There are no words to capture the absurdity of such a waste of life and few words that accurately reflect the righteous anger that arises in the face of the hatred, insensitivity and harassment that leads to such a tragedy. Another young teenager, this one a 14-year-old Buffalo, NY, boy, has taken his own life after consistent bullying because of his sexual orientation and identity. You can read the story here on the Buffalo News website. As people of faith and good will, we must stand up in solidarity with those who are marginalized and suffer the abuses that are being leveled against young men and women like Jamey Rodemeyer. Because I am at a loss for words, I offer a reflection I published here nearly a year ago around the time several other young men took their lives under similar circumstances.
What follows originally appeared on DatingGod.org on October 3, 2010.
Anybody who says that someone, because of his or her sexual orientation, is not loved by God is wrong. Let me be more specific, anybody who says that anyone is not loved by God is wrong. There is perhaps nothing more heartbreaking than to see a young person take his or her life because they feel unloved, abandoned, alone. Feelings that are heightened to an intolerable level by bullying and cruelness toward others who are different has become all too commonplace recently. And it needs to end.
In recent weeks there have been several reports of tragedies that have beset our human family. Young people, CHILDREN, harassed because of their sexual orientation, have felt that they have little choice but to end their lives because of the abuse and mistreatment that has followed them. I cannot begin to imagine the despair that one must feel to reach that point, the point at which one does not feel the love of another and has no more hope.
A college freshman. A 15-year-old. And two 13-year-olds.
All violently ended their lives because they were harassed about their sexual orientation. They were abused because of who they are. What sort of world do we live in that within the same month two 13-year-old boys kill themselves because of intolerance, discrimination and ignorance? Where is the love? Where are the people who say they follow Jesus Christ by bearing the name Christian?
Following the recent call for all people to stand up and speak out against intolerance, demonstrated here by the comment of Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education:
The deaths have set off an impassioned — and sometimes angry — response from gay activists and caught the attention of federal officials, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who on Friday called the suicides “unnecessary tragedies” brought on by “the trauma of being bullied.”
“This is a moment where every one of us — parents, teachers, students, elected officials and all people of conscience — needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms,” Mr. Duncan said.
I say: enough of the hatred, enough of the violence, enough of the intolerance and enough of the senseless deaths of children.
On this Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, I think it is entirely appropriate to look to the model of acceptance and love exhibited in the life of Francis. Seeking only to live his baptismal vocation — to follow the Lord Jesus according to the Gospel — Francis realized that to be a real Christian meant to treat others as God-Incarnate had. Nowhere in the Gospels do you see Jesus excluding others. Nowhere in the Gospels do you read about how Jesus discriminated against people because of their minority status or difference or sexual orientation.
Open the Christian scriptures and you’ll find quite the opposite. Jesus reaching out to the least of society, the marginalized, the “underdogs.” It was with the most despised and misunderstood that he regularly dined. It was a bunch of dysfunctional, working-class men and women that he chose to be his Apostles. Not the powerful, not the wealthy, not those in the “in crowd.”
The message of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, that which Jesus Christ came to proclaim, was that all are welcome and loved by the Father. ALL are children of God. Period.
Those who use the name “Christian” in association with bigotry and hatred, who suggest that someone is sinful because of their sexual orientation or the gender of the person he or she loves, are the real sinners. They are the ones who break the relationship with God and others that Jesus Christ modeled for us to live.
If Jesus were walking on this earth today, who would He gather around Him? In my prayer, I know he would gather 13-year-old Seth Walsh, 13-year-old Asher Brown, 15-year-old Billy Lucas and 18-year-old Tyler Clementi. He would embrace them and show them that God does love them. That God created them to be who they are and that so many people try to tell them otherwise brings their Creator to tears. And, as he did at the loss of his friend Lazarus, Jesus would weep (John 11:35).
Holding them in his arms, having let the children come to him, Jesus might tell them that he understands their pain because he knows what it’s like to be misunderstood, to be betrayed by family and friends, and to be crucified by others. But he would also tell them, as our Franciscan spiritual tradition so richly articulates, that God individually loved each one of them into existence. Each person is a unique, unrepeatable, special creation of God’s love. And God loves that which is at the core of who they are, who they really are. The ability of each of them to love another human being is itself a gift from God.
But Jesus isn’t walking the earth today. And so, as Mother Teresa so famously put it, we must be Christ’s eyes, ears and hands in our world. She also said:
There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives – the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family.
Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t only give your care, but give your heart as well.
To be a Christian means to love one another as God — who has loved us into our very existence – has loved us. That young men and women go through this life so terribly unloved that they lose all hope is among the greatest sins of our time.
Reach out and become instruments of God’s peace.
Where there is hatred, sow love.