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. Fuyuko

    I think Christians do get hung up on telling gays they are sinners or telling them they disagree with their lifestyle or are burning in h-ell or will go there When you hear that enough it has some impact. People should be very careful about telling people such things. Personally, the bible is wrong on a lot of things and should be questioned. there is nothing more annoying than 'the bible tells me so' being used as reason to 'disapprove' of gays. Gays are a reality. Telling them "I love you, but I disapprove of your gayenss" is like saying "I do not accept what you are." I've found usually what peope say in the second half of there sentence is what they really mean.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  2. phil

    I don't believe in any church or any religion and I never have. When any of them come to my door i tell them to flatly go away and don't come back.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:35 am |
  3. jessica

    Also, nowhere in this article does CNN in anyway say that the church is responsible for these suicides. They are simply reporting a survey that was done that looked into the correlation of the two and wabted to get an ideas of what the public's perception of the church when it comes to gays and religion. If a christian is offended by this they should instead see the silver lining. If they do not want thier religion associted with bigotry and hate then this gives them a starting point on how they are viewed and now they need to decide if this is acceptable and if not how do we change that?

    October 22, 2010 at 12:33 am |
  4. Jim

    Left wing christian hating cnn. know wonder their ratings are low and keep loosing money. they are no different than the (NPR) national public radio censorship of Juan Williams.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  5. Michael Guerin

    It figures on such a liberal site all this anti-christian sentiment would be spewed. I was brought up with the teaching of the Christian Church and was brought up by my parents with their values. The MAJORITY of this Country believe in these values and your so called poll is a farce. I am sure it was conducted in Manhattan or San Franciso. To be so ignorant and say Churches contribute to suicides is Stupid. Churches do so much for a community whether feeding the homeless or aiding the sick. Maybe you people should get involved in it

    October 22, 2010 at 12:31 am |
    • ohthehorror

      You can actually get in involved with helping the poor and sick without making that aid dependent upon their accepting religious doctrine. Some people just care about others without thinking in terms of sales goals.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:04 am |
  6. Jim

    My first comment was at 11:57 pm. How many left wing CNN liberals does it take to post my comment?I feel like Juan Williams. Where is free speech? Someone needs to be fired!

    October 22, 2010 at 12:24 am |
  7. Jarrad

    Once again we have society trying to point the blame at Christians while ignoring a very important point. Suicide is an option chosen by the victim. Society is pointing fingers left and right without addressing the fact that these victims could have chosen to be survivors. I am not without sympathy for suicide victims and their families but I can't ignore the fact that a permanent solution was chosen for a temporary problem. We can point as many fingers as we like but the decision to commit suicide can only be made by one person. How about concentrating more of our time and resources on nurturing more inner strength so that people will be less likely to consider suicide as an option? No person can walk this earth without experiencing traumatic events. It's time we did a better job preparing our young people for facing life's adversities.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:21 am |
    • dgatwood

      With the obvious caveat that most suicides are due to clinical depression, and that the people committing suicide are usually not in complete control over their actions. Nothing is sadder than the loss of hope.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:53 am |
  8. Jim

    why is CNN HOLDING MY FIRST COMMENT IN MODERATION? Does the truth hurt?

    October 22, 2010 at 12:15 am |
    • dgatwood

      Mine, too. Probably because mine is a page-long explanation of subtle theological issues that would be better suited to a Wikipedia article were it not peppered with far too much opinion to be a NPOV. If they don't ever get around to approving it (and they probably won't), then I guess I'll post my diatribe on Facebook instead. *sigh* And it was a *good* diatribe....

      October 22, 2010 at 2:50 am |
  9. SmarterHuman

    They are not only a factor, they are a cause.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  10. Dee

    It amazes me how truth is considered judgement. Take it for what's worth God has already said that it's a sin so it is what it is. If you really listen to the message in most churches it's not the person that God has a problem with but the action that is the problem. It doesn't negate the fact that God loves everyone but He is Holy and doesn't bend what he has already deemed as wrong. Life is a series of choices don't blame a group of people for the choices that someone else makes.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:06 am |
  11. Jim

    It is time to quit the blame game why people do bad things.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  12. jeff

    "One time, in New Orleans, I saw two men kissing passionately on the street. It was one of the hottest things I've ever seen."

    Meh....just wait till you see the temperature of the fires of hell. It will be a lot hotter.

    /Do they sell 1Million Degree Sunblock?
    //hmmm....new business plan: invent 1M SPF sunblock.
    ///sell to the hell bound

    October 22, 2010 at 12:00 am |
    • Frank

      Jeff, you have no right to presume that anyone in particular is going to hell. You do not know the state of anyone's soul. You must think yourself to be on par with God! That's what got Adam and Eve in trouble in the first place!

      October 22, 2010 at 12:13 am |
    • NightCelt

      @jeff – Perhaps Frank is right. All you could respond to re: my enormous post was about my witnessing the kiss. So you want more? No problem.

      They were both wearing black leather. And had just gotten into a spat, and one started to walk away and the other grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back for a very long lip lock. Yes, the encounter had a k1nky element to it.

      You're welcome.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:31 am |
    • Frank

      All I have to say to that, NightCelt, is: Leather Pride! And, yes – Jeff is a classic closet case. It's sad, really. Just obsessed with it.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:35 am |
    • Sum Dude


      October 22, 2010 at 3:25 am |
  13. farout69

    I knew they would try and make it Christian fault that gay people are killing themselves. The only person at fault for someone committing suicide is that person. If we are worried about what's killing gay people we should be more concerned about aids than suicide. The Christian church is only saying that it is sin. The sinner is not being condemed the sin is what is being condemed. Is it violating anothers dignity by just saying that what they are doing is a sin? If you tell a man who is cheating on his wife that he is sinning is that violating his dignity? It is not telling a person they are sinning that violates dignity it is the sin itself that violates their dignity.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:00 am |
  14. Terry

    Josephine, I told you so. But you wouldn't listen. Any rational, calm presentation of orthodox Christianity drives the haters out of the woodwork and then the name calling starts ("clueless fart"), the misrepresentations, the pathetic sarcasm ("I hope you don't procreate"), etc. Embarrassing, isn't it? Well, these are very angry haters and you always must expect their vile bigotry against Christians when you speak Truth. Go in peace. Blessings.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
  15. heretic

    The world and all it's inhabitants would be far, far better off without religion of any kind.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      True. True.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:24 am |
  16. goandseek

    religion is nothing but rubish rubish I say I left the church years ago and never looked back and my lift has been great. Take a stand people and turn your back on religion it will be the best thing you will ever do for yourself. you dont need religion to be a good person and you will be a better person with it.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
  17. Jawnie

    This is stupid. People commit suicide because they're too weak to deal wit the hardships of life. Too believe the church has anything to do with dummies killing themselves is ignorant

    October 21, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
    • Frogist

      To call children who died tragically "dummies" is heartless and cruel. I'll take dumb over cruel any day of the week.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  18. Matumbo

    I think that the government also bullies the gay and lesbians in a much more larger scale then the churches. When you say gay and lesbians can serve in the military or can't get married or can exactly be themselves. That massage is loud and clear and kids watch that kind of discrimination and use it to bully the gay and lesbians. It has to stop from the top.
    Churches are just plain idiots preach one thing and do another fueling the problem.

    October 21, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  19. engli1ba

    I was once a avid believer in Christ, and loved Jesus with all my heart... Now I am a Agnostic, who really is not feeling the Christian faith. All you have to do is look how gays are portrayed in that fairy tale (Bible) to see where their hatred stems from. If you look in Leviticus, or read the story of Lot, you will see.. That those people that their God killed in Sodom and Gomorrah, that was me

    October 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
    • Frank

      Sodom and Gomorrah wasn't really about h0m0s#xuality.

      October 21, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
  20. 4Truth

    Following the logic of this article would imply that anyone not living according to the Bible are brought down by the message of Scripture. Are those living together outside of marriage suffering a higher suicide rate? Are women who've had an abortion more prone to suicide? Are heavy drinkers and habitual gossipers more depressed? If the answer is yes, then there are profound implications! But is this really the fault of the church for maintaining the message of Scripture, or could it be the consequences of refusing to live by God's standards? Consequences that a loving God has made every effort to deliver us from.

    The saddest part of this article, is what isn't mentioned, what the church continues to teach – that people who are depressed, guilt-ridden and without hope can find the absolute peace they're desperately searching for in no other person than the central figure of Christianity – Jesus Christ! He alone can forgive anyone who is willing to call out to Him. I've seen this countless times, lives restored, genuine hope realized. No one is perfect, whether straight, gay, or whatever. No one is deserving of God's love, but He offers it to anyone who calls on Him. So if He is ready and willing to receive anyone who'll trust in His forgiveness, His plan for their life, and much more, then there is no discrimination, no pre-conditions, no denial on the part of God. Just the refusal of the person who rejects God's offer. John 3:16 still holds true in 2010!

    October 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
    • Charles


      October 22, 2010 at 12:07 am |
    • Michelle


      October 22, 2010 at 12:46 am |
    • Sum Dude

      How sad that you cannot understand logic, yet you use the word in your post.
      Your hate is clear, your intent evil, and your damnation by your own rules certain.
      Seek forgiveness and there may be hope for you.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:23 am |
    • Frogist

      @4Truth: You are making a false comparison. And by doing so you are trivializing a very dangerous situation. Churches do not preach nearly as much against gossiping or drinking alcohol, or even living outside of marriage as it does against gays. And it does not lobby for people who drink to be prevented from being around children or getting married. And there aren't whole organisations, like Focus onthe Family, whose only purpose is to "change" gossips into a more normal way of living. Even your abortion example is not a good comparison. Living openly as a gay person is much more easily discernible than a woman who has an abortion which is a single medical event that is protected by privacy rules. Being gay is not something hidden and it is a day to day existence. Of course, many women who are beseiged by judgemental rightist radicals around health clinics could be considered victims of bullying as well.
      Also, I found much more peace away from churches short-sighted, exclusionary ways, than I ever found within it.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
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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.