That’s the question that came to mind as I read the heartbreaking story of bullying and suicide in the Annoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. (For a shorter summary, check out Slate’s update here.)
Very briefly, “In the last few years, LGBT and gender-bending students in the Anoka-Hennepin district have reported being mocked, urinated on, and physically harmed by their classmates, and nine students, four of whom identified as gay, took their own lives. In 2011, six students represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights sued the school district . . . The students’ lawsuit described an ‘epidemic of anti-gay and gender-based harassment within District schools’ that was ‘rooted in and encouraged by official District-wide policies singling out and denigrating LGBT people.'” (From the Slate article linked above.)
I pounded out some questions and thoughts right after I read Rolling Stone’s account of the tragic events (first link above). Usually I carefully polish what I write on this blog, but today I am going to post those reactions in their raw form. I hope they express my disappointment – not so much with the kids who perpetrated the bullying, but mostly with the Christians in authority whose actions served to perpetuate it. Obviously these are not fully formed thoughts, but I hope they will give you something to think and pray about . . . and to discuss, if you are so inclined.
- Does bullying bring people to Christ, or does it necessarily push them away? Is bullying our best response to the Great Commission?
- Does bullying show people Christ? What kind of “Christ” does it show them?
- If we believe it is faith that saves, if we believe that the Holy Spirit creates faith, if we believe that it is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin while redirecting and guiding us . . . why is it that we expect those who are not believers to act as if they are guided by the Holy Spirit?
- We seem to pick and choose the “sins” on which we focus. Among Christians, our emphasis, at least publicly, is largely on things like keeping gay folks from marrying and keeping illegal immigrants out of the country. Are we picking and choosing wisely? Are we picking and choosing as Jesus would?
- Is that where Jesus put the emphasis in His ministry?
- It seems to me that Jesus, and the writers of the New Testament, were much more concerned with the behavior of those within the church. Paul in particular worried about how Christians’ actions would reflect on the church in the wider community. His concern was how that behavior would represent the faith of the ones who purported to believe.
- I don’t read a lot in the New Testament about trying to control those outside the church. What does Philip say to the Ethiopian eunuch? “Your sex change is an abomination. You’re damned!” No! He says, in effect, “Let me tell you about the Savior who has come who was prophesied many years ago by Isaiah to die for you.” And what did Isaiah say about that Savior – what did Jesus read from Isaiah about himself? “To proclaim good news to the poor . . . to set the oppressed free,”etc.
- What are our priorities? What were Jesus’ priorities?
- I volunteer to lead worship in a prison once a month. There are those who I would bet would be less upset about ministering to murderers, rapists, and what-have-you than about a ministry outreaching to homosexuals. The message in the prison is clear – “God loves you no matter who you are, no matter what you have done!” THEN let’s talk about changing behavior. Our message to gay folks comes across as “Stop being so gay! THEN we’ll talk about whether God loves you.” The implicit message is God will love you IF . . .
- The bottom line is this – kids are killing themselves at least in part because of the way Christians treat them. Would Jesus call those kids names? Would Jesus insult by saying, “That’s so gay”? The only people Jesus called names were the “religious” folks, so afraid of losing their control-based power in light of the grace-infused message of Jesus Christ.
- What are we so afraid of? Losing power? That our kids are going to catch “gayness?” Is their sexuality so tenuous that it depends on their freedom to hit and taunt the effeminate kid in gym class? What are we teaching our kids?????
- How are we doing? Are we trusting the Holy Spirit? How are we fulfilling the Great Commission?
(And before you write an angry reply saying that I am “endorsing homosexuality” or something, please note that I did not in any way comment on the sinfulness – or not – of homosexual behavior. That’s not germane to this at all. It’s about this – How do we treat our neighbor, especially our neighbor who is “different?” And this – How do we best convey the Gospel to those who need it desperately?)