Today I had the privilege of both speaking briefly at a prayer breakfast and meeting with fellow clergy and Tennessee state legislators to discuss the far-reaching implications of Tennessee’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. As you may know, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill would force teachers and school administrators to literally “out” any student who approaches them to discuss anything related to homosexuality. This bill is not only a HUGE step backward in our work to create equality, but also a CLEAR message to LGBT youth that they sit in their closets alone. I honestly can’t decide if this legislation makes me more want to cry or shout… or possibly both.
No matter our political or theological leanings, we should be able to agree that children and teens should not be killing themselves because they have been placed in a situation so hostile and isolating that they feel there is no other alternative.
I don’t often write my sermons/reflections out in a word-for-word document… but I did this time. Thought I’d my reflection with you here…
Don’t Say Gay?
When I confirmed my participation in this breakfast, one of the organizers asked about scriptures that would be appropriate to share this morning. I immediately thought of this small story from Joshua 20:
Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought.
It’s an interesting little story, isn’t it? It’s the Lord telling Joshua to provide refuge for people being pursued by their enemies. In this case the cities of refuge are specifically for people who have accidentally killed someone, but let’s think about the spirit behind the idea…
Provide safety, refuge, and protection for those who need to be protected. It’s an important enough idea that the commandment to provide cities of refuge can be found in 4 of our OT books.
“Provide a place where they can flee and find protection.”
Let me be clear – I AM NOT implying that a non-hetero sexual orientation is in any way deviant or that LGBTQ youth – or any youth – should feel the need to hide because of who they love.
BUT… I do like the standard set in this passage that God provided a place of safety for those whom society considered morally outcast. Should our schools and churches not also be these places for our youth? Shouldn’t our teachers have the freedom to act in compassion and be a “city of refuge” for students who are sometimes literally “pursued by their enemies?” Given that our kids spend 25% of their day under a school roof, shouldn’t we do everything we can to make it a safe place… a city of refuge… rather than a place that makes them feel isolated and alone?
Given that research shows the isolation LGBT youth feel may be one of the greatest contributors to the fact that these kids are:
- more than 8 times more likely to attempt suicide
- almost 6 times more likely to experience serious depression
- over 3 times more likely to have regular unprotected sex than other youth.
Given that… shouldn’t we do everything we can to hold them close rather than push them further outside the city walls?
From the gospel of Matthew:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”