Carlos Vigil, a gay teen in Albuquerque NM, has committed suicide. I know better most that suicide isn’t rational and isn’t traceable back to a single or even series of acts. I get that he may have had deeper problems than any of us may realize. But Carlos himself was rather upfront about the cause of his suicide. According to the Advocate,
Carlos Vigil posted a suicide note to his Twitter account on July 13, moments before he ended his life. “I’m sorry to those I offended over the years. I’m blind to see that I, as a human being, suck. I’m an individual who is doing an injustice to the world and it’s time for me to leave,” reads the note. “The kids in school are right, I am a loser, a freak, and a fag and in no way is that acceptable for people to deal with. I’m sorry for not being a person that would make people proud.”
Carlos is wrong about so very much here. He does not suck. He was doing no injustice to the world. And it was so, so not time for him to leave. As for being a fag? I won’t dignify that with a response. But he is right on one thing. Thinking that you are any of these things, particularly that last one? “In no way is that acceptable for people to deal with.” Himself included – being forced to think of yourselves in those terms is too big a burden for such young shoulders.
I don’t know much about Carlos, except for two facts from various eulogies I’ve seen online. First, again from the Advocate piece, “The Los Lunas High School student was known for his antibullying advocacy and would often counsel other teens who were also dealing with harassment from their peers. He even traveled to North Carolina to lobby an antibullying bill in the state’s legislature.” And later: “Carlos’ parents have said his organs will be donated, as it was his wish to continue helping people, even in death.” He strikes me as a deeply troubled boy who could not accept his own value, and that is of course each of our responsibilities to ourselves. But having seen anti-gay bullying impact some of my friends at the college level, I know how hard that can be when everyone around you says you’re useless and an abomination. I can only imagine what that’s like at seventeen.
If I had known Carlos I would have told him what an awesome young man he seemed to be – such activism at that age, and his drive to help others even in his death point to a seriously cool dude that I think I would have gotten along with. And as for the others?
In case you don’t have that one memorized, here’s the surrounding verses. I usually quote NASB or NKJV because I prefer more traditional, rigorous translations, but in this case the Message really hits it out of the park.
If you reason with with an arrogant cynic, you’ll get slapped in the face;
confront bad behavior and get a kick in the shins.
So don’t waste your time on a scoffer;
all you’ll get for your pains is abuse.
But if you correct those who care about life,
that’s different—they’ll love you for it!
Save your breath for the wise—they’ll be wiser for it;
tell good people what you know—they’ll profit from it.
I’m so sorry he couldn’t hear this truth while he was alive for whatever reason. When I heard about the kids who stole his smiley-face lunchbox and trashed it when he was eight –eight!– I cried on his behalf. No one should have to put up with the thoughts he had put in your head. And based on his parents’ comments, it seems like there are people who really did love him. Which seems utterly believable to the point of not being news.
I get that some Christians truly believe homosexuality is a sin. I respectfully disagree, but I do get that’s where they’re coming from. On behalf of all the Carlos’s out there, I feel compelled to remind them of a bit of another bit of Scripture. This time from Mt 18:15-17, NKJV:
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth fo three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
I’ve always taken this as the paradigm for how a Christian should confront a sinner within the church. If you really believe someone’s sinning in such a way you need to call them on it, you should first go speak with them in private. If it’s a good-faith mistake, an accident, something they hadn’t thought of as a sin this gives them an opportunity to correct before it becomes so public. And if they refuse, then you still try to handle it in as small a group as possible. You approach them with witnesses to make it more formal, show you’re taking it seriously – but you still don’t shame them. The goal is on addressing the problem, restoring the brotherly relationship. It’s not really on punishment. And it happens within a community. So even if you think homosexuality is a sin Sagainst you, The proper way of addressing the problem is locally, with an aim to restoration and moving forward rather than beating down on the other person.
And if none of that works? You cut the connection. If someone commits a serious sin, if he refuses to address the situation, you make him like an outsider, a tax collector – someone no longer in the community. That seems harsh, and it is harsh, but it’s also liberating in its way. The last words of Carlos’s tweet (not included above) are “I’m free. XOXO” And that’s just what this model of confronting someone with their sin is supposed to be about. When you approach someone with their sin, if they won’t or can’t fix the problem? Then that’s no longer involving you. You cut them out of your life, but you also don’t hold on to any claim on their behavior.
I don’t believe being homosexual is in itself a sin. I don’t even believe homosexual sex is a sin. But if I did, I hope I’d keep this model in mind. When someone sins against you, you don’t punish them for it forever – you repair the bridge if you can, and if you can’t. You move on. The problem is, so many people today engage the world as “issues” (homosexuality is wrong) and this gets translated into a criticism of specific individuals – but coming from a faceless person, a stranger they cannot interact with, in a very public and critical way. Often it’s not the preachers and the heads of Christian charities who tell the individual they’re so sinful they’re beyond hope – but they set the stage in a way that gives meanspirited people (or just teens being teens and bullying each other) permission to go that extra step in viciousness.
I’m not sure that Carlos would still be here, if the kids at his school hadn’t gotten the impression it was okay to target him in this way. But I know I’d like to find out one of these days. Wherever those thoughts came from, however avoidable those thoughts were – no one should have to deal with being told he’s a freak and a loser so often he ends up believing it.