An Open Letter to Progressives: Speak Out for Our GLBT Teens

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On May 4, 2011, New York teen Jamey Rodenmeyer posted his own "It Gets Better" video on YouTube, part of an online effort to support GLBT teens as they struggle through adolescence. Unfortunately for Jamey, things didn't get better. A victim of persistent bullying because of his sexual orientation, Jamie committed suicide on September 18th.

In his YouTube video, Jamey talks about feeling like he could never escape the bullying he endured at his school. He speaks of the encouragement he received from the music of Lady Gaga and her message of "Just love yourself." But ultimately, the bullying and oppression he experienced were apparently too much. Law enforcement authorities are now considering whether charges might be brought against those who harassed Jamey. Even as legislation is being considered in several states to stem what seems to be a tide of GLBT suicides due to bullying, a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that a majority of Americans place at least part of the blame for these deaths on the anti-gay messages of conservative Christians.

But even as we point the finger at the possible oppressors, I have to wonder: "Where is the loud and unambiguous public voice of the progressive Church on this issue?" I fear that liberal and progressive Christians have become so tolerant and accepting of diverse viewpoints that on the issues where we need to speak prophetically, we barely offer a whisper. How many of our progressive pastors believe in full inclusion of GLBT persons in the Church and yet remain relatively silent on this issue for fear of stirring up debate and controversy in their congregations? How many progressive Christians love their GLBT brothers and sisters and yet keep it to themselves because they don't believe in "cramming their beliefs down the throats of others like those conservatives do"? How many of our moderate and progressive mainline churches are completely welcoming of GLBT persons and yet offer no hint of this on their website or print material? "We are welcoming of all," I've heard some say, "but does that mean we need to put a rainbow flag on our church sign?"

I think for the sake of children like Jamey Rodenmeyer, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, and other GLBT teens who have taken their lives in the last year the answer has to be "Yes." It's time for us to stop laying the blame for intolerance at the feet of conservative and fundamentalist Christians and take responsibility for our own complicity of silence when it comes to the oppression of GLBT persons.

It's time for progressives to let go of code language like "we welcome all," and just come out and say, "If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, you are welcome here just as you are." It's time for youth ministries in our progressive churches to stop quietly allowing gay teens to join our groups without ever publicly declaring ourselves as sanctuary for those who have been oppressed by the church for their sexual orientation. We need to make it clear not only to our fellow Christians but to the neighborhoods, schools, and towns we serve that our churches are ready to embrace and affirm any and all GLBT teens that may cross our doorstep.

The Church remains one of the last and perhaps loudest voices fomenting hate and oppression of gay persons in our world. The day has come for the progressive Church to take a page from the book of our more conservative Christian brethren and to be willing to wear our faith publicly, speaking out not just against injustice but for inclusion of those persons who many in the Church would turn away. Perhaps our voices can help to turn the tide of those in our culture who currently use the guise of Christianity to justify oppression and violence against our GLBT children.

Central United Methodist Church in Toledo, Ohio recently sponsored an electronic billboard in their city carrying the message "Being Gay is a Gift from God." How many of us in the progressive Church are willing to "out" ourselves quite so publicly on this issue? Our answer to that question may have profound implications for the lives of GLBT teens in the days to come.