I was born and raised in the Christian Reformed Church. My parents were missionaries in the Navajo Nation. As a passionate believer, I witnessed to my playmates and started begging to take communion when I was seven because I had asked Jesus into my heart. I expected that God would one day call me to serve. When I was sixteen, two women at Rehoboth Mission were discovered to be lovers and were expelled. A year earlier, I’d had a romantic relationship with my best friend, which confirmed something I’d sensed for a long time about who I was. I was terrified, thinking that I, too, might be expelled from the church that had cradled me and nurtured my spiritual growth, the church I loved.
Within two months of what happened to those two women, I became what would today be a statistic. I tried for the first time to kill myself. Studies show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.
In Canada, 33% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide in comparison to 7% of youth in general. About 25% of transgender youth report suicide attempts in the USA, and 28% in Canada (Taylor et al. 2011). In 1964, we were so invisible that such statistics, if they were compiled at all, were probably highly inaccurate.
Sadly, the statistics on LGBTQ depression and suicide among churchgoing youth are even higher than in the general population. The place where we should feel the safest and most supported as we struggle to understand God’s will for us as believers is most often a place fraught with danger and judgment. I struggled with my sexuality, scripture, and my place in faith communities for the next nine years, attempting suicide a second time. In 1973, when the CRC position on homosexuality was published, I left my church.
For the next forty years I tried to reconcile who God had made me to be with how most Christians saw me and how they interpreted what the Bible had to say about me. I learned from other spiritual traditions, where I was welcome. I also served the LGBTQ community in a peer-support and advocacy organization I cofounded and as a professional counselor.
In a recent discussion, a member of the CRC suggested that the church was right to deny LGBTQ people full membership. She compared the organization I’d served to the church, saying that our group would have rightly kept out people that held anti-gay positions. At first I thought that wasn’t a bad analogy. Then I said to myself, “No! The Church is not just an organization. The Church is The Body of Christ. The Church is not allowed to say to one part of the Body, ‘We have no need of you.’”
Anna Redsand’s memoir, To Drink from the Silver Cup: From Faith Through Exile and Beyond will be released in July. Anna lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, where she is a part of The Body of Christ in a Presbyterian church. She cares deeply about what happens in her first church home.
For more information:
Eisenberg, Marla E., and Michael D. Resnick. 2006. “Suicidality Among Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth: The Role of Protective Factors.” Journal of Adolescent Health 39: 662–668.
Kim, Y., & Leventhal, B. (2008). Bullying and suicide: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 20(2), 133–154 Saewyc, Elizabeth M. 2007. “Contested Conclusions: Claims That Can (and Cannot) Be Made from the Current Research on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Teen Suicide Attempts.” Journal of LGBT Health Research 3 (1): 79–87.
Sanchez, J., Diaz, R., Huebner, D., Russell, S., and Caitlin Ryan. 2010. “Family Acceptance in Adolscence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults”. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing 23 (4): 205-213.
Taylor, C., Peter, T., McMinn, T. L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., et al. (2011). Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final Report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.