Saturday Sermon: God loves different people, too
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By Rev. Kathleen Ellis
It gets better. Life after high school, that is: Adolescence can be rough, especially for kids who seem a little different. Any little thing can set them apart: They have an accent; they're shy or silly; they're newcomers; they're part of a minority race; they're gay; they're poor; they're nerds. Even popular kids sometimes feel insecure.
In Sunday school in Shreveport, La., I was taught that God loves everyone. No exceptions. I tried to love everyone, too, even when they called me names. I felt bad for the black kids who were first to integrate our school. They were snubbed socially and barely tolerated by teachers.
Today, it's gay and lesbian kids who receive the brunt of bullying behavior. Bisexual, transgender or any teens who seem "different" are often subject to constant harassment. Many of these young people feel an extra stigma of shame by their own religious communities and even at home. They often feel strange and alone.
The Rev. Debra Haffner, director of the Religious Institute (www.religiousinstitute.org), writes that a study done by her colleagues at the Christian Community, "found that 14 percent of teens in religious communities identify as something other than heterosexual. Almost nine in 10 of them have not been open about their sexuality with clergy or other adult leaders in their faith communities. Almost half have not disclosed their sexual orientation to their parents." And twice as many of them have seriously considered suicide.
That's why it's so important for adults to do what we can to stop the bullying at school and wherever it occurs. On Sept. 21, columnist Dan Savage posted a video on the Web in response to several recent suicides of young gay teens. Within a week, 200 similar videos were sent back in response and a website was launched: www.itgetsbetterproject.com. It's a place where young people can see how their lives as adults can be full of love and happiness.
On Oct. 12, Ft. Worth City Councilman Joel Burns spoke from his heart during a Council meeting about several teens who recently took their own lives because of anti-gay bullying. Not all of them were gay. They were just "different." Bullying and harassment is never acceptable.
It may get better, but years of misery is not OK for our teens. People of faith, who have made it through teasing, name-calling, harassment, and physical violence, need to help make it better now. Youth can look for supportive adults and find help online because they are not alone. Adults can help, too: Support the youth you know, check into PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), help start a Gay-Straight Alliance, learn how to stop bullying and cyberbullying, support legislation for safe schools. For more information go to www.makeitbetterproject.org
May God's abiding love for all people inspire us to do the same on earth. May that deep love stir us to keep youth and other "different" people safe. Share my faith: It will get better.
Rev. Kathleen Ellis is the Minister of Congregational Life at Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church in Cedar Park.