Praying for Gay Youth

In an October 12 post, Anthony Ruff offered some musings on our divisions, tentatively sketching out some liberal conservative divides. He knows things are more complex, and those labels have limits, but we Lutherans, too, have our divides across theological, liturgical and social issues. The unfolding repercussions of the ELCA’s vote to ordain pastors in same-sex committed relationships has had many varied impacts, including a polarizing one. Yet despite all our divisions, and perhaps especially because of them, I want to raise a possible unifying challenge.

This fall, in a series of highly publicized events, the issue of bullying of gay youth has come to the forefront of national conversation. The suicide of Tyler Clementi after having an intimate encounter filmed and broadcast on the internet by his roommate has spurred much of the conversation and action. Among the reactions culturally, the hit TV series Glee broadcast an episode this past week dealing with the issue of gay bullying. Lady Gaga, the phenomenal New York-based performance artist known for her crazy fashion, has come out full force in support of gay rights both through public advocacy and through her forthcoming album “Born This Way”.

This past Wednesday in our seminary chapel, gay youth were prayed for, holding up their dignity as cherished by God and worthy of love, care and protection from abusive language and action. Might we do this regularly, especially in churches that have (or have had, and this means all of us) formal positions that claim homosexuality is disordered, abnormal, and sinful? The shift theologically to claiming the person is beloved by God while acting on homosexual impulses is sinful, while problematic in many important respects, at least provides the basis for such prayer.  And such prayer seems at least morally required given the impact of centuries of teaching that contributed to the social rejection of gay people as expendable.

One last comment: I teach 7th grade confirmation. Last week we talked about the command “you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain” and out of that spoke about the power of words, especially swear words.  I asked the students about use of swear words in school, and overwhelmingly they spoke of putting down others with versions of “gay”.  Were we to say, in our prayers and preaching, that gay people are beloved of God, worthy of protection and affection, we might have a chance not only to be heard by a gay youth or two, but also to be heard by many who deep in their bones think our Christian teaching is that God condemns these kids rather than claiming and loving them.

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17 comments

  1. Chris
    Thank you for a heart-felt post. Like any effort to begin a new conversation or approach, you operate more firmly within the current dynamic than you know.
    One specific example, having the seminarians pray for gay youth. This maintains the heterocentric dynamic of the situation, (sorry for the jargon). In effect, you are maintaining the theological illusion that those who God loves most, the strong, the normal, the whatever should, out of that priviliged position pray for the weaker, the non-normal.
    Wouldn’t it be spiritually beneficial and more honest to ask people to pray for growth in understanding of the variety of God’s love and creation? For forgiveness for the times thay have failed to uphold the dignity of all people? To pray for a gracefulled recognition of their own limitations?

    1. There are other places on this blog where this specific example is covered in great depth, but just because a person is in (or done with) seminary does not mean they’re done being bullied. To wit: English-speaking bishops of the world.

      Your comment on heterocentric-ism shows that the gay cleansing (pardon my perspective) of Roman Catholic seminaries in November of 2005 has been quickly forgotten. Some seminaries perceive themselves as fortunate to welcome diversity of both gender and sexual orientation, and in this situation a prayer for gay youth may be ego-centric for some but clearly not heterocentric for the others. Regardless of the population of a seminary, wouldn’t it be best to pray even for those beyond its walls?

      One hopes a hypothetical prayer petition wouldn’t read, “Let us pray for the gays.” However, it is not uncommon to pray for those who have been subject to persecution. For instance: “Let us pray for those subject to the violence of their peers, especially the victims of drug cartel violence in Mexico, ethnic battles in Darfur, and bullying on the basis of (real or perceived) sexual orientation in our schools here in the United States.”

  2. Another “new” approach might include providing opportunities for the youth to approach the sacrament of penance/confession while also warning them about the morals dangers present in our secular society, occasions of sin, and the reality of evil. Many would disagree with any approach that encourages minors to self-identify or label themselves in a way that holy Church would deem as ill advised.

  3. I’d be concerned that praying for gay youth qua gay youth will embarrass gay youth and straight youth alike, because they are so self-conscious at that age. If the suggestion came from the youth themselves, I might feel differently, but I’m sensitive to having any category of persons put in the position of feeling they are mission objects by the wider church. I know that’s not the intention, but it could easily come off that way.

  4. Fr. Edgar, the seminarian serving as assisting minister that day chose to pray about the issue of bullying and for gay youth. He may be gay, or not, I don’t know. Actually, I think the reverse of what you suggest; that is, that God hears the cries of those most hurting, and as the body of Christ our praying posture somehow needs to also take that shape, bearing one another’s burdens. Such prayers could take the forms you suggest and do exactly what I am suggesting–that is, that we not remain silent in our prayers lest that silence be understood as complicity. That last comment is what I might say to Mr. Nolan. I hope that we can separate the question of our moral differences on homosexual practice from our moral common ground in defending the dignity of all people as beloved of God and the right of all people to protection against violence. The plain fact is that youth who believe themselves to be “sexual minorities” (queer, if you will) suffer greatly. Watch the Glee episode from last week. It is among other things remarkably real in portraying the feeling of isolation and depression and fear. Ms. Ferrone, I’m hopeful you’ll come back with alternatives. I’m sensitive to your concern, and think there must be alternatives to silence. What are the range of ways we could raise this concern before God in assembly? God knows the cries already, and my argument is that we as body of Christ must make our prayer one with those cries. Thanks, all, for responding!

  5. Dr. Scharen, this may not help you much in a Lutheran context (?), but my best suggestion is to pray about this in a penitential service, and to use the format of a litany. I would include more than one example of those who are victimized by bullying, so as to invite solidarity rather than to isolate the person who is targeted because of sexual orientation. If done well, the concern will be named clearly and prayed for earnestly. But not alone.

    My favorite way to construct such a litany is to meet with people from the community and have them name the demons, as it were, in a prayerful setting. I would take notes and use their actual words as much as possible in creating the litany. The process which produces the prayer is part of the redemptive quality of the experience. I’ve never yet done this that someone hasn’t wanted to take the text home and pray with it further, or share it with another parish community. It’s not because of the word-smithing. It’s because it’s something real, and is sensed as such.

    1. “But not alone.”

      On one hand, taking such an issue out of the larger assembly into a “special” service could say it is just that, of special note.

      On the other hand, not making such a recognition in the context of the weekly assembly diminishes its importance. Properly worded, such as in the context of praying for the oppressed, wouldn’t the General Intercessions be a spot to highlight the fact that we are all (tacitly or actively) diminishing the dignity of our brothers and sisters, children of God? After all, so many prayers and homilies focus on other aspects of the sanctity of human life. If we don’t address this issue, too, in assembly, does not our silence also speak?

      1. Tyler, I thought your sample petition above was a good example of what I was saying (“not alone”), and the general intercessions are an opportunity to pray in this manner. Nice job! Elsewhere on this blog I’ve argued in favor of a more generous use of penitential services, because I think they are pastorally helpful, if done well. But that doesn’t exclude praying at Sunday Eucharist by any means.

  6. There is a gem of bullying in the Vatican’s document Homosexualitatis Problema (1986), a little after the start: “Quae doctrina confirmata atque locupletata est elementis desumptis e certis progressibus scientiarum humanarum.” This marvelous piece of Vatican hubris is up there with Missal Mess. Of course the alleged scientific confirmation of the Vatican view does not exist, or has long since crumbled, leaving the Vatican stuck in a ghastly embrace of NARTH and Exodus.

  7. The Church’s view that you reference is confirmed in Holy Scripture Joe, and Vatican II reminds us of how important the OT & NT are in the life of the Church:

    ” …the books [of the Old Testament] … show us authentic divine teaching. Christians should accept with veneration these writings which give expression to a lively sense of God, which are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life …” (DV 15).

    Ecumenically speaking, Luther would have agreed with the Holy See & Vatican II in their high regard for the Scriptures.
    Chris, the key difficulty is in encouraging minors to self-identify in this way and holding special prayer services for those who have sends a confusing pastoral signal. I realize this is not a challenge in a denomination that no longer holds the traditional view in this area.

  8. “The Church’s view that you reference is confirmed in Holy Scripture Joe, and Vatican II reminds us of how important the OT & NT are in the life of the Church”.

    The views of the CDF are not automatically “the Church’s view”.

    “One does not find before the nineteenth century popes who issued encyclicals and magisterial instructions every few months on every topic under the sun and intended as frameworks for all legitimate theological discussions among Catholics. Such practice has preempted the authentic theological development within the Church which Newman envisioned, and has created a more or less continual crisis of authority for some of the best and brightest in Catholic intellectual life.” (L. Barmann, on Newman)

    The view in question is NOT scriptural, since Scripture says nothing about homosexual orientation. The very title of the CDF document denotes a modern problematic. If Scripture sufficed, why would the CDF appeal to the best findings of modern science as well?

    Even if the view were scriptural, only fundamentalist take that as a knockdown argument, since Scripture supports genocide and rape (Num 22; 1 Sam 15 etc.), and supports the tenet that Slavery is in line with divine and natural law (Holy Office, 1866, signed Pius IX).

    So these arguments that are intended to close down debate of an open question simply do not work. The more you trot them out the more open the question becomes.

  9. Luther was not a fundamentalist; he believed that the scandalous parts of Scripture are to be interpreted and corrected by the more luminous ones; St James he sees as corrected by St Paul.

  10. Just now I read a scene of impassioned love between two men, I Samuel 20. If the Bible is invoked, it would seem to see homosexual affectivity as quite normal here.

  11. Jack, I’m not sure what Scripture has to do with Joe’s point, which is about scientific support for Church doctrine.

    We have a ‘Missal Mess’ here. The Latin reads:

    Quae doctrina confirmata atque locupletata est elementis desumptis e certis progressibus scientiarum humanarum quae et ipsae propria habent obiectum et methodum quibus legitima autonomia est tribuenda.

    The Vatican gives this in English as

    It is a perspective which finds support in the more secure findings of the natural sciences, which have their own legitimate and proper methodology and field of inquiry.

    A more literal translation – please correct errors – might be

    This teaching is confirmed and enriched by first principles chosen from the reliable progress of the human sciences, which have their own purposes and methods, methods to which we must grant a legitimate autonomy.

    Note, ‘human sciences’ not ‘natural sciences’. The trickier word is ‘elementis’; I believe that elementum means ‘first principle’ or ‘elementary principle’. Would this include empirical findings, e.g. on inheritability of attraction to the same sex? Or is the CDF arguing on natural law rather than what we usually think of as ‘the natural sciences’?

    Which language is definitive in the document? Do we know in which language it was originally prepared? The French rendering, like the English, shows differences from the Latin.

  12. Internet bullying by teens is a very serious problem across the board. Not to lose sight of the gay teens, but there have been two suicides of young women in the U.S. news over the past year too (with no specials featuring celebrities to take on their cause).

    1. No one is denying that internet bullying is a problem. However, most churches seem to be ignoring the disproportionate amount of suicides of teens who self-identify as gay or lesbian. Silence is akin to joining the “they should kill themselves” chorus popularized by Westboro Baptist Church.

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