It Takes a Village

I don't know if Jesus was real or a figure who represented multiple beliefs or individuals during a period in history. I don't know if a god exists or if we look up in times of hopelessness to assign meaning to things that are difficult or impossible to grasp. What I do know is that faith is a deeply personal thing that can't be minimized to a few talking points or quickly dismissed in favor of one belief over another.

I've spent the better part of 38 years studying religion, namely Christianity, by interacting with people of different faiths and watching groups claim their religion as "the one" or insist theirs is the only way. I've also witnessed others who quietly hold their religious beliefs close to their heart, yearn for knowledge, challenge teachings, embrace the things they don't know or fully understand and accept people as they are.

I've spent years watching the great divide grow wider between Christians and everyone else because of mere stubbornness and superiority, oftentimes on both sides, but more frequently it's the Christians who are quick to speak and slow to listen and leap to judgment that's too often rooted in ignorance or lack of reason.

I've spent years watching people suffer from the condemnation of believers, believers who hold a harmful interpretation of love and refuse to take responsibility for the suffering they've caused in the name of Christ. But I've also had the enormous gift of watching the compassion of some Christians change the world, Christians who understand deeply the gift of humility rooted in love, acceptance, patience, kindness, knowledge, understanding, empathy, honor, grace, trust, and peace. These Christians embody the core principles of Christianity.

A year or so ago I was having a conversation with my ex-boyfriend, who is an associate pastor of a United Methodist church. We were discussing raising children with different backgrounds from different faiths and how to ensure their healthy upbringing. He said something so succinct that it may seem oversimplified, yet it's difficult to practice: "It takes a village."

I've been reading the many posts about the suicide of Leelah Alcorn's, the 17-year-old transgender girl whose parents couldn't accept her gender identity because of their Christian beliefs. The constant response I've seen is first heartache, then anger at the parents for using closely held religious beliefs to reject their child's very being. Some are calling for her parents to be charged, while others are saying Leelah was a selfish teen who needed help and to get right with God. Many LGBT people are placing the blame on the church, and few are saying her parents did all they could to support her. (Personally, I think her parent's didn't do all they could, and I think that if they had, she'd very likely still be with us. And I'm on the fence about whether or not they should be charged.)

However, what I think we can all agree on is that her death was preventable and her struggle was darker than anyone could possibly know unless they've hit the lowest of lows.

In my own anger and heartbreak over her death, my concern has only grown with the extreme responses. I'm not sure limiting this discussion to an either/or dichotomy is healthy or useful. Many Christians have scorned LGBT people by saying that one can't be trans and hold Christian values, that one can't be gay, lesbian or bisexual and hold Christian values. Understandably, LGBT people often say "fuck off" and seek community elsewhere, lose faith, or, worse, decide to end their lives.

There is a lot of hurt on all sides that boils to the surface when we learn of the suicide of a teen who was desperate for clarity, for acceptance, for love, and for inner peace. But instead of doing the challenging work of finding entry points for discussion that can lead to understanding and eventually acceptance and healing, so often we're reinforcing this "us vs. them" dichotomy. It's a dynamic that fails to create a collective effort to live in love, acceptance, patience, kindness, knowledge, understanding, empathy, honor, grace, and trust. And the responsibility for how we respond to these kinds of tragedies rests on both sides.

In the 16 years since coming out, I have lost Christian friends and gained many more from multiple faiths, some of whom are Christians and live the humble values of their faith. We share insights and knowledge and treat each other with kindness. We have each taken the time to live outside ourselves and have learned or are learning to embrace a world that's different. We've begun to understand the power of a collective, pluralistic society. What I've learned is that, in the end, we are all "us'" if we choose to put down our swords of superiority, inferiority, fear, and bias that have caused great harm over thousands of years and choose to hug, accept, love, and embrace our unique differences.

Need help? In the U.S., visit The Trevor Project or call them at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.