As a youth, Phillip (whose name has been changed to protect his privacy) was forced to survive months of an especially cold winter without shelter. After he came out as gay, his parents kicked him out of their family home. He found his way to an LGBTQ youth center, where he became known for his quick sense of humor, ready smile and desire to offer a helping hand to those in need. 

Phillip’s father was a religious leader. So for the youth center’s leader, it seemed that religion and faith would be sources of pain to him. But one day, Phillip made a comment that changed all of that. When asked why he carried a small journal — which stood out, since homeless youth have few possessions — Phillip poignantly said, “I carry this journal with me because this is how I talk to God. God is all I have left.” Such was the belief of a young gay man rejected by his family, but not by the God of his Christian faith. 

We may often hear some form of the message “don’t ever talk about faith with LGBTQ youth and adults — they don’t want to talk about that.” But for the 47% of the LGBTQ community that reports being moderately or highly religious — for people like Phillip — this is deeply incorrect. Avoiding religious conversations means cutting off a potential source of deep comfort for those whose faith we might engage and inspire — depriving our own faith of nourishment in the process. 

Polarized politics and a common media narrative that depicts an insurmountable divide between religion and the LGBTQ community discourage such conversations. Research highlights the incompleteness of that narrative and its potential harm to the LGBTQ community. 

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summary of this research by W. Bradford Wilcox and Riley Peterson explains that “religiously devout adults are happier, less depressed and more involved in their communities than those who attend services less frequently.” An article in the Journal of Religion and Health suggests that the mental health benefits of religious teachings and practice have physically tangible implications, like improved functioning of the immune system. 

For youth specifically, Utah-focused research reported that “religious affiliation was related to significantly lower rates of teen mental health challenges as measured by suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and depression.” The Harvard Human Flourishing Program found that there are significant mental health benefits for youth from being “raised in a religious or spiritual environment” and of frequent prayer and meditation, including less depression, drug use or sexual activity at an early age.  

On the positive side, these youth were more likely to volunteer in their communities and have a sense of purpose. Those who attended religious services frequently reported more happiness and forgiveness. Surveys reporting better mental health among adults who as children attended religious services weekly suggest the long-lasting mental health benefits of religion for youth. 

The mental health benefits of religion seem to also extend specifically to LGBTQ people. 

recently published study suggests that religious LGBTQ individuals who hold to their faith after coming out may experience less depression and more meaning in life. This scholarly work echoes a previous survey reporting that 42% of LGBTQ youth who rate their faith as flourishing rate their mental health the same way. By contrast, only 11% of those with withering faith rate their mental health as flourishing. An important part of the explanation may be captured in scholarly commentary on yet another study published this year connecting religion to positive mental health: “Something about the communal religious experience is powerful.” 

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LGBTQ people are people like everyone else — what is generally good for straight people is generally good for gay and transgender people. In that light, the incompleteness of the political and media narratives may be harming LGBTQ people by placing a barrier between them and the faith conversations that could help them more fully reap the mental health benefits of religion. 

Both the research and stories of LGBTQ people like Phillip — and there are many more — make clear that church members of all stripes should feel comfortable engaging in conversations about faith with their LGBTQ brothers and sisters who, from the faith perspective, are first and foremost fellow children of God. As the diverse authorship of this article illustrates, such conversations do not require us to abandon our core beliefs and commitments — which proves that polarization doesn’t need to be an insurmountable obstacle to such dialogue. In fact, these conversations are a big part of the solution to polarization. 

As we find the courage to engage others in discussions about faith in a spirit of love, we will overcome polarization’s subtle but powerful pull to divide us from those with whom we share a common human and spiritual connection. We will craft new bonds of friendship and common values that immensely enrich our lives. We will find ourselves in a pursuit of happiness that saves lives, heals ourselves and helps renew our society. 

Derek Monson is vice president of policy and William C. Duncan is the religious freedom policy fellow at Sutherland Institute, a principle-based think tank in Salt Lake City. The Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen is executive director of Parity, a New York City-based organization that promotes and affirms LGBTQ and religious identities.