Beginner's Heart

I will caution you right now: if you believe it’s okay (for any reason whatsoever) to be mean to children in the name of religion, you should find to do other than reading further. Because this is my bit for socially engaged Buddhism, teaching, and my students, friends and family.

Michigan just passed what’s basically a ‘ no-consequences’ bullying bill. For more than 10 years, Michigan social conservatives like the American Family Association have fought any kind of anti-bullying bill, stating that it’s simply a ‘Trojan horse’ to promote the ‘gay agenda.’ In the meantime, 10 children have committed suicide, fatally wounded by homophobic bullies. One per year.

So what has Michigan finally done? Promoted a bill w/ no consequences for ‘religious’ bullying — read: “allowing students, teachers, and other school employees to claim that ‘a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction’ justifies their harassment.” I’m thinking this is NOT what Jesus meant when he said ‘suffer the little children.’ And I can’t help but contrast this attitude — it’s okay to what? Threaten children (because under 18 they’re all children) with the prospect of hell if theyact ‘butch,’ or ‘effeminate,’ or just ‘different’? — with ‘come to me, all of you who are heavy laden.’ Or ‘let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone.’ Not to mention the Beatitudes…

The Michigan bill has enormous consequences if passed, if not for the bullies. Oklahoma is considering a similar bill. Where what you believe — your religion — exempts you from treating children with love and respect. Allows you to tell them they will go to hell, because of their sexual identity. (N.B.: please let’s not call it ‘sexual preference’ any longer, as it’s not a ‘preference,’ but  hard-wired into the self and mind and heart.)

I’d be interested in knowing how many parents would accept someone telling their children they were going to hell — which many religions believe about non-believers — because of the child’s choice of religion. If you believe that sexual identity is a choice, not in-born, then it resembles religion, which also is a choice. And I wonder what the parental reaction would be to someone telling a child of one denomination that s/he is going to hell. Over and over. For this ‘choice.’ I’m betting it wouldn’t be okay…

But it’s okay, apparently, to do this to children who ‘look’ or ‘act’ or ‘seem’ gay. Okay to single them out. Okay to make them ashamed of who they are. Okay to frighten them with threats of hell and damnation. And apparently Christian,at least in some people’s eyes.

A former student sent me a Facebook post. Attributed to Felissa Elfenbein’s FB page, the post asks you to crumple a piece of paper. Wad it up, stamp on it, really do a number on it. Now smooth it out as carefully and smoothly as possible. Tell it you’re sorry, and see how that erases the wrinkles, the scars from the mistreatment. Doesn’t help, does it? And our children are so much more fragile — and valuable — than paper.

The Michigan bill obviously is okay with many Americans. But I’m telling you as a teacher, as a mother, as the friend and relative of gay friends and family, it’s not okay with me. And it shouldn’t be okay with you, either. A religion that says it’s okay to hurt children is not a religion, but a license. And that’s not okay either.


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