There is a fairly famous quote by cartoonist Lynn Johnston that goes, “The most profound statements are often said in silence.” Silence can be a powerful force. Failure to speak can be a form of speaking.
Today is the Day of Silence, a day where many around the country decide to refrain from speaking in order to stand against bullying of LGBT youth. The event originates with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). As our cofounder Ron Belgau said in his post on last year’s Day of Silence, “On most questions related to sexuality, we hold positions very different from theirs. It is unlikely that they would endorse our approach, and we do not endorse theirs.” However, despite our disagreements, we do share a common concern for bullying. And days like today present us with wonderful opportunities to speak Christian compassion and love into the cultural issues of our time.
As I was reflecting on the Day of Silence this past week, I began to ponder the different types of silence that often accompany all things LGBT in the Church, and the messages that these silences speak.
For example, there is the silence that often comes from gay and same-sex attracted Christians themselves. Many wait years before confiding in anyone about the nature of their orientation. Some might never speak honestly, feeling constantly vulnerable and worried that the wrong people might find out. On guard 24/7. I have been exclusively attracted to the same sex for as long as I can remember, and yet I did not tell anyone about my orientation until age 26. Not one. Single. Person.
My failure to speak about my attractions spoke volumes. It spoke of my uncertainty about how my fellow Christians would react. Would I be treated with love and support, or hostility and shunning? Growing up, I heard a lot about how gay people were getting exactly what they deserved in the AIDS crisis, and that homosexuals (not homosexual activity, but the PEOPLE) were an abomination before God. And so I imported all of that talk into my own experience, and kept quiet.
Silence, speaking quite clearly.
Or how about the silence from LGBT people who are bullied because of their orientation but are afraid to speak about it for fear that it might lead to more mistreatment. This is the specific type of silence that the Day of Silence seeks to address, and it is one that I have participated in as well. When I was an adolescent, bullying was a regular part of my life. I was often called “faggot”, “homo”, and “queer” by my peers at school. I was pushed, slapped, and punched in the arms. Like I said earlier, I hadn’t yet told anyone about my attractions and I vividly remember thinking, “How in the world do they know?” But I never told anyone about this treatment. Not my teachers, not my parents, not my friends—no one. In fact, I’ve actually never spoken publically about the bullying I experienced until this very moment.
This silence also spoke a clear message. When I was younger, it spoke of the fear that those I might tell would join in the ridicule, or at least think that I deserved it. It spoke of the fear that the bullies might be reprimanded and consequently seek revenge. More recently, my silence in this area has spoken of my fear that my story might be co-opted by those out to push a certain agenda. “Oh, you were bullied as a kid? Well no wonder you’re gay!” (Never mind the fact that I had already experienced a consistent pattern of exclusive same-sex attractions by the time the bullying started.) And so again, I chose silence.
And it was very loud.
Or, how about when the Church is silent? Eve Tushnet speaks of that silence here:
So much of the “conservative” Christian world seems terrified of anything which might be misinterpreted as saying gay sex is OK. The fear is always, always that we might say something wrong, and not ever that our silence might itself cause despair, scandal, and loss of faith. My favorite variation of this approach is, “Well, I know what you’re saying, but other people might misunderstand.” I am pretty sure that ordinary people in the pews are already interpreting—and, I hope, misinterpreting—the huge echoey nothing they hear from their churches about gay or same-sex attracted Christians’ futures.
This is an area that Spiritual Friendship is intensely interested in. One of our main goals is to highlight positive vocations and avenues for flourishing that arise out of our various orientations. There is a positive calling for gay people in the Church, and yet many refuse to go there. What might this type of silence communicate? At the very least, it raises questions. Do churches care about those in their midst who experience attractions outside the hetero norm? Do they even acknowledge their existence? Is there hope for relational flourishing for them within the body of Christ, or is amputation inevitable? Maybe speaking about a positive vocation for faithful gay folks in the church isn’t worth the risk of misunderstanding.
Similarly, there is the silence of many conservative Christians who are reluctant to speak out against bullying of LGBT youth. The reasons are usually similar to those listed above by Eve; fear of being misunderstood, of being seen to fully agree on every issue with an organization such as GLSEN, of tacitly silencing Christians ability to uphold traditional sexual ethics (a loud silencing in itself, no doubt). These fears need not keep us from speaking out against LGBT bullying, nor does speaking require the elevation of LGBT bullying over other types. Ron says this in his post:
… traditional Christian convictions about sexual ethics are no barrier to acknowledging and trying to fix the bullying that LGBT youth experience. I think that all bullying is important and needs to be addressed. But in order to do that effectively, it’s not enough to just say “bullying is bad.” We need to understand different types of bullying and make sure that our anti-bullying policies are adequate to address all of the problems that need to be addressed.
As Christians we are to stand up for the weak and welcome the least of these. We are to affirm the intrinsic worth of every person as made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and therefore worthy of love. We are not to operate out of fear, but out of the perfect love of God that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). We stand against all forms of homophobia, which may lead to various forms of prejudice, mistreatment, and abuse.
And yet, as is true with any stance we might take, the risk of misunderstanding is ever-present. So the question again becomes, is it worth it? Is it worth the risk to break the quiet and to speak out against mistreatment of LGBT youth even if some might seek to twist and distort? Or is silence the safest message?
Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to consider the silence of another group: those who aren’t here anymore, who couldn’t take the pain. Consider those who ended their own lives because of LGBT bullying. They are no longer able to speak.
They are silent, and it is deafening.
Brandon Elizares can no longer speak. He was bullied at school for being gay. His mother reports, “He’s been threatened to be stabbed. He’s been threatened to be set on fire.” He would say, “It’s ok, it does not bother me.” But despite his positive outlook, the last words he ever wrote were on his suicide note: “My name is Brandon Joseph Elizares, and I couldn’t make it.”
Phillip Parker’s silence speaks loudly. He was bullied repeatedly at school for his orientation, and yet his parents say, “We weren’t notified, and Phillip didn’t tell us about it.” He finally decided to break his silence, but it was too late. When his body was discovered, these words were found on a note in the trash: “Please help me mom.”
Kenneth Weishuhn is now silent. He ended his own life as well. After coming out, he was subjected to death threats and made the target of a “Facebook hate group.” His sister Kayla reports, “People that were originally his friends, they kind of turned on him…A lot of people, they either joined in or they were too scared to say anything.”
Silence. That deathly silence. Is it worth it?
Reblogged this on Gay and Evangelical and commented:
A powerful post commemorating this year’s Day of Silence. Will you speak for those who can’t?
Really!!!! Did you consider that teachings like people on here might have contributed to these deaths?
Unlikely. I am definitely in complete disagreement theologically with the people of this site (a cursory examination of my own blog and previous comments will show this). That said, the celibate types here have helped prevent the “othering” of us by the Church by remaining within it as martyrs. So long as they remain the rest of the heterotypical wolves can’t imprint their bigotry in the minds of the next generation of children as easily.
Thanks for sharing this, Dave.
Thank you for this. We must never forget that this is, literally, a life and death matter.
What would be your advice for any young teen dealing with their SSA attraction?? My religion is very ultra conservative on their views with homosexuality which I completely understand. I understand that if I need to worship god I need to disown myself (my ssa desire) so I can present myself clean and holy before god. Its just that I’ve been dealing with my inner turmoil for a very long time. When you talk to me you would never think I’m ….ay. I feel like I need to cover up certain parts of myself and force myself to present this macho man aesthetic ( being interested in football ect).
Not only with that I’m dealing with homophobic comments that I hear within the church. I know this is a hard road but coming out is never an option. In fact I honestly feel scared if I should bring this topic to my church leaders. I really feel a lot of shame, fear and lonliness. Celibacy is beautiful but its very difficult when young people my age are in relationships…
I know the side a christians would tell to embrace myself but I’ve read the bible and I understand the moral requirements god expects of me…i feel like you guys understand the struggle and I really find it beautiful theres a blog where it addresses this topic of homosexuality in a kind yet firm way. Again sorry for this long post but if you could the question above I would really appreciate it thanks!!!
I always feel like giving advice is risky… and I’m far from the most clued-in person to try to help. And yet, here I go, responding…
First, I think what you say is precious.. (my reaction to discovering this blog was similar!) and remember, you are precious to God.
You said, “coming out is never an option.” This I can get.
Talking to church leadership? Arg. Here are the likeliest possibilities:
A. They know it’s a problem, and are attempting wise, slow-and-steady action to work on it.
B. They know it’s a problem and may attempt something unwise to “fix it.”
C. They are unable to see it’s a problem.
While I’m not one to discourage a Christian from taking risks… I want to say… don’t feel huge pressure to be the one source of change and to Fix Everything Right Now!
Good change in communities is almost always slow.
Know that you have so much in common with all Christians fighting temptation! (1 Peter 5:9)
Believers everywhere are quietly resisting… sexual temptations, anxieties, temptations to cheat on the test, or to cheat people out of money, temptations to anger or to despondency.
May we all run the race alongside each-other!
Remember, you know what your secret is.
Everyone else you talk to is keeping a secret, too, though.
From the “good boy” church kid who’s going farther with his girlfriend than anyone guesses… or the popular guy who’s saying he’s gone -farther- with girls than he ever has… or the “straight-A” student who’s failing a class… or the student who’s secretly getting A’s but doesn’t want to be ostracized as a geek.
May your knowledge of how you handle your secret give you sensitivity to encourage all these discouraged, secret-keeping friends & neighbors!
And be encouraged – not all of life is High School.
Did this stuff help with any of the stuff your facing?
Praying for you,
Thank you for that advice!! Everyone is going through their own trials and tribulations and so that in itself humbles me.
Ever since finishing high school this problem has been coming up in my mind. Maybe its me trying to reconcile my faith with my sexuality..or maybe its just an identity issue that’s just part of growing up.
God is the only person that I can talk to about this problem but this blog has really helped with lessening my inner turmoil. Churches need to recognize that there are young kids that deal with this in silence.
In fact I’m sick of lying. I’m sick of putting up this false macho straight facade. I’m sick of lying to my parents, friends and everyone. But most of all I’m sick of lying to myself.
I wonder what god thinks of all this?
Just the anguish shame cycle crushes me inside. That’s why whenever I feel low I pray and visit this blog for some comfort.
My heart breaks into a milllion pieces when I think of all the times after church I would break down on my bed and sob.
I think in time we all get stronger in the broken places and its always important to rely on god during the miserable moments. But again thx vikki
But are you lying to yourself?
You sound like you’re grappling with something difficult.
There’s so much that’s big and hard to understand… though that is made worse because we all lie to ourselves… (such a helpful thought, right?) And that would be a really desperate situation -except- for God.
He’s the God of Psalm 139:
Where shall I go from Your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to You;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with You.
“I wonder what God thinks of all this?” is really the big question.
But being able to talk to friends & family about stuff is huge too…
Which things make it hard to talk about it to your parents or closest friends? Do you think they feel like gay people are “hopeless cases” with regards to salvation? Or are you afraid to dash dreams they have of you having a wife and kids? Or something else?
Take care, Ryan.
I have been there. I won’t tell you whether you should view God as enemy or ally, as that is up to you. What I will say is that you should be careful about “coming out”, especially if younger. I have worked with kids thrown out and even nearly killed by family over their own “coming out”.
It is hard but I would urge against hasty “coming out” and agree with your course of prudence. I did the same when I realized what I was. Keeping a journal might help. I did and it helped me get my thoughts in order during hard times. An old blog under a fake name that no one but me knew of. Writing helps. Think of it as writing directly to God, even, if it helps you.
Avoid physical journals. Those can be discovered. Try and become self sufficient and move out. As far as acting macho, knock it off. That makes it worse. Believe me on that. Just be yourself and play coy when the question of orientation comes up. It is rude to ask that in any case.
As for God, one of two things is possible: he can see into your heart and he doesn’t care how macho you act because your aim is to please him or he does care. If he does, screw him – you deserve better than a God like that. If God is that petty, I will stand by your side on judgement day and we can spit in his face, together.
Thx for the advice:) I’m actually in my early 20’s I live with my parents. I kinda have to stay and support the household…lol
But yea my church is very conservative. I mean the men take the lead and the women must be submissive. There’s definitely that macho leader type quality you need which I understand. Any effeminate qualities will instantly incite gossip. So there’s definitely that script I need “act” to. I kinda have to be like a method actor and get into this straight-superbowl-football character.
Serving god involves self sacrifice and cutting this ..ay part of myself has literally felt like I’ve sliced my right arm off in a figurative sense. I hate self loathing but how can you not right? I’ve been focusing on helping others lately and its really helped with filling that empty hole I’ve been feeling
How are you doing, Ryan?
Thought of you a lot since this conversation.
(hoping that you’ll even see this note.)
Something you said in this dialog – back in the spring of 2016, apparently – was especially memorable for me:
Ryan5007: “I’ve been focusing on helping others lately and its really helped with filling that empty hole I’ve been feeling.”
May God bless you!