PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) represents the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, one notoriously anti-LGBTQ. Recently, Faith in America announced that it would send medical professionals and faith leaders to SBC’s Annual Meeting to urge its members to take steps to end religious persecution of LGBTQ youth and families.
Faith in America (FIA) has an 11-year history of fighting faith-based prejudice against LGBTQ people, especially youth. The nonprofit’s mission statement declares that its “ultimate goal is to end decades and centuries of using religious teachings to justify marginalizing and discriminating against others.” To this purpose, an FIA delegation will attend the SBC Meeting as part of the nonprofit’s “Save yOur Kids” campaign.
This year, the SBC Meeting will take place in Phoenix from June 13-14. The FIA delegation consists of mental health professionals and pastors from LGBTQ-affirming congregations. Rev. Stan Mitchell travels from Nashville, and Rev. Jeff Clark will also speak to SBC Messengers. Rev. T. Anthony Spearman will travel all the way from Greensboro, N.C.
FIA also presents a medical committee to discuss the mental health dangers of faith-based discrimination. New York Medical College Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Jack Drescher and Adler University Assistant Professor of Psychology Joshua Wolff, PhD will both attend. Heading the medical committee is FIA co-chair and CEO Robert Hoffman, who is also a managing partner for a major counseling firm.
“Science is clear: LGBTQ youth are at risk and need our help,” said Dr. Drescher in an FIA statement. “We know parents love their children and want to keep them safe, regardless of religious beliefs. We join FIA in formally calling upon SBC’s leadership to alter its course of religion-based harm to one of religion-based help. Faith communities can be sources of great support to LGBTQ youth if they stop condemning them and begin instead to embrace these children with unconditional love.”
Dr. Drescher, a published expert on mental health in LGBTQ youth, refers to the increased risk of this population for suicide attempts, mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that LGBTQ youth are four times as likely to be suicidal, and two to three times as likely to abuse substances due to stigma and discrimination.
Also attending the SBC Meeting alongside FIA are openly-gay country musician Ty Herndon and Tyler Clementi Foundation co-founder Jane Clementi. The organization’s strategy is multifaceted, involving both static and roving billboards across Phoenix, volunteers handing out educational materials throughout the convention, as well as delegates’ discussions with SBC “Messengers” regarding LGBTQ youth’s health crises and spiritual motivations for inclusion.
“Sin is about making wrong choices and actions,” Rev. Mitchell said in an FIA statement. “So the more we can get religious people to the realization that sexual orientation is an innate part of a person, a natural part of a human’s being, not a choice, that dramatically undermines the basis for viewing homosexuality as behavior-driven immorality or some perverse proclivity. And it further undermines any justification a person might feel for their condemnation or proactive prejudice.”