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. Gabriel

    I disagree with the contention that churches have a significant contribution to the suicides of gays. If anything, they would play a greater role in preventing suicides, due to the Christian (or at least Catholic) belief that suicide is a grave sin. Additionally, I don't think many of the young people who would have the mental capacity to kill themselves would take the church very seriously anyways.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:42 am |
  2. GOPron

    Did you notice that Jim Daly, the head of Focus on the Family, very subtly still defined being gay as sin. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest problems with this country ultimately come back to the so-called religious right and their attempts to create a Christian theocracy (contrary to our forefathers very clear intentions). They will never learn that you cannot legislate morality, and you cannot create morality through hatred and bigotry.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:37 am |
  3. ohthehorror

    Christians and others: God does not want you to use the apostrophe (') when attempting to make a word plural. He also does not want you to omit the apostrophe when making a word possessive. Seriously, God and the Baby Jesus care deeply about grammar, and so should you.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:30 am |
  4. Rob Craig

    This is a no brainer. This will just fuel the fire with the Phelps kind of people that outrageous church in Kansas that goes to military funerals. They will probably use this article as a marketing ploy. I know my own mother told me I was going to burn in hell on her death bed. When will people realize that only GOD can decide who is going to hell instead of some human froma pulpit asking for money every hour.............

    October 22, 2010 at 3:27 am |
    • Frank

      "I know my own mother told me I was going to burn in hell on her death bed."

      Ouch. I'm very sad to hear that. May God have mercy on her and that she made her amends. That's just not right. Talk about the last thing you want to do at a time like that.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:34 am |
  5. thumper

    I have to wonder why no one will take responsibility for their own actions. If a person commits suicide they commit it not another person or church or society. I am left handed, the model of evil according to word origins, left means bad in alot of things, what I do with it is MY responsiblility and there is nobody to blame. The gay's feel they are persecuted, how is that different from any other minority?

    October 22, 2010 at 3:24 am |
    • Adam


      October 22, 2010 at 3:35 am |
    • jayman419

      @thumper – You are blessed to live in a time and in a society which has given up trying to correct "handed-ness". You'd feel a lot different about things if you literally had writing with your right hand beaten into you at school... you know, like America in the '50s.

      You think the way society treats you is irrelevant and inconsequential to individual peculiarities? Try offering a Muslim your left hand to shake. That's always a blast.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:02 am |
    • LezInColorado

      Because it it one of the only minorities on the planet that is being told on a regular basis that they are going to hell for WHO they are. Because we are one of the only minorites that is actively legislated against every single day. Because we are the ONLY minority that is not allowed to marry the one that we love. Because we are the ONLY minority that is condemned by many many many people, called horrible nasty crude names, kicked out of our families and churches, isolated by society and ridiculed by those who just don't get it. Does that help answer your question?

      October 22, 2010 at 4:30 am |
  6. mary

    Well, thats just too bad isn't it?
    The bible condemns lots of things.. Like Lying ,cheating, stealing, fornication, killing, anger, and all sorts of things..
    Do we toss out all the rules religious people live by because people can't live by them and it makes them feel bad?
    The one thing all people need to understand is, most religious people on earth struggles to live by the rule's.. And they fail and fail again.. But they keep trying..
    Don't blame religion for the suicides of gay people.. The struggle to live up to the standard the bible sets is hard for everyone who is honestly trying ..

    October 22, 2010 at 3:21 am |
    • Frank

      Yeah, and when you can't live up to it, just kill yourself, right? And when you get to St. Peter at the pearly gates, you can say 'Oh, well! I tried!...Right?' Or live a life of self-hatred.
      Religion isn't about rules. It's about following a higher purpose, transcending this mortal coil and this reality and finding your way back to your Creator, your only true home.
      But leave it to man to totally f[_]ck it up.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:29 am |
    • LezInColorado

      You can't pick and choose the "rules" you want to follow. If youn are going to be the bastion of religious virtue, then you must adhere to every rule in the entire book. Hypocrite.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:22 am |
    • Frank

      When did I claim to be the 'bastion of religious virtue'? And, no. Religion isn't about rules, it's a plan of salvation, transcendence, enlightenment, attaining Nirvana or whatever the goal is termed in a given religion. You can believe in the all the rules you want, they won't save you.
      That is, if you were replying to me.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:27 am |
    • LezInColorado

      Frank, it was a reply to the original poster, sorry for the confusion.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • Sweet Gender Switch Potato Fry From Transs[e]xual Transylvania

      It's all good. It does get kinda confusing as to who is replying to whom here.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  7. ybs

    god/religions are a pile of dung!

    October 22, 2010 at 3:20 am |
  8. Brian

    Oh... one more thing. Any church whose member commits suicide as a result of a sermon they heard (e.g., telling them to go home and commit suicide if they're gay) should be held criminally (not to mention civilly) responsible. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are hardly a defense.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:19 am |
    • Sum Dude

      I agree. Well said.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:03 am |
  9. Josh

    Bullying isn't even required for churches to cause gays to commit suicide. If you're raise as a gullible small child to believe that gays burn in hell for eternity, when you realize you are gay (if you hadn't already), you're going to snap. And probably kill yourself. And no one even needs to actively bully you... just lie and lie to you from the time you're born when you're young and stupid and gullible.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:14 am |
  10. Adrian Zupp

    All religions, and all people, should not only be "tolerant" of gays, but completely accepting. We're all just people, after all.

    I recently blogged about the spate of gay suicides:


    Take care,
    Adrian Zupp

    October 22, 2010 at 3:12 am |
    • Frank

      i agree with you. We should also accept polygamist, liars, thieves, rapist, child molesters, drug barrons etc. Why dont we accept them rather than prosecute them? Why should we judge their standards? they are after all God creatures.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:16 am |
    • Frank

      There can only be one.
      And the difference between being LGBT and those BEHAVIORS is that they are obviously destructive, detrimental to society and the person committing them. Being LGBT says nothing about the person's character or they're conduct. Just like being straight doesn't say anything about a person's character. It's just an innate trait that they have. Like having blue eyes.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:41 am |
  11. toto

    Church=Gay=Biggest trap in human history

    October 22, 2010 at 3:11 am |
  12. Nestor

    Apparently quoting the bible gets you moderated here on the "belief blog."

    October 22, 2010 at 3:09 am |
    • Nestor

      It's no wonder that Fox News has higher ratiings than CNN, MSNBC and HLN combined.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:12 am |
    • Nestor

      No wonder Fox News has higher ratings than CNN, MSNBC and HLN combined.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:14 am |
  13. Kim Christison

    And Mormons are one of the worst.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:07 am |
  14. smurfeater

    WOW, apparently a university education isn't required for journalism anymore. What does it matter what a group of people thinks cause another to do something? It doesn't; Soc101

    October 22, 2010 at 3:04 am |
  15. Jaston Archie

    Actually, according to the rules of logic, a small sample size does invalidate an argument-its called hasty generalization.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:02 am |
  16. Josepy

    I find it interesting how some of the same people claiming that we shouldn't blame all Muslims for what happened on 9/11 are trying to blame Christian churches for the sucides of gay people. Can you say hypocrite? I bet you can.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  17. Vince

    God is real, religion is fake (man made)... Let's not forget that, and rather remember that God will judge those who hate and have spread hate...

    October 22, 2010 at 2:58 am |
    • fuyuko

      I Agree. God is real, but the bible is mostly man's work.

      October 22, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  18. Vince

    THANK YOU Mr. Focus on Family for making that point!!! That's exactly right, it is contradictory, meaning Christianity is a contradictory life style. You want to focus on the death penalty, telling gays and outliers (that are not gay) to commit suicide and go to hell, talk about sinning when you yourself are hypocrites and sinners in God's eyes??? The only real religion is loving yourself and others - the only real truth, that is... God is the truth, and the truth is, us nice gay people - we're going to heaven with those who tolerate and treat us well, and respect our life and love... So Focus on Family, thanks for point out how dumb religion has become, who insufferable, and how irrelevant it is to the WORLD we live in...

    October 22, 2010 at 2:56 am |
  19. chris

    as a gay man, the main reason I came so close to killing myself was because of the catholic religion in which I was raised.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:53 am |
  20. Hannarina

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

    October 22, 2010 at 2:53 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.