Twelve-year-old Tempest Smith quietly took her own life a few weeks ago. Her journal claimed that she was teased incessantly because she wore dark "Gothic" clothing and read books about Wicca, a pagan religion often associated with witchcraft.

I was especially saddened to hear that her journal was full of comments about her peers teasing and bullying her, and that some of those peers were professing Christians.

Diverting Conversion, Politely
Religion etiquette expert Arthur Magida

Conversion seems to be on the minds of a lot of people these days. Southern Baptists started a campaign to convert Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists. The pope called for greater efforts to spread Catholicism in India, a country already packed with missionaries. So, what to do when evangelists knock on your door and you're really not interested? Take the same "I-gave-at-the-office" approach that works with telephone solicitors. Be civil. When necessary, be adamant. Tell them your heart--and your soul--are already taken. If they persist, tell them (still politely, but maybe more firmly than your previous tone) they're infringing on your right to your faith.

And try to remember: In some ways, the urge to convert others is admirable. It reflects a certainty about truth and a desire to share it.

As a Christian youth counselor, of course I teach that bullying is wrong. Teasing is never acceptable. Christians should never make fun of another person's lifestyle, dress, or religion. But it doesn't surprise me. Negative remarks are ingrained in the culture of early adolescents. Junior-high students can be the kindest, most sensitive people in the universe and, 10 minutes later, be cruel and cutting. Much of it is the result of their own insecurities and adjustment to the changes happening in and around their life.

Those Christian kids have many of the same problems people of other belief systems have. And yet, my hope is always that Christians imitate the life and teaching of Jesus who lived his life as an offering of love to all people. Jesus would have reached out to the "Gothics," and maybe even felt more comfortable with them than with those so-called believers who show bigotry and cruelty in their actions and lifestyle.

Obviously, Tempest was a troubled teen. Hundreds of other Gothic dressers who read about Wicca don't choose to kill themselves. There is a story behind her story, and we may never know all that drove this precious young woman to decide that taking her life was the answer to her pain.

Nor is she alone when it comes to choosing suicide. Studies on teen suicide say a majority of adolescents harbor thoughts of suicide at one time or another.

But there is never an excuse for the cruelty these students showed to Tempest. When someone takes his or her life, those around the person take some of the blame. At Tempest's memorial service, students who had teased her were present and grieved their decision to bring pain to her life. In a real sense, we all feel a bit responsible when we hear of another person hurting so much that the only way out he or she sees is death.

When the great Hindu Mahatma Gandhi was studying law in South Africa, he was intrigued by the person of Jesus Christ. Gandhi loved the Sermon on the Mount and thought it to be one of the strongest messages ever given. He loved the life and ministry of Jesus; it was the followers of Jesus he had problems with.

Gandhi once chided Christians, saying, "In my judgement the Christian faith does not lend itself to much preaching or talking. It is best propagated by living it and applying it. When will you Christians really crown Jesus Christ as Prince of Peace and proclaim Him through your deeds as the champion of the poor and oppressed?" In many ways, Gandhi was right. Some Christians throughout the centuries have been responsible for very unloving and intolerable acts of violence and prejudice.

As Christians approach the most important event on our calendar, Easter, we celebrate the miraculous and literal resurrection from the dead of our savior Jesus Christ. But there is a miracle elsewhere in the New Testament that just may be on the same level as rising from the dead. In John 11:35, it simply reads, "Jesus wept." When Jesus wept over the death of a friend, it showed that our God is one who has emotions, who weeps for the pain Tempest must have been in to lose hope and take her life.

The scene takes place just before He was to be taken to the cross. He was in an upper room of a building in Jerusalem, having his "last supper" with his disciples. It must have been an emotional evening. Before dinner, Jesus had taken off his robe, and in his loin cloth humbled himself and washed each of his disciple's feet. He even told them to follow his example and be a servant. After the meal was finished, Jesus gave instructions to his closest followers. He said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34,35).

Jesus was telling his followers that the world beyond the upper room would judge their faith not by their arguments for a theology or their taunts for unbelievers, but by their love for one another. John, who was in that upper room, later wrote while in exile, "Little children, do not love in words or with your tongue but love in deed, in action and in truth" (1 John 3:18).

Tempest chose a very permanent solution to, perhaps, a temporary problem. We who call Jesus our Lord have the permanent solution for pain like Tempest's: We must follow his example of unconditional love and acceptance. We must look at our part in her loss of hope. We must be people of tenderness and love, not teasing and torment.

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