We write as Christian pastors who are privileged to serve as bishops of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Newark and in the Diocese of New Jersey in order to express our grief, alarm, compassion and outrage over the suicide of Tyler Clementi. We join our voices with the voices of all those concerned in Ridgewood, where Tyler grew up, at Rutgers University, where he was a freshman and across our nation. Another gay young person has died by suicide. This tragic loss of a promising life would appear to be directly related to an invasion of Tyler’s privacy and a violation of his personal life. Much remains to be considered by law enforcement authorities and the courts in order to determine whether this is also a case of bullying, a felony or a hate crime ”“ or a combination of the three. Whatever that legal determination may be, we join with other Christian and religious leaders, with the LGBT community and with all people of good will who take their stand against hatred, bigotry and bullying; against every expression of physical and verbal violence; and against any violation of the dignity of LGBT persons. When the rights of any ”“ especially the members of vulnerable groups who have so often been scapegoated ”“ are threatened, the rights of all are endangered.
We want to call attention to another, potentially deeper, issue here. It is the invasion of intimacy. Intimacy is a holy place within every human being; an innermost sanctuary where we develop our ultimate beliefs and values, nurture our closest relationships and maintain our deepest commitments. No one has the right to disclose that intimacy for someone else without consent. Such a violation is tantamount to the desecration of a sacred space. It is, in fact, a sacred space. It is the territory of the soul.
Technology, however, now provides tools to record, seize and disclose the most intimate matters of our lives without our consent. Identities can be stolen, hearts broken and lives shattered. Technology has placed powerful tools in human hands. Will they be used for building-up or for breaking down our neighbor? Tyler Clementi’s death certainly poses some important legal issues, but it also raises some critical moral concerns. Hubris has outstripped humility. And that is a serious problem. We can do better. We must do better, with God’s help.
In our Episcopal tradition, whenever we reaffirm our faith in worship, we are given a challenging question: “will you respect the dignity of every human being?” And we answer, “I will, with God’s help.” It is an important commitment. Whatever our religious tradition, we can agree on the need to respect one another’s dignity. With God’s help, we can stand together and stand up against bullies who would damage and destroy the lives of LGBT persons, their partners and families and friends. With God’s help, we can offer safety, support and sanctuary to all LGBT persons who are at risk. With God’s help, we can remind our society that every LGBT person is made in the image of God. The world needs our witness.
The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark
The Rt. Rev. George E. Councell, Bishop of New Jersey