“My gay Christian cousin committed suicide”

A few days ago I got in this letter:

I recently found your website via a friend’s post on Facebook. I’m sure you hear that a million times a day. March 19th, my cousin died, likely from an overdose of prescription pain medications. I believe it was deliberate, considering he’d tried before—but we’ll never know the truth of that.

He was 39 years old. He was gay, although he could not admit that to me. Not even the time before, when he overdosed, and I drove two hours to spend the night with his mother in ICU wondering if he would live. After that I knew that subtle hints would not do it. This time I tried just asking him if he was gay. He denied it. He denied it to both me and his mother, even though we told him we loved him and it didn’t matter to us.

But it mattered to him.

Six months later, he was gone.

We were raised in a very conservative family and church. He played piano at the church for years—the church he attended since childhood. The church across the street from his house. I believe he was never able to reconcile his being a Christian with the fact that he was gay. He was truly the most unhappy person I’ve ever known. It is just tragic. And now I’m left here wondering. Angry with the church. Angry with him. Angry with myself. Even angry sometimes at God. I just feel so unbelievably sad that my cousin never got to the point where he could accept who he was.

So finding your site has been bittersweet for me. I am so happy to see a Christian whose beliefs match mine in nearly every way. Yet so sad that my cousin never received Christian acceptance. And in some ways jealous of all those gay Christians I’ve read about here who have found a way to live a Christian life, and be happy, the way my cousin never did.

I don’t know why I’m writing to you except I appreciate your work here. I wish I could find a church where I could feel comfortable. These days I cannot abide knowing that the teachings from ultra-conservative churches could be contributing to the deaths of many other young unhappy gay men like my cousin. I suppose your site has given me hope that there are others in the world like me who believe in more “liberal” ideas. That’s been very hard to find, especially since I live in Texas.

I thank you for helping all the young men and women who are unhappy like my cousin was. I know you are making a difference.

Dear person who wrote me this:

I’m terribly sorry to hear of your unthinkable loss. Awful.

One thing I wanted to say is that your dear cousin was a Christian. That’s a beautiful thing. It’s real; it matters. He is now with his Father; the Son is now shining fully upon him. In this life, your cousin was broken; now, finally, he is healed. Something went wrong for him down here: the pieces didn’t fit right; for him the song of life kept breaking up, falling out of tune, disappearing.

Now he hears music all day and night, and sings himself. And he looks down upon you, and hopes that you hear something of his song.

Jesus knew from suffering. It’s a thing about Jesus not often enough appreciated or noted, how clearly and deeply sad he was. Not for nothing is he remembered to us as the man of sorrows. We’ve come to believe that what God and Jesus want are happy, healthy, positive, prosperous, peppy people. And such people are great, of course. But that’s not the blind man at the pool. That’s not the bedraggled lady who can’t stop bleeding. That’s not the leper shunned by the world. That’s where Jesus is. That’s the spirit to which Jesus was most compellingly drawn. Those are the people who instantly tear open Jesus’ heart, who make him bleed.

Jesus’ time on earth was always moving toward the cataclysmic event when his life would be unnaturally aborted, when his own clarion song would end.

I’m sure that Jesus hugs everyone who dies expecting that hug on the other side.

But I know that, when poor and broken spirits like your cousin come before him, he wraps his arms around them, hard, and never lets go.

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  • KateC

    THAT is our Jesus. Thank you, John.

  • Lymis

    “I imagine something else was contributing to the destruction of your cousin’s emotional life too, don’t you think? Suicide is such a phenomenal way to remove yourself from life. Virulent peer rejection is enough to collapse the coping mechanisms of a teenager. But a 39-year-old should have better defenses than that.”

    On the one hand, I don’t disagree, and I understand what you seem to think you are trying to say.

    But the only way a 39 year old has better defenses than that is by building on the weaker defenses he built when he was that vulnerable teenager. And if that teenager is sufficiently damaged, he may not have the foundations to build anything stronger.

    Many of us who do arrive at 39 with those stronger defenses do so by jettisoning some or all of the religious lessons that (deliberately or unwittingly) taught us to hate ourselves. Some people are never able to. And, sadly, the ones that can’t are often the ones who are most deeply spiritual.

    It’s far easier to chuck it all and leave the church if you think it’s all a crock. It’s far harder to do so when you see the value in being part of a church. And its nearly impossible to do so when you have a deep and abiding connection to God and have been taught that church and Christianity are the only conduits for experiencing that connection.

    A lot of the support for gay Christians or calls for Christian tolerance focus, validly, on the pain that other people’s judgmental words and actions cause gay people. Battling the barrage of negativity assailing you from outside can be debilitating. But far less emphasis is put on recognizing that when you send the message for straight Christians to hate or be intolerant of gay people, you are also sending the message to young gay Christians that they are supposed to hate themselves, be unable to forgive themselves, and to be unable to reconcile the reality of their own natures with the reality of their experience with God.

    Yes, a lot of gay adults have “better” defenses “than that” – but mostly by coming to terms with the fact that what we were taught about ourselves was a lie, and that we had to strike out on our own to find a new truth. But that can be nearly impossible when we are deeply conscious that most of what we were taught by our religion wasn’t a lie, and nobody has ever given us tools or support to examine and accept or reject parts of it while keeping others. Most of the pressure is to either accept it all as a unified whole, or to reject it all out of hand. And sadly, the best resources for crafting a personal, examined spirituality that isn’t pure revealed doctrine only become available once you leave the church and find other exiles who have taken the same path.

    My personal journey along those lines didn’t start seriously until my mid-30’s, when I realized that I faced exactly this crisis – that I literally could not continue to live the way I had been, and that for me, the choice was to give up the church that had been the conduit of all of my contact with God, or die.

    Yes, I have no doubt that there were other factors in this man’s life that contributed, likely things like deep loneliness, debilitating guilt, and terrible fear of what life without his church would be like. Possibly deep shame about some unhealthy sexual activities he couldn’t reconcile with his image of himself as a Christian.

    But it’s not fair to imply that those things are inherently separate from the wounds inflicted on him by other Christians, because a lot of the “other factors” in gay people’s despair are direct outgrowths of those wounds. When your life and any possible relationships you might have are disgusting to people around you, the people who mean the most to you, and when all the support structures you’ve been taught you need for love and community are closed to you, unhealthy and inappropriate patterns are pretty inevitable.

    I can’t pretend to fully understand exactly what you meant to say when you said that he should have had better defenses, but I know what I would have heard back when I was facing that crisis – which is that I should have left the church earlier, that there really was no place for me, and that I was kidding myself to try. I can’t imagine how I would have reacted if I went to someone, in pain about the intolerance and pain in my religious community and was told my real problem must lie elsewhere because I should have better defenses by now.

    But at the same time, I do want to emphasize my agreement with your bigger point – which is that no matter what else happened, a child of God is beloved of God, and that God is certainly capable of seeing beyond our wounds and loving us for who we really are and if there is any judgement, it can only possibly be with regards how well we did with what we were dealt. God doesn’t judge us on our wounds. He embraces us as his children.

  • John Slattery

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this – as a teacher, I find this especially despicable (assuming it really was the teacher who wrote this tripe)

    JOPLIN, Mo. — A Joplin High School math teacher is being criticized for anti-gay remarks that appeared in a Facebook dialogue last week.

    The comments first appeared on the wall of a former student’s Facebook profile on Oct. 19. The former student, Josh Gonzalez, had posted a Facebook link to a news article about a gay 15-year-old from Canada who committed suicide after being bullied.

    A Facebook comment replying to the Gonzalez post that appeared under Whitney’s name stated: “Moral of the story: Don’t be gay.”

    That comment provoked reaction and criticism from others, including this: “How many more kids have to kill themselves before everyone realizes that this is an actual issue?”

    That was followed by another comment attributed to Whitney’s account that read: “11-13 ought to do it.”


  • Hi, Lymis. I actually deleted from my response the content to which you’ve here referred/answered–for exactly the kinds of reasons you’ve so well articulated. Sorry I did that BEFORE your great response here.

  • I did see this story, yes. I didn’t read much of it; I got the gist of it. Again.

  • Christelle

    “But I know that, when poor and broken spirits like your cousin come before him, he wraps his arms around them, hard, and never lets go.”

    My favorite line.

    This is, perhaps, my favorite response that you have written to date. You’ve captured the very essence of Jesus: Love. Compassion. I’m about to forward this on to several friends. Thank you…


  • This is wonderful, Lymis. Thank you for taking the time and having the patience and compassion to write it.

  • tim conard

    i am sick to my soul of hearing this story.

    there is nothing in the gospel that gives you the permission to hate and ostracize and threaten and hound another human being to the point that they see no option but to take their own lives. there is nothing that gives you permission to stand on street corners with signs proclaiming gods ‘hate’, or allowing you to protest against a suicide hotline for supporting your victims, or proclaiming that laws to protect those you want to destroy are discrimination against your unholy agenda. read the gospels, buy one of those rubber ‘wwjd’ bracelets and ask yourself, sincerely, if you are doing what jesus would do. and then go sit in your basement, because i’m pretty sure you answered that question wrong.

    if you can’t say something nice, then shut the heck up and leave the decent people alone…

    (thanks for letting me vent) (and no, heck was not the word i was thinking)

  • mike moore

    dear Texas cousin,

    Even in the midst of your heartbreak, your letter reveals something amazing … your beautiful voice.

    Did you know, down there in Texas, that there are people who are always listening to you? Quietly, carefully, cautiously … listening?

    I point this out as you may not have noticed. “The listeners” can appear indifferent … it’s too dangerous to be otherwise. Sometimes you assume they’re not listening because they speak using a voice that condemns gays and lesbians … it’s excellent camouflage.

    More often, the listeners are benign eavesdroppers, and you don’t even know they’re listening to you.

    Boys and girls and women and men. Some are friends and acquaintances, some are co-workers … the listeners might be the children of these people … and many listeners are strangers simply standing within earshot.

    They’re scared of who they might be. They’re afraid of what their family, friends, and churches will think of them … and of what might be done to them.

    And so they just listen. And like your cousin, they usually hear horribly cruel words.

    And then, one day … they hear you. And their world becomes a little bit, or maybe a lot, better.

    Your words of kindness and love spark bright, and bring them hope, and show them love. A few of your good words, overheard at Starbucks or the grocery store, can change a life in ways you can never imagine. The ripple-effect, if you will.

    And so, as you did in writing your letter to John, I hope you keep talking. Not from a podium, and not necessarily about your cousin, but always about how you and God love people, gay people, all people.

    I hope you keep talking across the dinner table. On your mobile phone in line at the store. In a restaurant. At work. At church.

    There is always someone listening, someone like your cousin, and your words will change their lives.

    (and I bet your cousin will also be looking down and listening in, too.)

    good luck.

  • Lymis


  • Sometimes, in journeys online, one runs into a lot of armchair quarterbacking in regards to diagnosing historical figures with mental illness. Jesus gets this treatment quite a lot – the most, it would seem, from bitter atheists who like to diagnose him as paranoid schitozphrenic or something to try to discredit his followers. I had someone try to encourage me to deconvert by accusing Jesus of being bipolar. Guess what I am? Makes me more inclined to follow him, actually, if he’s like me. I remember seeing one person on one such disscussion (or was it an article?) make the case for Jesus being depressed – with the addition that if anyone has as much apparent compassion for the world (and a desire to change it) as much as he did, being depressed would follow *naturally.*

    Made me feel better about my own sadness and displeasure from the world. I’m honestly in a better mood and happier when I’m *not* thinking so much about the world, when I essentially grow some callouses and put up shields. One of my online friends snapped me out of a funk with these simple words “Shadsie, you have to realize that most of the world is not like you!” Weird how that worked. Similar to how I tend to try to calm my guy down in traffic-rage by saying “Honey, repeat after me. Humans are stupid. Once you realize this, you’ll feel better.”

    That brings me to this – Humanity is a ball of stupid, scared, selfish beasts. We are going to say insensitive things and be insensitive. We are going to do things in our fear and our ignorance that are going to hurt others. Sadly, some people think they have to put certain folk down in order to appease a loving-yet-capricious creator and avoid a bad eternal fate. Some people think they’re “standing up for right,” while forgetting simple compassion. I know because I’ve been there and have said a lot of stupid things.

    I’ve also been suicidal. I’m not gay – I have other issues (like that bipolar brain chemistry spoken of above). Some days I have a “screw the world” attitude, some days I feel like a useless burden who should stop wasting rescourses that can go to more important and functional human beings. This is a function of my illness, my poverty, my childhood of being teased, things I’ve done/situations I’ve gotten myself into… lots of things. It’s like a switch that turns on, it’s a feeling of being like an animal trapped in a small cage and just wanting to escape. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to *die* so much as escape and/or to stop being so hopelessly burdensome. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much people in your life love you, your brain is in that crazy mode that says “Sure, they’ll cry, but ultimately they’ll be better off without me.” (Even if it’s not true).

    I guess what I’m saying is – person who wrote the letter – don’t blame yourself. Lots of things build up to a suicide and sometimes when someone’s brain has checked out into that mode, the only thing that can be done is if someone is physically *right there* to take away the impliment(s) of destruction and/or call an ambulance. Or, if the suicidal person, once they’ve realized what they’ve done, decide to live. (At least that’s what happened to my stupid self after I drank some bleach).

  • Diana A.

    Whoever wrote those comments was wrong. The truth is that if that person could make hateful remarks in the face of one gay person’s suicide, there is no compassion in that person’s heart. If it was the teacher who did it, the teacher should definitely be fired. That kind of teacher is probably cruel to any student who doesn’t meet with her (his?) expectations.

  • I’d only heard the story from a right-wing source which managed to leave out the actual comments, saying only that the teacher had “expressed his religious beliefs.”

    If his religious beliefs include the idea that another dozen kids need to die for his amusement, then there is something seriously wrong with his religion.

    It’s disgusting.

  • You know what makes me angry and breaks my heart?

    That a bunch of bigots is able to speak for Christianity, and that when they do so they say the most hurtful possible things.

    Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. If it was really important to Him, I’d think that He would have mentioned it. You know, “Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the poor in spirit, woe to the arrogant … and, oh, yeah … homosexuals.”

    And, yet, He never did.

    As to those who argue that the Church isn’t responsible for what people do, let me present a sort of analogy.

    If I chase a person into traffic, and that person gets hit by a car and dies, then I am responsible for that death. I killed the victim, even though I didn’t drive the car and I might not have known a car was coming.

    When we put out “God hates you” messages or allow them to go unchallenged, or tolerate that kind of language in any way as God’s word, then we are chasing victims onto the freeway. There may or may not be a car coming … some of the victims may be able to dodge or whatnot. But every person who dies because s/he can’t come to terms with loving God and being told over and over again that God hates him/her is being killed by our words, or by our lack of words.

    Making lame excuses and trying to blame the victim doesn’t help.

  • LSS

    what bothers me about this story is that the *kid* felt it wasn’t the teacher writing. most people who are that homophobic don’t hide it that well, with a lot of gay right stories in the news lately, right?! so maybe it wasn’t the teacher… but if he often debates that student on fb, that means he’s often *on* fb … so you’d think he’d notice if his account were hacked. i don’t know… the whole thing is pretty strange. with this much doubt, it’s hard to know what it’s an example of.

  • LSS

    when i typed “gay right”, i meant “gay rights” … not the logcabin republicans.

  • John Slattery

    I’ve been following the story – it appears that he denied making the comments, claiming his account had been “hacked”:

    “Gonzalez, who graduated in 2009, said that he was initially upset by the comments from Whitney’s account, but said he later talked to Whitney, who denied writing them and told Gonzalez his account had been hacked.”

    In some circles, this is what’s now called “the Weiner Defense” (which didn’t work out too well for him, either.)

    Then he e-mailed an apology (sort of):

    “I do not condone bullying or harassment of any kind and I am very aware and saddened by the negative impact this type of behavior creates. I regret that the posts appeared on Facebook. They do not reflect my personal views and I apologize for any and all offenses caused by the comment.”

    “Whitney, however, did not respond to follow-up emails and telephone calls to explain how comments that do not reflect his views came from his Facebook account, nor has he been available for additional questions.”

    Note how the apology skirts the issue of who posted the comments. Amazing that no matter how often politicians discover it the hard way, so many people still don’t understand that a whitewashing cover-up only makes matters much worse.

    I would have had a little respect for the man if he’d had the courage to simply admit he did it and then issue a proper apology (and not one beginning. “If anyone was offended,” which seems to be the customary start for celebrity apologies these days.)

  • Lauren

    I mostly really, really like this analogy. I hate to nitpick it because it gets so much right, but just because i can already hear in my head the bigot’s argument against it, please allow me to play devil’s advocate with, i promise, friendly intent.

    Suicide is an action that the individual performs, a choice he or she makes. It’s a terrible, heart-breaking, and awful choice, and one that i know for many who have attempted suicide at the time felt like the ONLY choice. And so the running-into-traffic analogy breaks down at this point, because there is no analog for the oncoming car or its careless driver.

    If i may suggest a modification of the analogy, i think it might be better to say spewing hateful rhetoric is like chasing someone into a dangerous river. You may not have made them jump in, you might not have known they couldn’t swim, but your actions made them feel they could no longer share that shoreline with you. And so they jumped.

    Does that make sense? Again, i can’t stress enough how strongly i agree with you; i just think we need to be careful with the analogies we make—because so much is at stake.

  • LSS

    if the teacher was lying, he’s an utter slimebag and police and his school and everyone will know soon … because they will be able to get which ISPs his account was accessed from and possibly which ISPs those posts were posted from. so unless the hacker was in the teacher-room or in his own family … he’s *so* busted if he’s lying.

    for some reason that is not much consolation. although it is, a little.

  • LSS

    it’s practically the same because they could have chosen to run along the edge of the road between the cars and the guard rail … but for whatever reason, the momentum (in their head or in their body) was in favor of plunging forward.

    both analogies are really good and i think, if i can remember them properly, i would use either of them to explain this to people.

  • I appreciate your kind and thoughtful response to this person.

  • LSS

    glad you stayed after all. several people who are dear to me are suicide survivors. one of them told me 2 things that i would never have expected to be true: (1) that the Thanatos (death urge?) is real. (2) that it takes just as much courage to follow it as to resist it. courage is not the issue (many people call suicides “cowards” in order to convince people not to do it. this is wrong) … it’s avoiding the urge until it passes or becomes weaker? or something like that.

    i like how you dealt with the Bipolar Jesus image. i wonder which bible characters get labeled Autistic. of course if we are ALL in God’s image then all ways of being have a connection to God’s way of being, so i guess it doesn’t matter.

  • LSS

    please excuse the comic relief, but right now i really wish to own a Bipolar Jesus action figure. do you think ArchieMcPhee company is up for that?! they’d probably make it in the likeness of Gringo Jesus, though, and those always irritate me.

  • amen…

  • Chalie J. Manning via Facebook

    Such a lovely letter to a grieving man who lost his cousin!! You stated that he the man who took his life was a Christian and that it was a good thing. He was also a Gay man and that is also a good thing! It just saddens me that the majority of Christians do not believe this and the poor soul took his life because he had so much self loathing and most likely it was because of what his Church/religion taught him. Thank you for being a positive light in the Christian community we need more people like you in the world!

  • The last paragraph reminds me of this song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fqPcnuVPR8

  • thank you, dawn.

  • Pam

    This was my favorite line, as well. What an amazing closing sentence; it was just right!

  • Sharon

    “Something went wrong for him down here: the pieces didn’t fit right; for him the song of life kept breaking up, falling out of tune, disappearing.”

    Cried so hard when I read this sentence. It grabbed me by the heart.

  • Pam Martin via Facebook

    Amazing response….especially the last line!

  • Grant

    John, I recently discovered your site and give thanks to God that I did.

    That last couple of posts you’ve written (including the one you removed) move me to tears.

    Just over a week ago in my home city, a gay grade 10 student, after years of bullying and dealing with mental health challenges committed suicide. I preached on his death, the hate, the bullying and God’s call to love neighbour as thyself (by the spelling of neighbour you shall know I am Canadian). In any event, let me tell you, the sermon resonated with both my congregations – rural/small town. Both have lost kids to suicide. It was a “hard” sermon and I struggled right up until the Sunday morning if I should preach what I had prepared. I had to. I was called to. As I was told after – we needed that. We know that. Thank you for your courage in preaching that. Both congregations are so welcoming, accepting (I am out as a gay Christian and minister). I have never been so loved nor welcomed.

    Just wanted you to know I enjoy your blog. And by writing my comments to you, to let others know there are many, many Christians for whom sexuality is not the challenge. Rather, the challenge is the marginalization of any who are different – including Christians in an increasingly secular society.

    Blessings to you and all who find your writings of “Life”.


  • I have seen a Jesus action figure before. I forget which company makes it. I’d like to have the Edgar Allan Poe action figure, myself.

    I actually remember the same person who got onto me for “Jesus the Bipolar” (was actually a nice person) used the chasing of the moneychangers out of the Temple as an example of why it’s wrong or inadvisble for people to follow figures who have “anger issues.”

    I’m sorry, but as much as I believe in being nice, I think that good is not always nice. Sometimes good has to smack a bitch. This was one of those times. As I see it, all the prostitutes, poor fishermen and tax collectors Jesus hung out with didn’t need a smacking – they needed the gentleness. The smug self-righteous temple-elite who were charging poor people an arm and a leg to do the required Judaic sacrifices were barring people from God and were jerks in need of a harsher, more action-packed “preaching” style.

    Honestly, if Jesus wasn’t a worshipped/religious figure, people like that would be all”Yeah! Someone who stood up to injustice!” becuase, well, we *are* like that with historical troublemakers who rouse up the status quo – we even admire people who’ve done much more violent things. Yet somehow, this *one* *special* person does it and… “anger issues.”

  • John Slattery

    Dear LSS,

    Unfortunately, there’s another possibility – one I’ve seen happen all too often. It’s very possible the “powers-that-be” will simply whitewash the whole thing, declare that the teacher wasn’t responsible, and close the case. No further comments because , as officials love to say. “I can’t comment about personnel matters.”

    In fact, I’d bet that’s what will happen (I lived in Joplin for a year; the “good old boy network” is alive and quite well there.)

  • Ziggy

    The letter shared in this post saddens me and sends chills up my spine. I know several men who are in the same position as the writer’s cousin. I struggle to understand their emotions and how I can help them. Some have (finally) come out to a select group of friends and/or family, while others live so miserably deep in the closet. I know each person has their own path to walk, but seeing them walk the path, and having previous brushes with death via pills, etc., is worrisome.

  • Beautiful. Thank you, Grant. This means a lot to me.

  • It certainly is. It’s good/sad for you that you’re so sensitive to others, Ziggy.

  • I just shared this with the rest of the team leading my UCC church in the Open and Affirming process.

  • Lee Marshall

    Thank you for the beautiful message of comfort & compassion at the end of your post, John. As I’ve said to you before, I am no longer a Christian, but your words make me feel better and give me hope. I’ve always felt the really wonderful, subversive, revolutionary part of Christianity is its emphasis on love. Thanks for keeping that message out there.

  • Diana A.

    “I’ve always felt the really wonderful, subversive, revolutionary part of Christianity is its emphasis on love.” I totally agree with this. “Faith, hope, and love abide–but the greatest of these is love,” since “God is love.” What doesn’t conform to love, doesn’t conform to God, even if God is quoted as saying it. Afterall, God can be misquoted too.

  • vj

    It has occurred to me lately that, if we take only those parts of scripture which we [those who regard the Bible as an accurate record of these things] can say come directly from God (i.e. the 10 commandments, and all the words spoken by Jesus, rather than all the instructions, prophecies and teachings ‘filtered’ through people), it would be impossible to conclude that God has any opinion on homosexuality at all….

  • vj

    Utterly brilliant! Shadsie, I think you have captured *exactly* how the church should be approaching the 2 current major issues in Western Christianity – gentleness for the broken , downtrodden and marginalized, and ‘action-packed’ for the religious bigots. It is heartbreaking to see that, in large part, these have been switched around.

  • Donald Rappe

    After reading the linked story I tend to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. His account was probably abused by a close relative. He apologized for the content at the same time indicating it was not his. I see no reason to doubt him. Worse, it is possible that an enemy is setting him up.

  • Donald Rappe

    I live in Texas now and I agree with this.

  • David J Martin

    Been a bit slow in reading the entries but the current one about teen suicide and recent one “Is Homosexuality a Sin” are particularly poignant for me. First, my younger son committed suicide 2 years ago not because of being gay but from mental illness created by the monsters who cared for him as a Korean orphan until we adopted him at age 3. Bits and pieces of “care” by non-nurturing foster parents created a sociopath unknown to us. He became estranged at age 14 due to horrible acts committed against a younger sibling. I knew in my heart and mind he would eventually acknowledge, realize the magnitude of his acts and end his life. Not because we rejected him but he could not accept himself. And so it happened. The second issue of sin and homosexuality ties in. Having gone through “coming out” as an adult married father after 35 years of marriage was painful as I experienced “verbal” acceptance yet in reality gradual exclusion from family life. Yet I never planned on ending the pain through suicide. Quite frankly, suicide is a path intended to end pain – not life – although in effect that does occur. Few, if any, adolescents have the intellectual or spiritual maturity to face the agony of coming out – family rejection, friend rejection, social rejection – all because of THEIR inability to accept him/herself. Faced with this how does the teen accept him/herself. The final point – in the name of God – Christ – (Who is all accepting, unconditionally loving, merciful, compassionate) religious bigots – clergy and laity – dare to reject as “unclean” what God has declared “clean”. We are created as “very good” as stated on the sixth day of creation. These hateful “Christians” set the final stage for rejection and suicide by usurping the position of God. I counsel patients and friends: where love is present God is present. If two persons love each other sincerely, the love they express is not sinful, for to say love is sinful is to say God is sinful. I doubt very much that our loving Father has a checklist to condemn sexual acts expressing love based on our biases of whether they are same-sex, straight, within or out of marital bonds. For me, I have long ago been shown the bigotry, hypocrisy, exclusiveness of my own Catholic Church during training as a deacon. I could not blindly accept the pablum of blind acceptance of the Code of Canon Law (aka. Catholic Leviticus). My Faith is firmly rooted in the Gospel of Christ – LOVE – He and He alone is my guide through the Holy Spirit living within my heart. Our teens need vocal support and counseling from loving Christians, not marginalization.

  • Donald Rappe

    This is an excellent piece of writing John. I suppose I do not think the clarion call has yet ended. What is that sound we hear?

  • Donald Rappe

    Viva La Virgen Morena!

  • Thanks very much, to each of you.

  • Well said, Mr. Rappe.

  • Wow, David. WOW! This is just … so much. What an amazingly difficult story. You’ve been through a lot.

  • Beautiful, to you both.

  • Drew

    John: I was deeply moved by your response.

    When my faith has nearly evaporated and no amount of apologetics or rationalizing has any impact, it’s the witness of Christians like yourself that have me thinking, “Maybe this is real.”

  • Erin D.

    That is something I feel in my heart but could never put as eloquently as you have: how dare anyone reject as unclean what God declared was “very good.” Thank you for making it so clear.

  • Erin D.

    “Sometimes good has to smack a bitch.”

    Best. comment. ever. 😀

  • Erin D.

    Of course, in no way condoning violence toward women. Just the idea that sometimes, doing the right thing means not cowering and smiling and saying “huh…huh…not sure about that…um….”

  • LSS

    it gets some who were almost ready to check out, to say “maybe i can stay christian”

  • Suzanne M

    Every time I read this, I can’t hold back the tears. I’ve suffered from a severe mood disorder all of my adult life (and some of my childhood), so I “get” the whole sad thing, and the feelings of being ostracized by society, should anyone find out my “dirty little secret”.

    Here’s the thing, though. These tears aren’t tears of sadness, but rather of hope. You have no idea how much I needed to read this today, and I thank you SO much for sharing it with all of us. You’re response to this letter writer has profoundly (and positively) affected at least one other person, I can assure you. Something tells me there are many more who will take great things away from this, as well.

    It’s so wonderful to finally find some people who see Jesus Christ the way I always have: as loving, forgiving, and accepting…not hateful, judgmental, or spiteful.

    I thoroughly enjoy your writing. Thanks so much for the work you do. 🙂

  • LSS

    yeah… cos you know, Jews of that era, in the words of my students, “looked like terrorists”. ie: closer to what we think of as an Arab or even a Mestizo look, today.

  • Tom

    God declared man and woman, be fruitful and multiply, clean. All before sin entered the picture and distorted our sexuality.

    Now all sexuality is broken but God does make a provision for sex within a man and woman marriage only.

    To say anything else is incorrect and misrepresenting Gods design.

    However we are to love everyone and not marginalized anyone.

  • Tom

    Very few people say God hates gays but to deny homosexuality is a sin is just as damaging.

  • This story is such a testimony to why it is important that we are intentional in our welcome – not just for those who already identify as lgbtq, but for those who are questioning, for those who will question in the future, and for their families.

  • Lymis

    I’m sorry, but you simply cannot declare that.

    First, because gay people are not infertile people. We can (and often are) just as fruitful and capable of multiplying , not to mention able to rear and cherish children who need parents, as straight couples. The command in Genesis 1 is to all of humanity, not to each individual. And with estimates being at around 3-5% of humans being primarily homosexual, the other 95% can certainly keep the species going.

    Second, because even taking the Genesis 2 account as absolutely literal, before the fall there were only two people, specifically created AS a breeding pair. For that matter, since there was only one male and one female, there’s no basis to claim that they weren’t bisexual and simply didn’t have anyone else to act on it with.

    There is absolutely no indication of what the orientations, much less the family structures, of Adam and Eve’s children might have been in the absence of the Fall. Maybe they all would have been straight. Maybe they all would have been bisexual. Maybe some would have been gay, possibly in similar percentages to today.

    To claim that diversity in sexual orientation is by definition a result of the Fall is no different than claiming that diversity in skin color is by definition a result of the Fall. You don’t know that, and can’t know that, and are merely projecting your own prejudices into a document that has nothing to say on the issue.

    It’s just as justified to say that God created humanity with the capacity to be born with a variety and diversity of sexual orientations, and that the Fall is responsible for the intolerance, bigotry, and marginalization of those who are different.

    It’s a cheat to say that anything you don’t like in others is by definition the result of sin. There’s a parable about checking one’s eyes for lumber that might be worth a quick review.

  • When I said “bitch” I wasn’t really thinking “female” so much as “Do I gotta smack a bitch?!” is something of an Internet meme denoting the taking down of idiots and such.

  • DR

    Tom,Tommy.Thomas, the way that you continue to stalk and harass this site with this kind of thing is bordering on really disturbing.

  • (This isn’t that Tom. Web Jedi Dan W. made that Tom really, really want to go play big bad troll somewhere else.)

  • Diana A.

    How? Or can you not tell us w/out causing further problems?

  • Soulmentor

    I have known two gay suicides, and saved two others from it with my love (according to them). I had no chance to influence the second suicide, but I live with deep regret that I may very well have been able to prevent the first and didn’t. He was a young man, just legal enuf to be in the gay bar where I met him about 30 years ago (god, has that much time passed?!!). Swedish blond type, beautiful young man, lonely, depressed, very sad, in tears as we talked sitting at the bar, my arm around him. His father had kicked him out and he was living with someone who was taking advantage of him. I wanted to love him, and did in the limited way I could at that moment. You see, I was married, visiting Mpls, three hours away from the home and family I should have been with.

    It was only my second or third time in a gay bar and getting close to closing and I had to drive home yet that nite. I wanted to offer him love and shelter but could not. He had told me that he had a grandmother living near the town I lived in. I could have taken him there but somehow, that didn’t occur to me until too late. We had to leave the bar and I stood helplessly outside watching him cross the street into the rainy nite. I never saw him again.

    But, weeks later, I learned of his death. I knew his name and his father’s name. I had called them. Caught his mother on the phone. Told her I’d met John at a bar downtown Mpls. Didn’t tell her which one but I’m sure she knew what kind. She was kind, listened as I told her of his distress, gave me her address and I promised to keep in touch, which I did and wrote another longer letter.

    Later, I wrote again and she replied that John never returned home. She told me he was last known to be helping a farmer uncle in Wisconsin south of Mpls and across the river. The uncle had a small unoccupied cabin on the river apparently and that’s where John was found, dead, of an overdose of something. We’ll never know, but I’m guessing it was suicide.

    I am deeply pained to this day that I failed that beautiful boy in such a simple way. Driving him to his grandmother’s that nite might have made all the difference but I was afraid of my situation….yet…..in those days. (I lost that fear even before the divorce, but too late for John.)

    I still have his poems. Yes, his mother sent me three of John’s poems full of pain and loneliness, saying it was all she had left of him. My God!!! I weep still, as I type this. I loved him that nite and I love him still…..and I failed him.

    I never failed again and today I am keeping a 10 year old promise to love a younger man who came to me off the streets of ILL to start a new life. I promised to love him no matter what and give him a home. I encouraged him to get his GED and after three years he left to live with a younger executive type who could do better by him materially than I could. But before that, I got him started at a local college and today he is studying psychology at a prestigious local university. He is like a third son to me now and we see each other often (no, no longer like THAT!!)

    I hope John is someplace where he can see and has forgiven me.

  • I describe it like this: Hold your breath. Have control over your breathing. But very very rarely will you be able to maintain that. Your brain’s mechanisms kick in and you start to breathe again.

    That’s how being suicidal feels to me. It’s like breathing, it’s something my brain becomes, and I have to fight it. It’s not cowardly or brave to give in or resist. It just is. But it is an actual fight. I do have to sit there and text friends in a panic and tell them to distract me, or fill my time, or let me rant, or find a way to put myself in a position where I can’t do it, or else the desire overcomes me so much I’m not sure I can resist it.

    In a simplest definition: suicide is when pain exceeds the ability to cope with it. Both actual ability and perceived. David Foster Wallace used the analogy of jumping out of a burning building. The terror of falling remains the same as any other person who would be afraid of falling. The difference is the terror of the flames far surpass the terror of the fall.

  • DR

    A new Tom! Wonderful.

  • (I know. Dan and I were like, “Crikey! He’s back!” Then we were, like, “Wait. It’s just POSSIBLE there’s more than one guy in the world named Tom who thinks homosexuality is a sin.” But this Tom lacks the … seriously annoying tone that made Thomas the Troll … make Dan focus on him.)

  • Ken

    Great reply, John. One reads stories like this and through the shock of such senseless loss all that comes to mind is, “Heaven forgive us.” Nobody should feel so hated for being gay that they should desire death over life.

  • Erin D.

    Where exactly did the smackdown occur? I do really want to see it if possible….

  • Erin D.

    I totally know what you meant. I just got to thinking about the literal meaning of the saying. It’s like saying “gay” for “stupid.” Happens all the time, has sort of become its own word separate from gay people. But it perpetuates something that probably shouldn’t be perpetuated. I am just as guilty for liking the statement before I thought harder about what it actually says.

  • DR

    No it’s not. The only thing homosexuality leads to are people who fall in love, get married (in those areas that allow it) and frequently adopt the babies that those of us who are Christian don’t want as we spent millions on IVF to have our own babies.

    There is no destruction personally, spiritually, emotionally that occurs when people are gay. People who are gay are also Christian. They hold jobs, they pay taxes. They contribute to our society.

    Let’s address the “destruction” that many of you believe being gay causes. The destruction of “traditional” marriage? Those of us who are straight are already destroying that with an over 50% divorce rate – Christians divorcing and remarrying at a rate that’s even higher than an average.

    The “sexual immorality” as well as the “danger to children”? The heterosexual community is perverse and pervasive and the massive majority of child molesters are white – male – straight – and very frequently religious.

    Those of you who continue to make these claims better start having some specifics instead of vague, Biblical pearl-clutching generalities because the actual facts disprove each and everything you say. You cannot draw the type of behavior logic as you call being gay “sin” as you can with other sins – coveting, greed, deception. You just can’t.

  • DR

    Not a huge fan of the whole “smack a bitch” comment. Had to say it.

  • Too much time with Internet memes… need to find some other way of expressing “punch.” Kind of assumed everyone would get the jokey “dealing with general idiots” meaning. I’m female, myself, but just didn’t really think about the “abuse” meaning until it was pointed out to me, actually. I’m sorry.

    “Sometimes good needs to lay a smackdown?”

    “Sometimes good needs to kick some ass?”

    One of those or another suggestion might be better?

  • DR

    I love those both! xoxo

  • DR

    Wow did that even make sense? I love both of those.

  • Jim

    Hey Grant: Could you post your sermon?

  • This breaks my heart. Live and let live, God will judge who has sinned and who has not. God creates us all, that includes Gay people. It is blasphemous to condem a creation of God’s. Stupid Guilt, evil guilt, there is nothing worse than that lonely feeling guilt brings on.

  • I love your compassionate answer John…it would certainly help the person.

  • John Allen via Facebook

    John, you are a beautiful person.

  • hows it going john whats up

  • that was a beautiful response John, just beautiful.

  • Reed

    Beautifully written. And I can’t help but wonder: if the cousin denied being gay, and was asked multiple times about it . . . then HOW, exactly, would anyone know that he was?

  • Beautifully written. And the fact that the cousin somehow “knew” he was gay, despite the multiple denials, just blows my mind. And it raises so many questions . . .

    What if the cousin WASN’T gay?
    What if he was chronically depressed because he was chronically depressed?
    What if the overdose of prescription pain meds was actually an overdose?
    WHY the presumption that the cousin lied?
    And if he “couldn’t admit that to himself,” then is the letter prompted by guilt about having somehow contributed to making things worse by asking if he was gay, and then not believing his answer?
    Apparently more than one relative was talking about him behind his back, since more than one asked, and notes were compared as to his answers . . .

  • Exactly, Reed. The “culture of shame” negatively affects those who ARE gay, as well as those “only” perceived as gay. It would be great if we could stop wondering what all people do in their bedrooms and simply accept them as our beloved brothers and sisters.

  • Diana A.

    This. Right here. So true.

  • Adam Bradley via Facebook

    I hope I live to see the day when religious intolerance doesn’t lead people to do things like this. My partner was raised in the Mormon church and for the first part of our relationship engaged in self-destructive behaviors due to trying to reconcile his sexuality and his faith (he still shares a lot of their beliefs, and there are a lot of things about his upbringing that made him the man I fell in love with). I love your response to this letter and yearn and hope for the day when more Christians believe this way. Thanks for giving me hope.

  • Leland

    I kept asking myself the same questions. He never admitted to being gay, but the cousin assumes that’s why he committed suicide.

  • Matt Algren via Facebook

    I’ve been working on this map for a year and a half now. I worry that it’s a new form of self-mortification, but at the same time, I feel like people need to know. The saddest part for me is the huge swaths of empty space, not because no gay person there ever completes suicide, but because, like your letter writer’s cousin, they do it without coming out. Worse, when they do it and family does their best to cover it up.


  • Matt Algren via Facebook

    (Delete this if you think it’s inappropriate, John. I totally understand.)

  • Annie Cain via Facebook

    A tender, beautiful & thoughtful response to a heart breaking letter…

  • Terri Antonovich via Facebook

    Most excellent response

  • Tricia Sturgeon

    As always John you took something tragic and made it beautiful! You gave hope where someone only saw sorrow and tragedy. The REAL tragedy is that the church at large, the closemindedness and intolerance, can and have led to such unthinkable acts as these. I know alot about the bible and when it says God IS love, HE means it! Love is the universal theme of the bible, its who GOD is! I will never understand how an all loving God could have people who follow him that are so UN-loving in so many ways. If there were one thing to break God’s heart and make him “bleed” as you say its the fact that so many “christians” do NOT show that kind of all encompassing, universal love for their fellow man (or woman). It took me YEARS to realize that God loved me for who I was, who He created me to be. Gay or straight, black or white, short or tall, we are all God’s creation and we are ALL valuable! I so wish the person this woman was writing about could have seen that and embraced it. My heart goes out to this young mans family.

  • Laura Butler via Facebook
  • robert

    It was a nice response… but… I think it might miss the point….

    People growing up in churches that preach hate disguised as love… bigotry disguised as brotherhood… and self-rightiousness disguised as compassion… have twisted a twisted sense of morality… a morality supported by the delusion that they have a “special” relationship with god. Every church person I have ever met believes that their “version” of religion is the right one… and all other are not. Each of them assumes a sense of “privilege” and take on a mantel of “infallibility”… and act as though only they have the special pipeline to the almighty… (the arrogance of this belief system continues to disgust and baffle me).

    Gay people… (and also women) are endlessly damaged by these churches. They are taught that they are worthless, hated and cursed by god…. and usually the indoctrination begin at birth. It is a miracle that any gay person can develop any sense of integrity, ego-strenght and dignity under these conditions.

    The writer’s cousin wasn’t “broken” and “something” didn’t go wrong. He was abused and beaten by the baseball bat of christian theology since childhood… he was a true believer… and died because of his indoctrination… This is a truth I know… since I was suicidal for years because of the “love” and “compassion” that christianity teaches “to least of your brothers”…

    It would be nice if all religious people all over the world of every single belief system would just admit that they “believe” in things that are completely “unprovable”, that their faith is totally “irrational” and begin to act with a sense of humility caused by the acknowledgement that they MIGHT JUST BE WRONG about the whole dammed thing…. cause most atheists/agnostics do exactly that.

  • DR

    While I’ve not experienced a lot of atheists who express a possibility they might be wrong, I think that faith is absolutely not provable and that most people on this site who do have a faith wouldn’t equate proof or certainty to it.

  • otter

    sad but informative, how many years does this cover?.

    wish we could also see the hate crimes……..

  • Lymis

    A little over a decade ago, a local teen who was the captain of the football team as well as the valedictorian went out behind the school the week before graduation with his “best friend” and the two of them killed themselves.

    It was the talk of the town and of the school and the school district, and in all the discussion and all the news and all the “why didn’t we see this coming” and the “they had everything going for them, what could possibly have been a reason, any reason, for this” there was never a single public mention of what was blindingly obvious to all of us in the gay community. After all, they were active in their local (conservative evangelical) church, and were always together, and appeared to everyone to be happy and well adjusted. They’d never even mentioned any issues to their friends, or their parents. Everyone was (or pretended to be) completely blindsided by it.

    So the two of them are not going to be your statistics, but many of us are absolutely certain they should be.

  • Allen

    I know this is old but thank you so much Robert for posting that. That was beautiful!!!

  • Bazil

    This is a terrible response. Telling someone it’s ok that they killed them self because they are with Jesus now, and then referencing Jesus’s life like gay is something so terrible it killed God. They killed them self bc they sought companionship and acceptance but instead everyone told them the only way to to prevent themselves from sinning is to never have a family and live alone until they die. Terrible people you are