Sometimes things converge in a way that only God can arrange. When the release day for my book, The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention, was set, I’d forgotten that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The book was officially released on the first, Mental Health Awareness Month had begun, and my sermon text for this week is, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” These things would be enough to contemplate for any sermon, but there is one more thing. There is an article about some new research that shows evidence that faith communities can be a contributing factor in suicidality for LGBTQ+ young adults.
While this does not surprise many of us, the church has no business being a contributing factor in suicidality for anyone. Jesus was pretty clear about what his commandment to his disciples was and is: Love one another. Jesus didn’t say to withhold love from those we consider sinners. Jesus didn’t say to love only those who are like us and keep us feeling comfortable. In fact, Jesus simply told his followers to go out into the world and love as God loves them. And if we’re still unclear, we can add the text from 1 John that clearly states that one cannot love God if one hates their brothers, sisters, friends, or neighbors (1 John 4:20-21). How has the church, the Body of Christ, gotten so off-track as to be a factor in suicidality?
We’ve gotten so far from the imperative of the Gospel – make manifest the Realm of God or, put another way, Love one another – that we are killing ourselves. Yes, that’s right. We aren’t killing “others” with our doctrine and rigidity; we are killing members of the Body of Christ. If one among us is gay, lesbian, bisexual, Trans*, questioning, asexual, pansexual, or queer in any way, then the Body of Christ is LGBTQ+. If one member of the Body of Christ is suicidal, then the Body of Christ is suicidal. The truth is that the Body of Christ is LGBTQ+ and suicidal, whether we admit it or not.
Our denial, however, is killing us. Our shame is killing us. Our silence is killing us. The stigma we place on those who are suicidal is killing us. The church is supposed to be about saving lives, embodying hope, incarnating resurrection. What are we doing allowing those among us to suffer under the labels we put on them, suffer to the point of believing that they are valueless and unwanted and unloved by the church and by God? We are called to care for the most vulnerable among us. Who is more vulnerable than those who are suicidal?
Faith is supposed to be a protective factor. Being a member of a church and having belief in the saving power of God is supposed to bring healing and life to all of us. Faith that limits who is acceptable to God is faith that contributes to suicidal behavior and death by suicide. Surely, this is not what the Body of Christ ought to be about. This is not how we love one another. Jesus did not reject or shame anyone, let alone to the point of death. Jesus met each person where they were. He saw them. He often touched them. He brought healing into their lives and re-membered them, literally. He rejoined them to the community who had cast them out. It’s not too big a stretch to think that Jesus would reach out to LGBTQ+ people who are feeling unloved and unwanted and assure them that they, too, are God’s beloved. With that assurance, then they can be re-membered into the Body of Christ.
I say all of this because I know it’s true. I am bisexual and the church saved my life by loving me when I was actively suicidal, by ordaining me to ministry, and by calling me to serve the Body of Christ. When I have been rejected by this same church, it was painful and lonely and made me question whether or not God truly loved me. Fortunately for me, by the time I faced rejection when I came out, I had already realized that the church is not God. In understanding this, I also understood that,sometimes, the church lives in fear rather than grace, and fails to incarnate Love. This failure does not mean that God’s love ends. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. Not church. Not sexual identity, not gender identity, not shame, not fear, not desperation, not pain. God loves all of us and waits for us to love one another with that same steadfast love, the love that saves lives.
During this Mental Health Awareness perhaps we can all take a moment to prayerfully consider where we have failed to embody Love and commit to singing that new song the psalmist spoke of. Perhaps we can make room for the most vulnerable among us to express their fear and pain and be met with unconditional love. We can be lifesavers. There is no shame in feeling unloved and unwanted. However, the Body of Christ has no business dis-membering people and adding to the shame and stigma so many people carry. Let’s be about loving as Jesus loved and ensuring that no one dies because we failed to communicate their status as God’s beloved.
RCL – Year B – Easter 6 – May 6, 2018
Acts 10: 44-48
1 John 5: 1-6