Out of the Darkness

OoD5Earlier today I had the opportunity to participate in the Out of the Darkness community walk to raise awareness around depression and suicide and to promote good mental health. The local walk is sponsored by the Hampton Roads Survivors of Suicide Support Group. These walks take place around the country, and ours has been well-attended over the past few years.

After the opening program, the walk begins by having participants actually walk through the cranes in the picture. Here is a little background on the symbolism:

OoD3Shortly after the end of World War II, the folded origami cranes also came to symbolize a hope for peace through Sadako Sasaki and her unforgettable story of perseverance. Diagnosed with leukemia after being exposed to radiation after the bombing of Hiroshima, Sadako became determined to fold 1,000 cranes in hopes of recovering good health, happiness, and a world of eternal peace. Although she completed 644 before she died, her classmates folded the remaining 356 to honor her. A statue was raised in the Hiroshima Peace Park to commemorate her strong spirit.

Today this practice of folding 1,000 cranes represents a form of healing and hope during challenging times. After the events of September 11, as a gesture of support and healing, thousands of cranes were folded and linked together in chains and sent to fire and police stations, museums, and churches throughout New York City.

Traditionally, flocks of 1,000 cranes are offered at shrines or temples with prayer, based on the belief that the effort to fold such a large number will surely be rewarded. Chains are often given to someone suffering from illness, as a prayer for their recovery, as a wish for happiness, and as an expression of sympathy and peace.

My research team has gone for the last two years to recognize the difficulties faced by sexual minorities who are at greater risk for both depression and suicide.

We spoke afterwards about some of the challenges we face as Christians who conduct research in this area, particularly in light of the desire to help the church improve the climate for people sorting out sexual identity questions. I know there are those who would say that the church needs to change its doctrinal teaching in this area–that change in doctrine around sexual ethics is the only way climate will improve for sexual minorities. I understand that perspective.

At present, we face the challenge of providing resources to the Christian community that holds to a traditional Christian sexual ethic. How can those communities of faith improve the climate or atmosphere for those who are navigating sexual identity issues in their lives? What are the experiences of more conservative sexual minorities? What about Side B gay Christians and others who hold a similar worldview? What would they recommend to the local church? Those have been interesting and challenging questions to explore.

4 thoughts on “Out of the Darkness

  1. This is a huge, raw, issue for me this year with the loss of Michael by his own hand. I would interested to learn more, and see more, about this issue.

  2. Dr. Yarhouse,

    I’m a Christian, gay man who grew up in a conservative church. I’d love to swap perspectives with you here.

    You write: “My research team has gone for the last two years to recognize the difficulties faced by sexual minorities who are at greater risk for both depression and suicide.”

    Why, in your experience, are sexual minorities at greater risk? What role does the church play? What role does the traditional doctrine play?

    Two thoughts from my perspective: side a / side b is a false dichotomy. Beliefs about homosexuality are not either/or. There is a spectrum of belief from completely exclusive to completely inclusive. I think the accommodation perspective would allow traditionslists to live into their beliefs in a way that doesn’t cause harm (i.e., covenant homosexual relationships aren’t God’s ideal, but are the best gay people can do with the cards they’ve been dealt).

    Also, I believe the emotional coercion of the conservative church is really destructive and sometimes (usually?) abusive. Can the conservative church adopt the values clarification piece of your SIT framework? Can gay people be given the space to explore the entire spectrum of Christian belief about homosexuality – come to understand what they really believe and why? Can the church not treat as pariahs gay people whose exploration leads them to a more inclusive position? Can the church ever become as ok with a gay couple in the congregation as they are with second marriages?

    I’m truly interested in your thoughts here.


  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ford. I don’t know that I’ll be able to do the topic justice in my reply, but I think you are right to point out the role of the church and of traditional doctrine. I see these as two different things. I am not a theologian, but what I have read from writers who suggest a different doctrinal position is in order has not been that convincing to me. But that wasn’t really what you asked about. It could be that a doctrinal position contributes to elevated rates of depression, etc., but I think that is harder to determine (to tease out the doctrine from the delivery and context and all of what is going on inside the person hearing it …). I suppose that at least in theory it is also possible for a position to be correct and still make that kind of contribution – I’d need to think more about that. I tend to focus more on what can be done to improve the climate in the local church, including microaggressions and more obvious offenses.

    I appreciate your interest in more of an accommodationist view, such as that by the late Lewis Smedes. At this point, I am trying to direct that important conversation back to thoughtful and mature gay Christians who are sorting this out in their own lives and in dialogue with one another. I wish there was a platform for that kind of discussion and the kinds of real relationships that foster trust and mutual respect that make that kind of discussion actually beneficial to all who participate. Thanks again for your thoughts.

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