(Photo: It Gets Better Project via The Christian Post)
Religious leaders are lending their voice to a newly launched video project, joining celebrities and political figures who assure young bullied gays and lesbians that "it gets better."
In a video message added Thursday, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America told victims of bullying that God loves them.
"I've listened with pain and shock to reports of young people taking their lives because they've been bullied and tormented for being different, for being gay or perceived to be gay, for being the people God created them to be," the Rev. Mark S. Hanson said.
He stressed, "You are a beloved child of God. Your life carries the dignity and the beauty of God's creation. There is a place for you in this world and in this church."
The It Gets Better Project was founded by former Catholic Dan Savage. According to the project, 9 out of 10 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) students have experienced harassment at school and more than one third of them have attempted to commit suicide. Providing a support system for LGBT youth, dozens of videos from everyday persons as well as renowned figures give hope and tell stories of overcoming bullying and finding happiness.
Some of the well-known figures who recorded video messages include music artists Jewel, Eve, and Emily and Martie from Dixie Chicks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Randy Roberts Potts, grandson of televangelist Oral Roberts.
President Barack Obama added his support to the project.
Expressing shock and sadness over the deaths of several young people who were bullied and committed suicide, Obama said, "It breaks my heart. It's something that just shouldn't happen in this country."
"When you're teased or bullied, it can seem like somehow you brought it on yourself for being different or for not fitting in with everybody else," he continued. "But what I want to say is this: You are not alone. You didn't do anything wrong.
"We've got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, that it's some inevitable part of growing up. It's not."
A number of Christian leaders who recorded messages acknowledged that some Christians may have added to the pain LGBT youth feel.
"Sometimes, the words of my Christian brothers and sisters have hurt you and I also know that our silence causes you pain," said Hanson, whose denomination began accepting openly gay ministers last year.
Employing harsher rhetoric, New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson pointed the finger at Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists and Mormons who tell gays that their life is not acceptable to God.
"I want to tell you as a religious person, that they are flat out wrong. God loves you the way you are," said the openly gay bishop, whose ordination in 2003 caused uproar in the global Anglican Communion.
His video has stirred controversy over his attack on other religious groups.
"Robinson is entitled to his opinion, and his own moral theology. We can respectfully disagree about his conclusions. But I can't respect the way he has gone about brazenly dismissing (and, in fact, misrepresenting) the moral teachings of others," said Greg Kandra, a Roman Catholic deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., in a Beliefnet blog post.
Since the recent suicides of gay teens, evangelical leaders have noticed that many are blaming the church for its "anti-gay rhetoric."
Evangelical commentator Chuck Colson calls it a disturbing trend and fears the gay lobby may use the tragedies to further its agenda and silence those who oppose them. While calling Christians to condemn bullying in all its forms, he has also stressed the need for believers to defend biblical morality but "in a way that rejects condemnation and invites conversation and conversion."
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, also doesn't believe it's accurate to suggest that Christianity is to blame for the tragedies simply because churches and organizations like his teach that Scripture places homosexual activity outside of God's design for human sexuality.
In fact, he believes Christianity – when properly interpreted and practiced – is the solution to the mistreatment of anyone.
"If there is a single golden thread woven through the Bible and the faith it informs, it is this: when it comes to human rights and how we treat each other, no person is superior or inferior to the next. Yes, sin exists; and God does not condone it. But he does embrace the sinner –and that means every one of us," he wrote in a CNN blog post.
"So, 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."