of this is to say that you can’t be Christian and gay. No matter how you want to parse the Bible, there are far too many churches catering to the LGBT community to say that it can’t be done. It might require some bending of Bible verses to make that make sense, but Christians are pretty good at reinterpreting their holy book to suit their needs.

Also, even if his church was gay-friendly, it doesn’t mean Tyler could’ve avoided the “gay is not ok” thinking that led his roommate to spy on him.

That bigoted thinking starts somewhere. And evangelical Christians, more than most other groups, love planting those seeds no matter how untrue and hurtful they can be.

No Christian church can bring Tyler back. But what a shame it is that, even in the wake of all these suicides, all the famous, megachurch-leading evangelical pastors can’t bring themselves to admit that they might be wrong about this whole homosexuality thing. Nope. They cling to it even more strongly than ever before. To suggest otherwise would ruin the product they’re trying to sell.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.