By Rev. Sandy Johnson, pastor at Santa Cruz Valley UMC
I haven’t always been a part of the Reconciling movement. I used to believe that if the bible says it, then it’s truth. I got hung up on Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” An abomination. It says it, right there. How do I get around that? I did not believe there was a way to understand scripture other than reading it literally, I mean, who was I to interpret scripture?
Then I went to seminary. I learned how we all can and should interpret scripture. Particularly with our Methodist roots, we are taught to read scripture not only as the words on a page, but also through the lens of our own experience, tradition, and reason. We are to consider when scripture was written, who it was written for, and why it was written in the first place. As I began to learn, the scales that had once been covering my eyes fell crashing to the ground.
You see, God knew I needed to grow in my understanding of loving God and loving God’s people. While I was attending seminary, God put me in community with five gay men. I can remember (cringing now) when I explained to a fellow seminarian that “I loved the sinner but hated the sin.” I cannot imagine why he did not reject me in that moment, but he did not, he too felt the call from God to help educate me. When he and others told me their stories, of how they had been rejected, beaten, and left for dead because of who they loved, I began to understand that they did not choose this. And if they did not choose, if this was how they were created, who was I to question God’s beautiful creation.
I am grateful for the gay men God placed in my path, each with a similar story, a story of heartache and pain. I am thankful that I began to see our LGBTQ sisters and brothers as beloved children of God. I am grateful because several years later my youngest child came to me to share that they believed they were gay, then two years later they told me that they weren’t gay, they were a straight woman.
The past two years have been filled with heartache and pain for my little girl. As brave as she is, and she is fiercely brave, others have come up against her and said hateful things, have misgendered her, deadnamed her, physically and verbally assaulted her, and rejected her. As her mother, I am scared every time she interacts with new people, when she went to a new school, and when we moved to a new town. Would she be harmed; would people understand her? Would they accept her? The reality is that we reject those who are different. Those who look different, those who act differently, and those who love different.
The evidence of the harm we inflict by rejecting LGBTQ sisters and brothers is noted in the suicide statistics. The Trevor Project is the leading organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. On their website, they share that LGBTQ youth contemplate suicide almost three times the rate of straight kids. LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide, of the suicide attempts made by youth, LGBTQ youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment.
Do you want to know the statistics that scare me the most? In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. They also reported that each episode of LGBTQ victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.
I also know that LGBTQ children that live in a home where they are accepted help lower these rates, but not to the level of their straight peers. As the church, the lives of our children are at stake when we say that they are “less than,” when we tell them that they are a sinner just for being. The harm that we inflict when we support discriminatory policies and dangerous therapies can be avoided if we would but learn, grow, and imagine what their life is like. I can tell you that if my daughter could change and be what others think is “normal,” I suspect she would. Life is hard enough, as a church we must be that safe haven for all of God’s people. We must listen and learn how to love like Jesus and welcome all. All means all! For more information about the Trevor Project visit https://www.thetrevorproject.org.
Editor’s Note: The Desert Southwest Conference Welcome & Reconciling Ministries team is chaired by Rev. Kimberly Scott and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Desert Southwest Conference staff person assigned to this committee is Director of Justice and Outreach, Billie K. Fidlin, and she can be reached at email@example.com.