When discussing anti-bullying initiatives, many Christians are quite concerned about parents who have to deal with school curricula discussing LGBT issues by talking to their kids about these issues earlier than they’d like. Why are they so often not as concerned about parents who have to bury their middle and high school kids knowing that they killed themselves because they couldn’t handle the pain of what they were going through? Although it’s hard to collect accurate statistics, the best research we have pretty consistently shows that around one in three LGBT teenagers goes so far as to attempt suicide. We have a very real problem on our hands, one that is killing people. While no doubt bullying is not the only cause of suicide attempts by LGBT people, it is often a huge contributing factor. As Christians, we have a responsibility to consider more than just sexual ethics, and to have compassion for “the least of these” who face mistreatment and whose lives are at risk.
Of course, nearly all Christians believe that bullying is wrong, whether related to sexuality or not. However, I think we often fail to understand some important realities regarding anti-gay bullying in particular. For example, it is important to consider the broader social and cultural environments that bullying takes place within. Far too often Christians provide condemnation without grace when it comes to LGBT issues. Even in broader environments, LGBT teenagers are frequently told that they’re disgusting perverts. They may not be told so to their face, but the message is pervasive enough that it can lead to a lot of internalized shame. I definitely faced this to some degree growing up in a conservative Christian environment and finding myself attracted to both sexes, even though I wasn’t sexually active and held to a traditional sexual ethic. Many LGBT teens are hit much harder than I was. LGBT teens often feel that they are so worthless that bullying towards them doesn’t matter, and generic opposition to bullying rings hollow. I strongly encourage people to read a powerful memoir expressing this, written by a woman who is now a Christian with a conservative understanding of sexual ethics, at My Day of Silence 2009 Post, A Year and A Month Late. She describes how it seemed that everyone hated gay people, and as a result she was “drowning in a sea of hate.” She then goes on to say that it would have been helpful to know that someone thought what was happening was wrong. Let the weight of that sink in.
In recent years, organizations and individuals that affirm gay relationships have made significant efforts to address anti-gay bullying and to save lives. They’ve created the Day of Silence and Spirit Day for straight people to express their solidarity with victims of anti-gay bullying. They’ve created the It Gets Better project to tell teenagers that there is hope for them – a necessary message for anyone considering suicide. Although the people behind these initiatives do promote gay relationships, the goal of these initiatives is primarily to provide support for people who are mistreated and may be considering suicide. We should recognize that they are responding to legitimate injustices and are not merely trying to change minds about sexual ethics. If only those who affirm gay relationships are willing to speak out against injustice, do you think LGBT people will want to listen to anyone else?
I see a few predominant responses from conservative Christians. Many are afraid to address the issue at all, for fear of appearing to affirm gay relationships. Others openly complain about anti-bullying initiatives on the basis of disagreements with the organizers, but don’t offer any alternatives that will be equally effective in saving lives. Jesus called this sort of thing “straining a gnat but swallowing a camel.” In both cases, in the minds of some, rather than appearing like we might condone gay relationships, we instead appear not to really mind bullying against gay people. This isn’t to say that sexual ethics don’t matter or that we need to compromise on them, but rather that the issues surrounding bullying matter immensely and that it is wrong to ignore them.
Here’s my question: where are the conservative Christian responses to bullying that address the real issues of shame, hopelessness, mistreatment, and such? How are we working to save the lives of these vulnerable teenagers? I do know of some excellent Christian ministries that are doing good work in this area that we should all learn from. Bill Henson’s Lead Them Home and Shawn Harrison’s six11 Ministries immediately come to mind. They both recognize that there is more at stake than whether people are living according to traditional Christian sexual ethics. They recognize that suicidal tendencies need to be dealt with, and that simply preaching about sexual ethics is often counterproductive when it makes people feel more worthless. They recognize that LGBT people need to see their worth in the eyes of God and others, and to see that life can get better. They show a great willingness to listen to LGBT people, going out of their way to do so, rather than just preaching at them. They’re not afraid to speak up for those who are mistreated, and to speak against those who bully and oppress. Above all, they treat LGBT people as human beings who have infinite worth, not primarily as issues or political opponents. My exhortation is to learn from them and to show more concern for victims of bullying – there is much more to be done. We must do this regardless of the degree to which we are (or are not) at fault for the way LGBT people are mistreated – our example is Jesus, who gave his life to redeem a situation that was clearly not his fault. Let’s show the love of Christ to those who are hurting.
Again, thank you for another excellent post.
Sadly, the ones most at risk for suicide are the teen who are trying to do exactly what they think their Christian pastors and churches tell them they should do, pretend to be straight.
Once a kid comes out the bullying may not quit but he suddenly has access to a wide range of support options from gay/straight alliance clubs to teachers or counselors who are willing to find him help and support.
I read a study awhile back in which the respondents (gay men in their early 20s) were asked about if and when they had contemplated suicide as teens. The most dangerous time was before or immediately after coming out and prior to forming a positive gay identity.
This also fits the various news reports of kids who have committed suicide. Most of the ones I have read or seen were of kids who had not yet been public about their same sex attractions or who had been outed against their will.
The kid with the least amount of support and resources is the Christian kid who is silent about being gay, who is struggling to do the impossible and make himself straight, who endures bullying not only by the other kids who suspect his orientation but also hears his pastor and his parents speak harshly about “those gays.”
If we want to reach these silent kids with a message of worth and forgiveness the only way to do so is to show compassion and respect to those already out and public, We do not have to agree with the choices they may make about how to respond to temptation but we do have to be willing to defend them against mistreatment. Being kind and compassionate to those we know are gay is the only way I can think of to showing hope and compassion to those we do not know.
As a pastor this is one thing I really struggle to get across to those in my denomination (LCMS). The only way to show love to those we do not know is to show love to those we do.
A great post, Jeremy. Humbled by your kind words. Thank you.
This is a really fantastic post, Jeremy. Thank you. I have been thinking about this exact topic a great deal recently, and have been wondering exactly why there isn’t more support coming from the Christian community. There should be, and we DO need to show the love of Christ to those who are hurting. I will be sharing your words with others. Thanks again.
Like Fiona above, I’ll be sharing this. Your words are exactly what I feel and exactly what I want other Christians to hear. Thanks for articulating it so well.
Great post Jeremy! I have always been so troubled by the lack of Christian concern. And not only lack of concern but downright animosity–such as when Ken Hutcherson (sp?) protested at Mount Si High. I think there is a real denial about it being a problem. I am not sure why the extreme apathy when we are talking about children–especially since conservatives say they are all about children. Not really.
Here’s my conservative response.
1. ALL bullying of children is wrong. PERIOD! Full stop. Unconditional. No special selection criteria. No child goes to the front of the queue for extra care and protection! If you really DO stand for “equality” don’t claim that your child is more important than mine!
2. Don’t sexualise children. Don’t look at a male school child and contemplate whether they enjoy homosexual acts. Keep disgusting gay activism OUT of schools – especially when it’s camouflaged as isolated concern for “gay children”.
Sorry to reply so late.
I don’t think you understood my post. I’m not trying to attack conservative Christians, especially seeing as I am one myself. I’m in agreement with what we have on our “About” page, that sex is only intended for heterosexual marriage and not for any other context. However, I don’t think we’ve done enough to help these especially vulnerable children, and I want to help Christians learn to better show the love of Christ to those who are hurting.
I obviously agree that all bullying is wrong. However, it seems that not every child is affected equally by bullying. Many bullied kids do have the benefit of knowing that the adults in their lives value them, even those who know about whatever quirk they are being bullied over. As I mentioned in the post, for a lot of us attracted to our own sex, we already have a great deal of shame and fear as a result of things the adults in our lives say about LGBT people – things like what you say here in point number 2. That sort of thing can affect how we perceive bullying.
It’s not that the LGBT kids are less important. It’s that they are just as important, and it may take more effort to bring about healing and justice. It’s good and right for people to offer differing care regarding a person’s circumstances. For example, there’s no injustice in a doctor prescribing strong prescription painkillers for a patient who just had a major accident and is in severe pain but not for a patient who only has a minor headache. This isn’t to say that no one else’s experience is as bad as that of LGBT kids, or that only LGBT kids should get this kind of attention. However, LGBT kids are one group that Christians have far too often failed to care about sufficiently, and I’d like to see that change.
I’m not sexualizing children. I’m not talking about whether someone enjoys homosexual acts, especially given that a lot of the kids I’m talking about have never had sex with anyone. However, I know from experience that it’s possible for a kid to find himself or herself attracted to the same sex before adulthood, and that’s what I’m talking about. I’m not trying to force people to identify a particular way. I’m simply saying that we need to reach out to and care for all the confused kids who already find themselves attracted to the same sex and are on the receiving end of anti-LGBT bullying.
You wanna put pressure on teens/pre-teens in school? You wanna crank up the stress of puberty ANOTHER notch? Wanna make kids who are socially awkward around the opposite sex feel even MORE uncomfortable?
Just go ahead and “bully” them into deciding whether “they must be gay”.
Yeah, thats JUST what adolescent kids need when they are wondering why nobody asked them to be their date on Prom Night.
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A much appreciated post, thank you. Personally I am a young Christian who believes that it is against God’s will for people to pursue same-sex relationships but I am also a volunteer with GLSEN, which is the organization that promotes the day of silence. There are a few people who I don’t think understood this post. It is not sexualizing children to call them gay if they are attracted to members of the same sex just like it is not sexualizing a child to call them straight. If conservative Christians really want to make an impact on the lives of LGBTQ youth then getting involved in organizations that support them and fight against bullying is a great way to show care for this community and open doors to get to know these youth on an individual basis. It it not compromising and conviction to stand up for a hurting and bullied child.
The problem I have with LGBTQ-specific anti-bullying programs, is that they PUBLICALLY single out one “class” of bullying victim and identify them as being somehow more deserving of our care and attention than the other ~ 95% who don’t have a dedicated ‘day’ just for them.
Children with learning disabilities, children with red hair, children with no hair, poor children with hand-me-down clothes, children with Down’s syndrome, children who wear glasses, children in wheel chairs, children with a speech impediment, children with a foreign language accent…..
Bullies don’t use any particular, unique, focussed social agenda for their bullying selection criteria. They pick on anyone for any reason at any time according to their gutless, opportunistic whims.
And so, for ADULTS to single out LGBTQ as a protected class and the focus of ‘special’ preventive measures, is to say to the bully, …go pick on someone else.
And frankly, from what I see in teen, Western pop culture these days, claiming to be ‘gay’ is not only OK, it’s actually becoming a new way to be “the coolest kid”.
Heaven forbid that our “National Day Of…” special treatment makes children think that being gay is what you have to do to protect yourself from bullying.
If gay were the “new cool” then there would be no need for anti-bullying measures and 1/3 of LGBTQ youth would not be trying to kill themselves. GLSEN which is the organization that promotes the day of silence is the Gay, Lesbian, and Srtiahgt Education Network. They focus on straight youth as well. There is an emphasis on anti-LGBT bullying these days because it is so much more severe than other types of bullying. When there were organizations to prevent this kind of discrimination against African American youth in the 60’s and 70’s no one claimed that the White/Asian/Native kids were being ignored, rather that there was a particular need for African American bullying awareness. The same applies here.
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