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You’ve no doubt seen the rash of news reports about the recent uptick in teenage suicides related to sexual orientation. A recent study found that, in 2009, 9 out of 10 lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered (LGBT) students experienced harassment at school, and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe due to their sexual orientation.
Homosexuality is, of course, a hugely controversial topic among Christians. But bullying shouldn’t be. There are so many obvious Christian reasons to stand alongside the LGBT community against bullying, including:
- Basic human decency (other than self-defense, is one human attacking another human ever acceptable?)
- Love for your neighbor (what part of the Good Samaritan story doesn’t apply here?)
- Solidarity with the persecuted (we’re hardly a persecuted minority today, but Christians definitely have unjust persecution in our history. In this case, are LGBT students not “the least of these”?)
- Concern for the outsider (Jesus regularly made waves by embracing the social outcasts of his day, from lepers to tax collectors)
So you’d think this would be a great opportunity for Christian groups to say, Yes, bullying is wrong. It’s wrong in all cases, but especially — right now, because it seems to be epidemic — it’s wrong in cases of sexual orientation.
And I’ve seen some excellent essays and blog posts along these lines, including this one by Friday’s Voices of Doubt contributor Matthew Paul Turner.
But other Christians aren’t being so compassionate. Instead of standing with children who are being bullied, Focus on the Family has chosen to critique the statistics of the report, because they’re worried all this focus on bullied LGBT kids is another arm of the vast conspiracy to indoctrinate kids into homosexuality.
Which, I’m sure, is exactly what Jesus would have done. When told someone was hurting, he would have disputed the numbers.
But I’m not going to rant against Focus on the Family or start yelling about protecting kids who get bullied, because it’s so obvious. OF COURSE we should protect bullied kids, and if you somehow think there’s something wrong with that then you don’t understand the message of the Gospel (if you’re a believer) or what it means to be a decent person (if you’re not a believer).
I wasn’t necessarily a cool kid in high school, but I wasn’t bullied. At least, not much more than most skinny, quiet kids I knew. (But I was called “gay” on several occasions, for what it’s worth.) Either way, I don’t have much to add to the discussion, but I certainly have friends who do. I’ve asked a few of them to share their stories.
We’ll start with this one, written by my friend Chad, who grew up in small-town Texas:
I don’t know if a group of guys stuffed and abandoned me in a locker in the 8th-grade boys locker room
because I was gay. I don’t know if four guys popped my scrawny body like a parachute because I was
gay. I don’t know if Eric held me down and scraped the peach fuzz off my cheek with his butterfly knife
because I was gay.
There really wasn’t any way for them to know that. I was a prepubescent middle-school kid: I didn’t
even know I was gay. But what they knew, and what made those two years truly a living hell, was that I
didn’t fit in. I was different. And to guys like those, different equaled gay, regardless of the facts. Most
of the other guys in my small-town middle school were jocks, or reasonable facsimiles thereof. I couldn’t
fake it. The most athletic thing I did in those years was play in two tennis tournaments — managing to
get smacked in the face by a tennis ball both times.
The flush of embarrassment mostly has seared the actual incidents in my head and burned away
everything else around them. Did a wandering eye, or even the suspicion of one, cause the locker-room
incidents? Did any of my peers try to step in, or report the incidents to someone in charge? Did I even
tell my parents about them? I don’t believe so. I certainly never talked to anyone about my fears about
what could be motivating my bullies, beyond my obvious outcast nature. It never occurred to me to tell
someone that I thought I was attracted to guys, much less that other guys might have intuited it and
used it as an excuse to harass me. There are things we just don’t discuss.
I was still going to church when the bullying was at its worst — even was an active member of the youth
group. One of the most confusing, horrifying incidents happened on a church trip that included a stop at
the mall. I was reading a comic book at Waldenbooks, and from out of nowhere, one of the guys shoved
an open issue of Playgirl in front of my comic — from Superman to a stark naked man. I can still feel
that insane rush of emotions — humiliation at being picked on in such a public place, fear that he knew
something I couldn’t verbalize, confusion at why part of me wanted to keep the magazine.
If I’d had any
kind of relationship with my youth minister, would I have talked to him about it? Doubtful. I knew the
position of the church (generally speaking; we were Methodists, but I’m not sure how liberal our church
was in the mid-80s), and I knew that I didn’t agree with it. I didn’t consider homosexuality a sin; it is a
fact of birth, though I was still realizing that’s how I was born.
Being gay has certainly contributed to my personal doubts about religion, though not because of any
incidents personally. I have seen the damage misguided religious teachings can cause, but what advice
can a nonbeliever offer a believer? Little, I’m sure, but I fall back on the basics: Love thy neighbor, “to
the least of these,” etc. I just wish I could see more of that in action.
Thank you, Chad.
Christians: love your neighbor, even if he or she is gay. Tell your children that the most Christ-like thing to do is to stand up with and watch out for any fellow students who are being bullied because they’re gay or otherwise don’t fit in.
And if someone says that terrible things are happening to American teenagers because of their sexuality, don’t argue with them about the extent of the epidemic. Don’t turn it into a statistical or political debate. It’s not a numerical issue and it’s not an indoctrination problem. It’s a problem involving people, and showing compassion to people — especially people who are different from you — is a pretty big part of what it means to follow Jesus.