Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Religion and Bullies – And What About Not Throwing Stones*?

It is the Easter season, and this year, I find myself more reflective of the meaning for the holiday than perhaps I usually am. The idea of resurrection and rebirth – of beginning again, after trials (small and large) is hitting home for me this year, so I suppose I’m more aware of the stories of Christ’s ride into town on the donkey, children welcoming him with palms; the last time He ate with his friends, the betrayal and the suffering… and the eventual forgiveness. And the grace throughout it all.

In the midst of my thoughts wandering through my (rather limited) memories of childhood bible stories and more recent Bible Study as an adult, I came across a post on this blog this week about a recent event in schools across the nation for a Day of Silence to help recognize that LGBT teens are the victims of bullies. The post goes on to talk about one response to the event – one sponsored by evangelical and “fundies” – called a Day of Dialogue.

So here is the story as I understand it: Young people want to recognize and confront the bullying that goes on in their schools and communities. They want to “speak out” – in this case through the use of a loud silence – to shine a light on this suffering and hopefully open doors to dialog and to protecting the rights of the LGBT students in their midst. This – to me – is a good and grace-full event. It is about acceptance and protection of others. It is about ending suffering and opening arms to welcome those who may have been marginalized into the community.

The response Day of Dialogue, sponsored by the anti-gay group Focus on the Family, urges young people to download and hand out conversation cards that “invite (them) to have a conversation” about “how He designed the best plan for our sexuality and relationships…” According to Michael Keegan in his post, “One of the Day of Dialogue's organizers is Jeff Johnston, an "ex-gay" activist, who says the event is meant to help ‘people who messed up sexually.’”

So…are the Dialogue kids supposed to be able to speak with authority on God’s plans? Are they supposed to confront other kids in their school – those participating in a day of Silence to bring attention to bullying – and tell them that God’s plan is different? That they are wrong?

If you look at the Day of Silence and Day of Dialogue websites – both events seem to be marketed as non-threatening, peaceful ways to make a point. But there does seem to be something off-kilter, in my humble opinion, to an organization that feels they must counter an event designed to stop bullying by creating an event that is designed to proselytize one specific religious view point.

WWJD? Really? Would He walk up to someone who is trying to stand up for peace and present them with a “conversation card” that informs the reader that God has a plan for our sexuality? Is this not a form of confrontation – one which I think could so easily slip into a more heated “conversation” or even worse – by expecting teens to handle this very sensitive topic in school hallways or parking lots? Do you know of any teenagers who are schooled in the meaning of the Bible, who are – on their own – capable of preaching and teaching, while at the same time maintaining respect for those who may choose to disagree?

When I read Mr. Keegan’s post, I was reminded of an event in my childhood. Not an event related to sexuality, but one related to religion, belief, and even race. As a fourth grader, I was attending a CCD (Confirmation of Catholic Doctrine) class at my Catholic church. Our class was taught by a lay person – a parent from the community – and during one session, the instructor told us that only Catholics would go to heaven. At the time, my two best friends were Jewish and Hindu. The plainly stated “fact” that my dear friends, my playmates and their loving families, would not be welcomed into Heaven was devastating. I returned home that night, tearfully explaining to my mother why I didn’t want to be Catholic anymore. The idea that God had a plan that excluded perfectly good, loving, graceful people for no reason other than the religious text they read or the stories they built their life around was repellant to me, even as a child.

Likewise, when I read about the Day of Dialogue response to the Day of Silence, all I kept thinking was, “Really? Kids are being bullied for all kinds of reasons. People are excluded and judged constantly for all kinds of reasons. Who in the world would think that we should NOT pay attention to that and fix it so ALL children and safe at school?”

One of the suggestions from the Day of Silence organizers was for schools and teachers to display or talk about LGBT literature or other like topics as a way to show support. Along those lines, I wanted to point out some titles I’ve talked about before (and some I haven’t) here on CK that tell stories about LGBT teens or happen to have characters who are gay. Try:

·         Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
·         Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
·         Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
·         Ash by Melinda Lo
·         Boy Meets Boy  by David Levithan
·         Annie on My Mind  by Nancy Garden
·         Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I realize I am not being silent on the matter. Blogging probably counts as speaking. But if I was still a high school student, I’d like to think I’d be strong enough – and grace-full enough – to have been silent on that day. And I hope I’m teaching my Christian children to accept others – no matter their differences – and always ALWAYS stand up for someone who needs help.

*”Throwing stones” in this title refers to the Bible story in the book of John, chapter 7. Jesus stopped a crowd of people from killing a woman who was accused of adultery. This is the story where the famous line, often quoted as something like, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone at her” comes from. Jesus – using silence-- disperses the crowd and saves the woman’s life.


  1. Amen, my friend. On so many levels...

  2. I found you on She Writes. Having been emeshed in the Fundies circle for a portion of my life, I personally think Focus on the Family has gone off track in a number of ways. Dr. James Dobson has made gay rights a hot button issue, and unfortunately their misguided attempts at evangelism cast a shadow over their other resources that are useful to families.

    I have not heard of the Day of Dialgoue, but it doesn't surprise me. It is a typical method to spin a current issue into one that establishes their own agenda. I think both groups believe they are doing the right thing. If I'm being diplomatic, I give FoF some credit that they are not trying to sabotoge the Day of Silence's mission, but sadly, I'm not sure I believe it.

    I am still a Christian, but I don't believe that focusing so much time and effort on banning gay marriage is an approripate use of anyone's time and resources. I wish there were more examples of Christian organizations who will work toegether against bullying for any reason. At the very least, I try to be that example, to go against the stereotype that all Christians are right-wing fundatmentalists. We are not.

  3. Thanks, Stephsco, for stopping by and leaving your thoughts on this issue. I, too, hope to demonstrate that not all Christians are right-wing fundamentalists...We absolutely are not.