October 21st, 2010
03:14 PM ET

Churches contribute to gay suicides, most Americans believe

Fort Worth Texas Councilman Joel Burns’ videotaped story about being gay and bullied as a child recently went viral on the internet.

Two out of three Americans believe gay people commit suicide at  least partly because of messages coming out of churches and other places of  worship, a survey released Thursday found.

More than four out of 10 Americans say the message coming out of churches  about gay people is negative, and about the same number say those messages  contribute "a lot" to negative perceptions of gay and lesbian people.

Catholics were the most critical of their own churches' messages on  homosexuality, while white evangelical Christians gave their churches the  highest grades, the survey found.

The Public Religion Research Institute asked 1,017 Americans their views  on religion and homosexuality between October 14 and 17, in the wake of a highly publicized rash of suicides by gay people.

Gay rights campaigner Dan Savage said the idea that churches send out an  anti-gay message "totally jibes with my experience and that of millions of  other gay and lesbian people."

He cited Joel Burns, a Forth Worth, Texas, city councilman whose  emotional tale of being bullied as a young gay man went viral on the internet.

"He remembers being told to go home and commit suicide and that he was  going to hell," Savage said, adding that the source of such attitudes "wasn't  in algebra."

Leaders of the Christian right "have redefined Christianity so that it is  about being anti-gay," he said.

And he cited other poll findings that suggest more Americans than ever  before define themselves as having no religion.

"When you dig down, you found people who said they were Christians who  didn't want to be identified with being anti-gay," he argued.

But Jim Daly, the head of Focus on the Family, argued in a commentary for  CNN that Christian churches are not to blame.

"To violate the dignity of another person, in any form or fashion, is to  contradict the very basis of Gospel-centered living. And to suggest that an  orthodox understanding of Christianity encourages abuse against homosexuals is  a sad misreading of the very tenets of the faith," he said.

"Some self-described Christians do not act in Christ-like ways toward  those who are different than they are," he conceded.

"They save their harshest judgments for the sins they don't struggle with  themselves. That is not biblical Christianity in practice," he said.

Only five out of 100 people gave churches generally an A for their  handling of "the issue of homosexuality" in the Public Religion Research Institute survey, while 28 percent said their own church handled it well.

One in three people said that messages from places of worship contribute  "a lot" to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

Another one in  three said they contribute "a little." Only one in five said they do not  contribute at all. The rest said they did not know.

Americans were equally split on whether homosexual relationships between  adults are wrong, with 44 percent saying yes and 46 percent saying no.

The sampling margin on the survey, a joint project of PRRI and Religion News Service, is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Catholic Church • Gay rights • Polls • United States

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soundoff (681 Responses)
  1. macthemechanic

    Duh. You think? Where do you think all these neo-nazis children have come from? All believing that God has told them to do these things and that the Bible says this and the Bible says that. Hogwash. God doesn't need these charlatans and zealots to do Gods work. It's only their deluded egos thinking than an all powerful God needs them to do anything. They worship themselves, even going so far as to envision Jesus as white with auburn hair. Absolutely delusional. Jesus was from the middle east dummies. Go figure it out. It even says so in the Bible if you haven't forgotten how to read after having your hate-mongering pedo-priests and pastors read to you every Sunday. If God is all powerful, why would he 1) need anyone to do anything for him, and 2) want his own creations destroyed. Absolutely sick of these devolved animals calling them selves human. Grow up people and learn about the people you share a planet with. We're more alike than your wildest dreams.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  2. dwayne

    Imagine what a great world this would be if we had not religions or play gods.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  3. dwayne

    If jesus ever existed; he was only human; not a god.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
  4. Stevo

    Jesus must have touched them the wrong way.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  5. NoOne

    "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." -Blaise Pascal

    October 21, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
  6. debs

    wow...so very true how Christians seem to be labeled and all kind s of prejudices. So sad. But not to be surprised the enemy wants nothing more than to hold people captive and keep them from the life that is in Jesus. Yes we, 'the church' have made some mistakes. But largely the 'extreme 'right wing people that hate gays can easily be the same that hate abortionists...
    SO many more in todays 'church' love the people, as we should, as Jesus does.
    But as Jesus did love, but He said,
    go now and sin no more.
    NO the reason so many gays are committing suicide is nothing to do with the church,
    but many times everything to do with the torment in their souls about what they are doing is just not what men and women were made for. This is no more or less right or wrong than a prolific liar or conman or many more things.
    Truth truth in love. Jesus calls everyone to be not of the world, do not live as the world says.
    Bullying HAS to stop, it is wrong. Just like bullying Christians (which happens way more...Christianity takes a lot more flack

    October 21, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
    • Frogist

      @debs: I pity you.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  7. John

    2358 of the Catholic Catechism: "They must be accepted with respect, dignity, and sensitivity."
    That usually shuts them up. I will open up my home to anyone, gay, atheists, etc. Everyone is welcome in my home and in the Kingdom of God.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
    • Frank

      Amen, John! God loves all of His children.

      October 21, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
    • Michelle

      Accept the person wholeheartedly. Absolutely. But we cannot accept everything that every person does. There is such thing as right and wrong. Were it not so I might murder your family members and still be admitted into heaven with the full intention of harming others when I got there.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:48 am |
    • Frank

      Of course there are such things are right and wrong behaviors. But people are really going overboard with their judgementalness.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:57 am |
    • Frogist

      @Frank, I know you're Catholic and I am curious. Could you point me to what the Catholic Church says about transgender people?

      October 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
    • Sweet Gender Switch Potato Fry From Transs[e]xual Transylvania

      I've actually looked into that and I haven't found anything specific on it from the Church. Nothing in the Cathechism about it. Usually the way anti-trans Christians argue against it is by saying things like 'you're mutilating God's creation', 'a man shouldn't wear women's clothes and a woman shouldn't wear men's clothes (an obsure verse from Deuteronomy)" or something to the effect of 'God made us male and female, and He didn't make a mistake'. I find that they generally seem think of transgenderism and transs#xuality as the extremes of h0m0s#xuality. They basically think of transmen as whack out lesbians and transwomen as whacked out gay men.
      So, no. Nothing specific on it from the Catholic Church, but those are usually the arguments against it they run with.

      October 22, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Frank: Thanks for getting back to me on that. That seems pretty unwelcoming. And I'm sorry people have said that about TG people. I hope you haven't met any of it personally. Anyway, if you don't mind another question or two... what do you say to the people who say those things? And why do you stay part of the Catholic church if you are met with that kind of opposition? I'm just curious. I don't want to open any hard feelings. I'll be looking up some resources on my own too about what the Church says about transgendered people. Thanks.

      October 25, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  8. dwayne

    Remember there is no heaven or hell and you'll be a much happier person.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
  9. Bambie

    I an gay I believe that the church has every thing to do with it the church has too much blood on their hands

    October 21, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  10. Zoe Brain

    From http://catholicexchange.com/2010/08/20/133461

    "Now I am going to say something that may seem harsh but remember I am talking to you about objective reality – where the rubber meets the road. It is better to die than to offend God. It would have been better for you to have given your life to stay in obedience to God.
    For one thing you have greater physical health — but at the cost of being an example to others that physical health is worth breaking God’s law."

    The context was someone transitioning. The T in GLBT. It saved their life. But according to this Very Devout Christian, it set a bad example to others, and was against God's Ordained Law, so she should have died instead.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
    • Frank

      Even apologists put their foot in their mouths sometimes. They should apologize to that lady.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  11. ur_shadow

    No surprise – simplistic "religion" is used to justify anything. The true mystery and beauty of the creator cannot be found in a typical church – only the worship of the human ego and bigotry.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  12. dwayne

    Churches always preach hate.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  13. John

    What doesn't the Catholic Church believe not to be a sin? People please, give me a break I've been to Catholic Churches, all this "hate spewing" is minor. You might think it is major, but when it is blow out of proportion, it is. You can scream bloody murder all you want, but all it was was a poke.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
  14. KarolInCalif

    I would never raise my children in a church setting. There is much good to be learned in the parables found in the Bible, but there is even more danger found in the words of men who say they speak for God.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
  15. Aquaman

    I want to be loved and I wish I could feel love for all living beings, being accepted by others for who I am is feeling some love, not being accepted for who I am is feeling some hate. Team Christian are being accused of spreading hate and negative messages by team LGBT who just want to feel some love and acceptance from them, sorry no scientific data to back that up. And how does team LGBT try and get some love and acceptance from us by doing exactly the same thing as team Christian is being accused of doing spreading a negative message and hate for team Christian. Where's the LOVE everyone

    October 21, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Aquaman: Your analogy is incorrect. Christians have the power and many churches and christian leaders are using it to attack gays by preventing them from having equal freedoms and opportunities all the while promoting a culture of misunderstanding and separation. There is no equal "reaction" from the majority of gay organisations and people who just want the religious right to let them live their lives in peace.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      Well said.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  16. cathoilc_guy

    eat and drink the flesh and blood of Jesus, and you shall live

    October 21, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
    • Bad Religion

      Idiot. Drink PBR and eat pretzels, it's a lot more fun and rewarding.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:59 am |
    • Frank

      Christ's Blood has a high alcohol content, Bad Religion. Sometimes people drink too much and get a bit tipsy. So don't tell Catholics we don't know anything about fun. Lol.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:02 am |
    • Peace2All


      LOL..!!! "Christ's blood has a high alcohol level content".... Very nice.. 🙂

      October 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
    • Sweet Gender Switch Potato Fry From Transs[e]xual Transylvania

      Gotta have a sense of humor about things.

      October 22, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  17. Mike Speakman

    If they have such thin skins, who cares if an abnormal kills themselves. They should have stayed in the closet, I personally don't want to associate with a gay that is out of the closet and I don't want it forced on me in any way.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
    • Frank

      Mike Speakman, you really should get over your irrational fear and hatred of gays. It's embarrassing and childish.

      October 21, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      @Mike Speakman
      I agree with Frank, but would like to point out that you reap what you sow in terms of visible expressions of personal views.
      You can't have it both ways. But religious beliefs are famous for trying to force that very thing throughout history.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:18 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Mike Speakman

      You said....."Who cares if an 'abnormal' (kills themselves)." I don't know you personally, but I am guessing that at least one or two people would grieve for you, should you happen to take your life.

      You, being an 'abnormal' shouldn't cause our society to keep from caring about you, just because you were born the way you are. And, especially, I am thinking the God you love, most certainly still loves you regardless of you being an 'abnormal.'

      October 22, 2010 at 5:47 am |
    • Sweet Gender Switch Potato Fry From Transs[e]xual Transylvania

      Well said, Peace2All. Suicide always kills more than one person.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:50 am |
    • Frogist

      LOL@Peace2all! You nailed it!

      October 22, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  18. Oreally

    I'm amazed at some of the nit-picking and down-right ridiculous comments trying to discredit this article. Anyone who doesn't think that many churches not only send out negative messages ("abomination," anyone?) but actively lobby against ant-bullying laws has either been living under a rock, or is delusional. I read a quote that seems more apt every time I read the comment to articles such as this one: Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what i right. Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you are told.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  19. TJ

    Why does the liberal media go ON AND ON about gays like their the most important thing in world?!?!? It's just a FREAK SIDE SHOW, for crying out loud! Focus on the important things. IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID!!!!!

    October 21, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
    • Frogist

      @TJ: Yes, examining why people are dying must be just one of those unimportant liberal causes that conservatives could never get behind.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  20. KBinMN

    Churches must also then be contributing to the suicide rate of those who commit adultery, steal, etc. Same logic.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
    • jeff


      Don't forget churches also caused the housing meltdown too. We apparently force gays to kill themselves and forced people to buy things they can't afford. Or have children they can't afford. Is there anything a church cannot do these days?

      /Jesus touched me funny one day.
      //Not the guy on the cross
      ///The illegal who mowed my lawn....(YOWZA!)

      October 22, 2010 at 12:12 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.