“For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:3b-4)
* * *
I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat, avoiding eye contact with the ladies in my small group. They offered encouragement to a woman sitting next to me. She cried softly and spoke in halting sentences, wiping away tears with a tissue they offered.
“It’s just awful,” she said. “You can’t even imagine.”
But I could.
She was talking about her son. Her gay son. And nobody knew that he was gay but me and her. She didn’t even know that I knew. She didn’t know that I knew he had a boyfriend. That he had only just come out to her a day ago. That she was crying because he was gay and perfectly happy to never change. She didn’t know that I knew about it all.
She didn’t know that I was gay too. None of them did.
“Pete just needs prayer,” she said about her son, never mentioning his secret. “We learned some things about him yesterday. I can’t go into details, but he’s falling away.”
I fingered the pages of my Bible nervously and found myself saying, “Your son loves Jesus… he really does. God will watch out for him.”
“This is just so terrible, Bridget,” she said, eyes bleary and red. “I can’t say what it is, but it’s just so bad that I’d rather have learned he was dead.”
I’d rather have learned he was dead.
Her words lingered in the air as I looked away. One of the ladies gave her hand a little squeeze, and the mother went on about her family’s despair. A woman volunteered to pray for her. And then we moved on.
* * *
Just what exactly is so bad about homosexuality that a Christian would actually rather a loved one be dead than gay? I’ve asked myself that question more times than I could count. Though shocking and even somewhat unbelievable, the woman from my small group isn’t an outlier. Her words reflect the secret and often unconscious thoughts of thousands upon thousands of Christians. Worse, her words reflect the silent voice of death in the midst of countless LGBTQ people. People made in the image of God who often tragically believe they’d be better off dead than alive as they are.
Consider the statistics. In the United States, where over 70 percent of the country identifies as Christian, researchers found that religious involvement increased the risk of suicide by as much as 52 percent for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals but decreased the risk of suicide for straight people. How could that be? How is it that going to church would keep straight people alive but push gay people to death?
Discrimination never starts with a deathwish. It begins slowly. Imperceptibly. Lurking in a raised eyebrow and in the unspoken assumptions we make about normalcy. It flourishes in the hopes and dreams we nurture for ourselves and for our loved ones and in the prejudices we cultivate for those we despise. Until one day a parent wakes up and finds themself shedding more tears over their child being gay than being dead.
Until one day a child wakes up and actually wants to be dead.
(Get a free download of the entire introduction to keep reading. Enter your e-mail below.)
Religious faith reduces suicidality for virtually every American demographic except one: LGBTQ people. It’s past time the church confronted the ongoing and devastating impact of this legacy. Breaking down the issues both historically and socially, Heavy Burdens (Brazos Press, Fall 2021) provides an honest account of the ways in which LGBTQ people experience discrimination in the church, helping Christians grapple with hard realities and empowering churches to navigate a better path forward.
Debate over competing approaches to LGBTQ issues is at an all-time high, and it will only increase in the coming years. With the release of the Nashville Statement in 2017 and the most recent PCA Report on Human Sexuality in 2020, Christians are consistently forced to grapple with issues related to LGBTQ people. However, few Christian resources provide the historical and sociological background necessary to understand the problems we currently face. Heavy Burdens fills this gap by educating Christians on the real-world impact of these issues and guiding readers to consider the church’s complicity in the problems we face today.