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. Anubis

    Church needs to accept gay people for what they are – Gods creation!

    October 22, 2010 at 2:52 am |
    • Frank

      should the church accept child molesters, rapist, ploygamist, those engaged in incest, thieves etc because they are God's creation. The church would definately not accept SIN. God loves all people and He would accept them once they repent of their Sins.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:08 am |
  2. Hannarina

    Why don't they have surveys for other religions like Islam, Buddhist or Judaism? Or only the Christians promoting anti-gay propaganda?

    October 22, 2010 at 2:50 am |
  3. chipreck

    I came very close to suicide in my younger days, at a christian scool no doubt, extermination by suicide? Nazi gas chamber?God loves and sent his son for all. not just the self

    October 22, 2010 at 2:49 am |
  4. Name*Chedar

    The Abrahamic religion are the most evil cult ever existed in this world. And of course both Christian and Islam come from the so called Abrahamic religion. These are actually nothing but cult and mind control. There Gods are pure evil.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:43 am |
  5. Lumpy

    One of these days, most religion will be considered a mental illness and we'll have only ourselves to blame...oh the irony of it all!

    As for bullied kids...why aren't kids being trained/taught to defend themselves, to give as good as they get? If I had kids (I don't, lucky me!), they would know how to defend themselves verbally and physically. The body shape and genital configuration of the people they are attracted to is IRRELEVANT to the bullying phenomenon. So are churches and religion, really...irrelevant and unnecessary.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:40 am |
  6. Tyler

    Suicide = the weak eliminating themselves from the gene pool

    October 22, 2010 at 2:36 am |
    • Frank

      You have no right to determine who is 'weak' or not. Go polish your jackboots.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:37 am |
    • GD

      @Tyler So...why are you still here?

      October 22, 2010 at 6:48 am |
  7. Damien

    While there are a fair amount of Gay Christians many are not, and among those they still believe in god just not of a particular demonination. Much of this stems from how they've been treated by either members of the Church or religious members of their family.

    For those who want to denounce this thought, try to recall how hard being 15 or 16 was, trying desperately to figure out who and what you are, then add into that your faith tells you that you are a sinner and condemned to torment and Hell for the type of people you love.

    Christianity is not evil, just like the Muslim faith is not evil, it is how it is swayed and misconstrued by those in power.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:35 am |
  8. chipreck

    I came very close to suicide in my younger days in a christian school no doubt, Way of extermination, like the nazi

    October 22, 2010 at 2:34 am |
  9. Joey

    Jim Daly of focus of the family nailed it in his view point. More Honey and less sour in our style.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:32 am |
  10. Greg G.

    Don't forget Mosques. Or is it not ok to bring up Mosques?

    October 22, 2010 at 2:30 am |
  11. david

    Well lets just round up all the christians in this country and put them in prison until they except liberals and gays sounds like a plan just throw away freedom of religion and speech

    October 22, 2010 at 2:29 am |
  12. Jeff

    How odd. In a time when gay acceptance is at an all time high. More gays are proudly embracing their lifestyle in film, politics and other visible professions. In contrast church attendance is reportedly on the decline. Wouldn't it seem more of a stigma in times past? Yet suicides are in the news more and more, even among those who don't identify themselves as gay. Is there maybe a deeper issue with our culture that we are over looking? How do you instill the value of life; being born with a purpose. And that taking your life isn't the only answer.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:27 am |
    • Frank

      The suicide epidemic can't be explained away by bigotry. It's a much deeper problem than just bullying or being gay or whatever. This article is just a political commercial, basically.
      We live in a vapid, meaningless and nihilistic society where the human person is just a means to end, nothing really matters in the long run and people are more disconnected from themselves, from others and from their humanity than ever before. We live in a global pop culture where reality, to many, isn't any different from a movie or a video game. We live in an un/reality. It leads to a coldness and emptiness deep inside, so many fall into existential despair.
      On top of all that, you have broken relationships, abuse, shattered self images, rampant materialism and money worship, drug abuse, poverty, war, etc, etc.
      That is why this is happening. In a nutshell.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:35 am |
    • Sum Dude

      Uh, those are all symptoms, Frank, not causes. But I like your post. Very eloquent.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:59 am |
    • Sweet Gender Switch Potato Fry From Transs[e]xual Transylvania

      Interesting point. So the question we should be asking is, 'How did we get like this?'
      Oh, and thanks.

      October 22, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  13. chipreck

    Wow, what a response, We have come along way from burning and the nazi's. God bless us all, Gay or not

    October 22, 2010 at 2:26 am |
  14. matt

    So the left wing and liberal nuts will continue to attack christianity and defend Isam in this country

    October 22, 2010 at 2:23 am |
  15. so

    sooo.... you think church people might start offing themselves because gay people don't like 'em?

    October 22, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  16. larry

    Well there are to many factors in here that are not stated being from california I would assume that people in western states are more likely to agree with this study then those in the south. You can find a great example of numbers here


    October 22, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  17. liz

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

    That pretty much says it all. The "sins" you commit are always worse than the ones "we" do

    October 22, 2010 at 2:14 am |
  18. MM

    Gay people should stop rebelling against nature! If you are going to rebel, then don't lay the blame on the church. They are only practicing what's in the Bible. If you don't like what's in the Bible then don't read it or listen to it. Just know that God will hold those who know better accountable for withholding the truth.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:10 am |
    • Frank

      MM, being gay is not a rebellion against nature. It's found throughout nature. Just stop. It's kinda embarrassing.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:16 am |
    • dgatwood

      You haven't actually sat down and read Romans, have you? What part of not condemning the religious beliefs of others whose beliefs are more or less strict than your own (Rom 14) didn't you understand? Clearly some Christian theologies do not consider being gay a sin. It's pretty much inarguable that the church's view in this matter is disputable, given that it all hinges on differences of opinion on how the original Greek should have been translated into Latin. How, then, can you justify judging someone on the basis of such a subtle, even esoteric difference of opinion?

      October 22, 2010 at 2:46 am |
  19. Jaime

    People have always depended on the Church or religion to live their lives. It's kind of sad really. I'm not saying that religion doesn't do good things, but the Church has also been responsible for promoting stupidity since the middle ages. For a religion that is supposed to promote love, it's often not done as it should be. The Church in the middle ages had people tortured, didn't allow people to conduct business properly and tried to control everything it could. It's not as bad as it used to be in the more modern countries, but it's still evident in other countries that when religion is a dominating factor in government, it's really bad for the populace. The people that believe in religion often promote hatred of anyone that doesn't fit in their idea of a godly individual. I specifically remember being told in Catholic School that if I was friends with anyone that isn't Christian, I would go to hell along with them. This is told to kids all over the place. Religion needs to stay out of people's affairs and stop judging everyone. It's crazy how much influence religions has in politics. In the States, it should have 0.00 influence on political affairs. I find it offensive when politicians mention god and the Church for any sort of policy. I am not saying I don't believe in God, it's just that people take it way too seriously and they allow their lives to dictate who they are, and are unable to dictate who they are by just being themselves. Tragic really, but such is the human condition...

    October 22, 2010 at 2:05 am |
  20. JJ


    October 22, 2010 at 2:05 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.