INSIDE STORY: True disciples don’t bully God’s children
Headlines range from a CNN report that half of high school students admit to bullying someone in the past year to a National Public Radio story linking anti-gay bullying to recent youth suicides.
The NPR headline in particular caught my attention: “Religious Undercurrent Ripples In Anti-Gay Bullying.”
NPR quoted a recent Minnesota high school graduate who said his teenage years were a living hell. From sixth grade on, the student said he heard the same taunts.
“People say things like, ‘Fags should just disappear so we don’t have to deal with them anymore’ and ‘Fags are disgusting and sinful,’” the student said. “And still, there was no one intervening. I began to feel so worthless and ashamed and unloved that I began to think about taking my own life.”
From a reporting standpoint, the NPR story impressed me as long on conjecture and short on actual facts to back up the notion that Bible-toting bullies are to blame.
When I was little, I knew a scrawny, geeky kid with a squeaky voice who faced constant bullying — at the bus stop, in school hallways and in the lunchroom. That kid hated leaving his home in the morning.
One time, that kid — a preacher’s son who moved often and always seemed to be the new kid in class — made the mistake of wearing his dad’s checkered shorts to gym class. Fellow students nicknamed him
“Checkerboard” and harassed him for months.
I felt for that kid. Really, I did.
He was me.
But I never blamed religion for the foul-mouthed Goliaths on the playground. They didn’t use any kind of language that I’d ever heard from the pulpit.
When I served as religion editor of The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City’s metro daily, I covered the 2001 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans. I’ll never forget a protester I saw at that meeting: A little girl with blond hair and pink shorts held a sign with a derogatory remark that indicated homosexuals would die and God would laugh when they did. This was as Soulforce, a national gay-rights group, demonstrated nearby.
The girl’s family was part of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., a small fundamentalist group not affiliated with Southern Baptists that travels the country spreading a gospel of hate.
As I pointed out in The Oklahoman, “The child’s sign did not reflect Southern Baptists’ position. They teach that God loves all people but hates sin. They call homosexuality sin.”
But in a society facing a barrage of gay-rights activism, it’s easy for the news media — intentionally or not — to lump together disciples of hate and anyone who advocates traditional Bible teaching.
In Churches of Christ, we typically teach that the New Testament clearly states that the homosexual lifestyle is not what God intended. At the same time, it is understood that some people in our society and in the church struggle with this issue. As with any sin or issue, we seek diligently to demonstrate compassion and care as we help people through their fight.
At least, hopefully, that’s the example we’re showing our children.
Here’s what a church leader who did not want his name used had to say: “I think the claims the church’s teachings on homosexuality lead to bullying are substantiated but blown well out of proportion by media. You can’t deny that conservative Christianity has been the propagator of very serious anti-gay sentiment, prejudice and behavior. On the other hand, I believe this represents an increasingly small minority of churches and teens in particular.”
Recently, the Gateway Church of Christ in Gilbert, Ariz., hosted a youth rally called “To Save A Life.” The all-day event addressed the problem of cyberbullying, which involves harming others through computers, cell phones and social websites.
I asked Gateway minister John McCranie for his perspective on media reports that draw a connection between Christian teachings on homosexuality and suicides of gay young people.
“Great question,” John said. “There is no disputing that some faith systems in America are hostile and even belligerent to those in the homosexual lifestyle. We grieve over this and feel compelled to compensate by showing authentic Christian love to victims of all types.
“Recent media reports have overfocused on gay victims only. Unfortunately, this issue also occurs to Christian youth who are being bullied because of their faith. What is not reported is (the story of) the believers who are emulating Jesus’ compassion to abused gays and other victims of this global issue.”