Dear Pastor: Sermons On Queer Folks’ “Delusional”, “Reprobate” Minds Drive LGBTQ+ Suicide

Dear Pastor,

You recently gave the most disempowering anti-LGBTQ+ sermon I have ever observed firsthand. A week prior, in Psychology Today, I published 6 Ways the Church Can Address the LGBTQ+ Suicide Epidemic. In so many words, you issued a rebuttal on your church’s platform of nearly 1k followers, many of whom know of our kinship, and that I’m out. Never have I felt such deep contempt, disgust, scorn, and premeditated oneupmanship by an immediate family member. Of the Bible’s 31,102 verses, you cherry-picked three that enabled you to sanctimoniously play G-d, and invalidate my balanced, fair and valid critique of church homophobia. You based your sermon, titled “Sweet Little Lies”, on Romans 1:26–29. Not only did you weaponize it to reduce queer culture down to hypersexual compulsion, you also interpreted the scripture to mean G-d abandons queer people, “in three stages”:

Pastor Robert Gardner of City of Faith International (Springfield, Tennessee).

“Verse 26 — God gave them up to “vile affections”. Now what that means, is anything that is not proper, or not decent. “Vile affections” is going against the natural use of the body. Some things we do just ain’t natural. Oh, let me say that again! Some things you do, or have done, just ain’t natural. You gotta watch and make sure — if you gonna sin, at least make it be natural. If you’re going to do anything, don’t go against the natural use of the body.

That’s what He says: For this cause, G-d gave them up to “vile affections”. He says, ‘The women changed the natural use into that which is against nature’. In other words, you had women with women, and men with men. And of course, the United States has legalized “vile affections”. Let me say it for what it is: the U.S. has legalized “vile affections”. It’s OK for a man to be with a man, and a woman to be with a woman. But that’s not what the word of G-d says. It says it’s unnatural. And anytime you insist on doing something that G-d says ‘no’, the Bible says: G-d will give you up.

First, he gave them up to uncleanliness and the lust of their own heart. Second, G-d gave them up to vile, unnatural affections. In other words, G-d will wash his hands of you, and let you do what you wanna do. And the third stage of abandonment is a “reprobate mind”. Translation: G-d gave them up to a depraved mind; allowed them to believe a lie. He allowed them to believe a lie, since they were insisting on allowing Satan to seduce them…and gave in to the lurings, whisperings, and cravings of the enemy.

G-d says, ‘If His voice is stronger, if the devil’s voice is stronger in your life than my voice’…then eventually G-d will give you up, and let you do what you wanna do. Now, why is that so dangerous? He will turn the truth of G-d into a lie. In other words, G-d will basically just flip things around, and say, ‘OK, if that is your truth, even though it’s wrong…but if that is the truth that you have interpreted…and if you know more than me, the one that created you…then I’m going to allow you to do the things that you think are right’.

And it’s a dangerous age we live in today, because we got people that want people to lie to them. You will ask four or five different Christians, church-going people, about something you want to do, until you get the answer that you want to hear. We want somebody to tell us, and twist some scripture around, simply so they can tell us the answer we want. You’ve been to Pastor, you’ve been to Pastor’s wife, you’ve been to the Elders, and you’ve sought “counsel”. But sometimes we’re not satisfied, until somebody who does not know the Word, or has misinterpreted scripture, gives us the answer that our flesh really wants to hear. Tell me it’s not a sin, tell me it’s not going to kill me, tell me I’m not going to go to hell for it, tell me that I can get forgiveness later, tell me that G-d understands.”

None of this phased me, considering the work I’ve done for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, The Trevor Project, the national 24-hour, toll-free LGBTQ+ crisis line, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the world’s largest LGBTQ+ facility and service provider. I’ve come across hundreds of LGBTQ+ people who’ve had Romans 1:26–28 weaponized against them repeatedly––bullying that drove some folks I knew personally to suicide. So, the shock factor you went for rolled off my back. But my concern is that, in the midst of the world protesting that Black lives matter, you focused on splitting hairs about which ones G-d deems worthless. Why? Is feeling more righteous so important that you double down on ignorance, even in the face of facts? That makes you more like the delusional COVID-19 deniers––the group you compared LGBTQ+ folks and other “sinners” to––than you realize.

This sermon doesn’t hide the fact that you basically shrugged about the LGBTQ+ suicide epidemic, meaning a societal or worldwide phenomenon. If myself or a million queer people listened to months of sermons like Thursday’s, and then felt too worthless to go on, you’d shrug. That’s the short version of this “word”. In my op-ed, I emphasized the urgent need for the Church — and really, every human being — to take a clear stance on affirming and empowering all marginalized folks. I stated that evasive non-answers and vague side-stepping leave room for some to fill in the blanks and silences with hate. You manipulated and twisted that ethical call to action to fit your own narrative, which you still refuse to acknowledge harms LGBTQ+ people.

The very first of the six suggestions in my Psychology Today op-ed was to not assume bad intentions or ulterior motives of LGBTQ+ people who critique church homophobia. In other words, remember that you can critique something and appreciate it; both are possible simultaneously, without the extreme of hate. In fact, critiquing something with the hope of improving it, so that it will sustain itself and thrive, is actually the ultimate display of respect. Another suggestion was not to reduce LGBTQ+ identity down to hypersexuality or misconceptions about mental illness.

Yet, even after a disclaimer that I did not intend to generalize or stereotype all Christians or churches, you still assumed I was delusional and wrong by default, still interpreted it as an attack, still had to fire back, still had to point the finger, still had to get the last word. Still. Sit with that.

Sometimes we get so caught up in denial, that we tell on ourselves, and prove the very point we’re arguing against. But last Thursday wasn’t even the first time. During your Father’s Day sermon, you cited anti-LGBTQ+ evangelist Myles Munroe. In another sermon — almost immediately after I had published an essay on Biblical justice — you declared, “G-d’s mercy does run out!” I noted how you spun that punitive school of thought as “justice”. Yet, my stance is still valid. I can verify all of my work, which drew upon sources from Bishop Yvette Flunder, Rev. Kyndra Frasier, Rev. William Barber II, Rev. Rudy Rasmus, and even Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose right-hand man, gay Black activist Bayard Rustin, planned the March on Washington, for the “I Have A Dream” speech.

Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin.

As for comparing queer people to delusional COVID-19 deniers, tens of thousands have weathered this pandemic with my help. Nearly 20k Americans––more people than in our hometown––have shared An Activist-Therapist’s 15 Affirmations for Hope Amidst COVID-19, which I penned in April, back when a vast majority of Americans still believed unfounded conspiracies about COVID-19. And in March, I took the initiative of organizing a 100+ resources, across more than a dozen cities. Ahead of elected officials, the media, and public welfare agencies, I anticipated and met the need for an easily accessible, streamlined, universal resource guide. As corporations furloughed millions, and local governments issued decrees at a dizzying pace, I stayed on top of updating a widely-circulated national directory — daily. Yet, I’m delusional?

During Minority Mental Health Month, which highlights disproportionate disparities and psychiatry’s problematic history, pathologizing LGBTQ+ people as “delusional” is especially disappointing. Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association referred to ‘homosexuality’ as ‘sexual deviance’, then ‘sociopathic personality disturbance.’ Since only the humane can create non-sexual cultures and communities, APA defined LGBTQ+ folks solely by sexual identifiers, not ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, etc.––unthought-of terms.

Stigmatizing queerness as “unnatural”, even conflating it with pedophilia, sanctioned surveillance and violent police raids in gayborhoods like Greenwich Village. Cops regularly invaded LGBTQ+ establishments, brutalizing, arresting, and often imprisoning patrons in psych wards that forced them into conversion therapy or solitary confinement. Vanderbilt professor Jonathan Metzl’s The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease documents the same surveillance and treatment of Civil Rights activists. LGBTQ+ New Yorkers rioted after a raid on June 28, 1969, until NYC established the first annual Pride Parade on June 28, 1970.

Undoubtedly, holier-than-thou religious intolerance normalized stigma that enabled authoritative institutions like APA to formally institutionalize anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice. During the early AIDS crisis of the ‘80s — which I’ve also written on— religious bigotry reared its ugly head again. Reagan’s refusal to take seriously the new “gay cancer”, much like the Trump’s negligence now, recklessly caused 89,343 deaths, of mostly gay men. Many superstitious evangelicals claimed G-d “told” them of a gay plague, and today that persistent stereotype of “gay contamination” and hypersexuality has led some evangelicals to blame COVID-19 on gay men.

Much of the “self-destructiveness” among young LGBTQ+ people today reflects the aftermath of this nation’s homophobia during the peak of the AIDS crisis. Blame that gay men deserved AIDS killed much of a generation that today would serve as community mentors and role models––examples of hope, stability, and success. Yet, LGBTQ+ people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s do exist, contrary to your generalization that a “I’m young and can’t nobody tell me how to live my life, or take away my rights!” mentality causes young people to “choose” an LGBTQ+ “lifestyle” (it’s not a “lifestyle”). I can name several who, from age 5 to 75, have never doubted who they are.

In reality, the “rights” you speak of barely even exist, especially for LGBTQ+ Black people. The Supreme Court extended the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s workplace protections to LGBTQ+ people only last month. So, being LGBTQ+ is not a trendy persona I tried on. Coming out at 15––as a sophomore––wasn’t easy, popular, or trendy. I wasn’t backed by the language, legal protections, representation, or role models that exist now. Thankfully, there’s a greater chance that LGBTQ+ kids today can feel more safe and validated, than defective, intimidated, and silenced. That’s the world I’m fighting for.

And as for the delusional “gay agenda” that people, particularly evangelical white supremacists, imagine: I can also assure you that all 14+ million LGBTQ+ Americans haven’t organized a national conference call about taking over churches, the media, or schools to indoctrinate. In the ’70s, you saw firsthand how “Black Is Beautiful” media representation didn’t magically solve or undo centuries of oppression. It’s still that way. Larger society––including the broader Black and LGBTQ+ communities––still marginalizes LGBTQ+ Black folks like me, twice over. Healing is the only “gay agenda” I know.

That’s why, in Activism As Prayer: Three Calls to Action for Black Christians to Embrace Biblical Justice, I wrote that activism is healing and holy. I see justice as spiritual, and activism that pursues it as spiritual work. Proactively championing liberation, in this lifetime—while also resisting corruption and domination, not just turning a blind eye to harm, until a rapture — epitomizes “moved by the Spirit”. There’s nothing “New Age”, “secular”, or “worldly” about the basic Christian principles of dignity, equity, fairness, and peace.

Furthermore, my faith and suicide prevention advocacy aren’t oil and water, but rather go hand in hand. Prayerful action toward justice and peace creates miracles. Yet, “thoughts and prayers”, with no action or strategy, can lead nowhere or mask lip service, as every school shooting reminds us. Taking initiative to protect people’s dignity doesn’t contradict, invalidate, or negate doctrine––and it’s certainly no sign of a “reprobate mind”.

Acting on faith, which some call spiritual pragmatism, magnifies the likelihood of manifesting blessings. And I act on faith, not carnal lust, compulsion, or self-deception, every time I envision, and stand up for my vision, of a more inclusive society that affirms my dignity and self-respect.

Araya Baker is an educator, therapist & writer who promotes disability, education & health equity, across borders, faiths, generations, identities & movements.