For the past decade I have strenuously objected to the notion that the defining feature of Christ-followers is that we are homophobic. Maybe it’s because I live in Canada, and we’re a more pluralist, tolerant, softer-spoken bunch up here. Maybe it’s because I’m a Christian and I really don’t know — nor would I say I have ever met — anyone who is an avowed gay-hater. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the Phelps gang on newscasts and consigned that type of hatred to “the lunatic fringe.”
But there are places in the United States — and I’m going to generalize here and say, more so, but not exclusively, in the southern US — where gay kids are being bullied for being gay by fellow students, and while the newspaper articles tend not to extrapolate beyond their boundaries, I think the kids get this kind of bias and prejudice from their parents. Even Evangelical parents.
So I was wrong. There are some Christians out there who really do despise both gays who are out, and, hedging their bets just in case, anyone else they feel has homosexual tendencies.
What changed my mind was this article in Rolling Stone magazine. And this story takes place in the north, in Minnesota. The writer built the story around Brittany.
Like many 13-year-olds, Brittany knew seventh grade was a living hell. But what she didn’t know was that she was caught in the crossfire of a culture war being waged by local evangelicals inspired by their high-profile congressional representative Michele Bachmann, who graduated from Anoka High School and, until recently, was a member of one of the most conservative churches in the area. When Christian activists who considered gays an abomination forced a measure through the school board forbidding the discussion of homosexuality in the district’s public schools, kids like Brittany were unknowingly thrust into the heart of a clash that was about to become intertwined with tragedy.
At five online pages, the story takes some time to finish, but I encourage you to do so. To get a picture of what’s going on in public (and many private) middle schools and high schools. Especially if you’ve got kids who are just arriving at that age. Or kids that are in it. Or grandchildren. Or nieces and nephews.
The story describes, “a suicide epidemic that would take the lives of nine local students in under two years, a rate so high that child psychologist Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Minnesota-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, declared the Anoka-Hennepin school district the site of a ‘suicide cluster,’ adding that the crisis might hold an element of contagion; suicidal thoughts had become catchy, like a lethal virus.”
I work in a Christian bookstore. I proudly tell customers that we don’t actually have any books in the store that are anti-gay. That God loves all people. But the parallel gospel of hate follows oral transmission lines. It plays out in the extreme when members of a weird family picket soldiers’ funerals, but on a far wider scale in more subtle forms that almost never — except in this case — make the evening news.
Bottom line: There are Christian families — the whole family, not just the middle school and high school students — who are making life a living hell for other students who are gay, or think they’re gay, or are gay for the time being, or who have gay tendencies or sympathies. The barbs and taunts issued in the name of Christian proclamation are not just causing one or two students to take their lives here and there, they are causing a self-inflicted slaughter.
It took an article in Rolling Stone for me to finally see that.
And it’s got to change.
…I think if I were to speak to Christian kids in high school, I’d say, quite boldly, ‘Join your school’s gay-straight alliance. I don’t know what you’re going to do when you get there, and I don’t know what they’re going to talk about, and I don’t know how uncomfortable you’re going to be hanging out there, but just show up; stand with those kids; tell them you’re there to say that not all Christians are about hate and intolerance.’
But some parent is reading this and thinking, ‘Wait a minute. If I send my son or daughter to that group, some kids are going to think that they’re gay.’
Is this such a bad thing if you’re confident that they are not? Wasn’t part of Jesus’ mission to come and identify with us in our place of need and hurt? Didn’t they falsely accuse Him of the worst things involving the prostitutes and tax collectors that He chose to be his companions?
In Ontario, my home province, we have this incongruous system whereby the Roman Catholic Church has a fully taxpayer funded separate educational system wherein teachers and support staff are so bound by lawyer-drafted policies such that they aren’t even allowed to use the words ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ in a sentence. That’s not how you “have the conversation.”
In my son’s public school there are signs in every classroom that say something to the effect, “This is an LGBT friendly environment.” Good, but a bit one-sided. I always want to attach a post-it to each one that says, “And it’s Gr8 to be Str8.” Parents in Manitoba have objected to similar classroom signage, but I’d rather lean in the direction of tolerance than toward the atmosphere of hatred and division.
Does this mean I’m soft on the gay question? Actually — and I’ve said this previously — I think a generation of teenagers, both male and female, have been seduced by things on the internet. They’ve found themselves in relationships (or serial relationships) which seem good and fulfilling, and perhaps are for a season, but at the expense of another path they might have chosen, another road they might have traveled.
But their stories aren’t over yet. Their final chapters haven’t been written.
And I’m not going to sit by quietly while so-called Evangelicals or Christians cause their story to be cut short.