On Faith: It's the church's job to be accepting

On Wednesday, in a stand against the bullying of lesbian and gay children, people all over the world wore purple. It was interesting to see who donned the royal shade. I took note at our inter-faith luncheon, at the grocery store, even as I was driving and observing those walking on the street. Suddenly, I was keenly aware of people all around me. This was a visual code to signify support and safety. I felt instantly close to people I did not know. This simple sign demonstrated a commitment to stand against hatred and violence, and stand in support of gay children — indeed people — everywhere. Had this day fallen on a Sunday, I wondered to myself, how purple would America's pews be?

A survey released Thursday reported that 2 out of 3 Americans believe that gay people commit suicide at least partly because of messages coming out of churches and other places of worship. The survey continued to report that 4 out of 10 Americans say that the messages coming out of churches about gay people are negative, and those very messages contribute to negative perceptions of gay people.

After the string of suicides committed by young gay teens it is high time that we, people of faith, take a good look at our own culpability. For too long now, the church has been the perpetrator of violent language towards gays and lesbians. While it is often easy to rationalize this language as being critical of a "love the sinner, hate the sin" behavior, the reality is that this rationale does not make anyone feel loved. In fact, it makes people feel excluded, inadequate and unaccepted. Is it any wonder that teens, our children, have felt that their only way out is to kill themselves?

Many houses of faith do not take such a strong negative stance on homosexuality, but instead choose to remain silent; to say nothing at all. Churches cannot buy into the military's "don't ask, don't tell" model because it does not work. And yet, if Americans largely believe that churches are conveyors of this anti-gay message and if your church says nothing, your silence is simple acquiescence. It is not enough to say nothing. It feels safer to not take a stance. We buy into the belief that if we say nothing, no one will be offended — no one gets hurt.

However, the reality is that people do get hurt. Children are dying. In that same survey 1 in 3 people said that it was the message from places of worship that contribute "a lot" to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth. Even those of us who say nothing are culpable.

It is my prayer that we purple our houses of worship. In this way our physical presence speaks the words too many of us are afraid to say. People of faith, we must own our culpability in these needless deaths and these senseless acts of bullying. We must be brave enough to attempt to undo the damage we've done. Churches, synagogues, mosques, all places of faith are called to stand up now, when it counts, and protect our children. It is not enough to be open and silent. We must be open and affirming. God grant us the courage to wear purple.

THE REV. SARAH HALVERSON is pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa.

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