The unnecesarry death of Tyler Clementi and the issue of shame


Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi seen here playing violin at his home church, Grace Church, Ridgewood NJ, part of the Willow creek association, committed suicide after being shamed by his roommate for bring gay. Taylor jumped off the George Washington Bridge after Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei had secretly taped a video of Clementi having sex with another student, and then posted it online.

His roommate Dharun Ravi’s twitter posting on his micro-blog gave damming evidence of what Ravi did to entrap Tyler including "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay." This was followed later of a live video stream seen by all.

The death had shocked the Rutgers University community and both Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei are facing criminal charges which if convicted could mean jail terms from 18 months to 5 years. Steven Goldstein, of Garden State Equality, said in a statement "...We are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others' lives as a sport,"

The shame for Tyler, a quiet and sensitive boy for his most intimate private moments seen by the “whole world”, must have been incredible. It was the shame of being naked, and seen having sex, exposing him to be gay. He could not face life anymore, for how could he face people knowing that they could be laughing behind his back, joking about his naked pictures, and making fun of him. It was made far worst because he was gay and the shame it brought being exposed.

Tyler may also have had difficulty to face his family, as the news would have spread and soon everyone in town would have known about the video. He would have been forced to admit to his family that he was gay.  Many gay man would have taken years to be out to themselves, then to their friends and finally to their family. Through this video, Tyler would have faced an amazing rush of emotions, shame, and self condemnation that many would have taken decades to reconcile their sexual orientation with, yet Tyler had to come to terms with it overnight. He probably had committed suicide because he could not face himself, his friends, and family.

Tyler was said to be a quiet boy, and often we are quiet because we have the core of our being – our sexual orientation to hide that it really damages our emotions and restricts us. We are made to be inward looking and self-conscious vary of what others may say because of our sexual orientation.  This self consciousness can kill us emotionally if all our secrets are revealed even the pictures of us naked in bed. Gays often suffer from incredible shame.

Tyler apparently attended Grace Church which is part of the Willow Creek Association, a group of evangelical conservative churches. Having internal conflicts between our faith and sexual orientation amplifies the incredible emotional turmoil, self condemnation, and shame.

In Soulforce visit to Bill Hybel’s Willow Creek Church, it talks of a church willing to engage with the GLBT community and having a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. Yet, it does not change the core reality as reminded by Berry Schmidt an elder at Willow Creek who said that “Willow as a hospitable congregation, even though the church does not accept gay and lesbian members who don't stay celibate.”. Therefore, it was sex that is the main issue. The sex video of Tyler with another man not only would have outed him to the church but also having sex. If Tyler had been outed for being gay (without the sex part), he probably would still be accepted and there would be a period of soul searching by the family. However, the issue of sex would have made it far worst for Tyler to come to terms with.

In a most gracious and Christian response, Jane and Joe Clementi, parents of Tyler had issued a statement stating that "Regardless of legal outcomes, our hope is that our family's personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity,"  

Tyler Clementi had posted a Facebook status saying "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry," after the broadcast of his sexual encounter.  He may have been saying sorry to his friends and family for the hurt and shame that he thought he would be giving them. Yet, it was the toxic and homophobic environment at the university and at church that had probably prevented a sensitive young man from coming out.

Having a shame to hide, makes us overtly sensitive, and self conscious, and often become very quiet. It is so important to turn the shame into being proud of how God has created us.    As Tyler was playing his violin in church to the chorus "Glory to God in the Highest", the beautiful sound of his violin would have touched the heart for God, for God already had accepted Tyler and his sexual orientation even though his church and perhaps even Tyler himself may not have been proud of. But God was proud of him and today Tyler is with God, in a far better place.



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