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The Bully and the Pulpit

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. And bullying has been all over the news lately, with the recent suicides of four teenagers who had been picked on. All four had been bullied for homosexuality. And some blame religious groups for teaching that homosexuality is a sin and not speaking out against bullying homosexuals.

The It Gets Better campaign started shortly after Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge. The Rutgers University student posted his last Facebook status as, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” His roommate had posted a video of Tyler involved in sexual activity with another man. The campaign posts videos telling gay teens that while these years are hard, adulthood gets better. More than 1 million people have viewed the hundreds of videos. These videos feature people from many faith groups and include an Episcopalian priest and a professor at a Christian seminary. Most echo the sentiments of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose video told teens, “Your life is so important to your family, your friends and to your country.”

The New York Times reported:

The most popular video features Joel Burns, a Fort Worth city councilman, who read his testimony at a Council meeting. Choking back tears, he recalled being roughed up one day in high school by older children who told him that “I should die and go to hell where I belonged.”

Mr. Burns’s message to gay teenagers was succinct: “The attitudes of society will change. Please live long enough to be here to see it.”

The children telling Burns to go to hell exemplify the concerns many have expressed: That when religions preach that gays are sinners, they open the door to bullying. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, cautioned Baptists to walk a fine line, that while believing homosexuality to be a sin, believers need to have more empathy. He wrote in his blog:

What if Tyler Clementi had been in your church? Would he have heard biblical truth presented in a context of humble truth-telling and gospel urgency, or would he have heard irresponsible slander, sarcastic jabs, and moralistic self-congratulation?

Mohler calls Tyler’s suicide “haunting.” And I agree. As the mother of adolescent boys, I can’t read about Tyler’s final Facebook post without tearing up. I hate the thought that a young man with so much to live for would end his life.

To that end, I encourage all parents to learn more about bullying. And to talk with your children. These years are rough; I’m learning that every day. But I think most of us struggled through adolescence and can tell our kids no matter what they’re working through that it does, indeed, get better. And, since this is a religion blog, I’ll point out that many experts on bullying say that adolescents really need a safe place to be themselves. Congregations and youth groups could provide this.

Here are some resources on bullying:

From the national PTA

Tips for dealing with bullies

About state bullying laws

Stop Bullying Now for Kids

Stop Bullying Now for Adults

A tip sheet for adults volunteering in afterschool activities

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  • Fredtastic

    I think Mohler’s quote was right on. Those Christians (myself included) who believe homosexuality is wrong must put it in the appropriate context of compassion and loving your neighbor. What concerns me is that many in this country see this as an opportunity to outlaw “hate speech” against homosexuals, thereby prohibiting the right of those who believe it is wrong, to say that. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion must be protected, and the right of Christian believers to preach biblical truth from the pulpit and in our homes must be upheld. If it isn’t, what else is next?

  • Paul

    Homosexuality is not wrong. If you believe in God and someone is gay, God made them that way. There is a huge difference between free speech and hate speech. This is America and we have Hate Crime Legislation for a reason. When you spew Hate Speech at someone who is gay and commit a crime against someone because they are gay you not only intimidate them but that entire minority. That is against the law.

  • Mom of 6

    Everyone should be able to have their own valid opinion in the gay/straight debate, and to air that opinion in a respectful way. Each person has the right to their own choice in this matter; however, NO ONE should suffer for their opinion/beliefs, either. And bullying – ALWAYS WRONG. It is a shame when people act hatefully.

  • GetEqual NOW!

    These times make us recognize that we cannot make progress until we punish these bigots. Help us do that. Help us take this fight into the streets, churches and homes of bigots. We should be having angry rallies, but we need your help. Please donate now before more children die: We know the enemy is Christians. Help us confront them. Pay for your equality instead of hoping for it.

    We are leading the way. Please help us attack those that are attacking us. It is the only way to win and we are professionals. We know how to do this. We just need your financial support. Give now. Give like you are serious, WE are.

  • Janny60

    The “enemy” is blind hatred. Safety and compassion is lost as long as there is an “us” vs “them” attitude and hatred for those seen as “them.” Punishing those who spew hate speech creates more hatred. In my view, trying to force someone created gay to be something the person isn’t is rather violent. Jesus never _forced_ anyone to do anything. He offered choices. He had angry words for the moneylenders and with a fig tree. He spoke against focusing on materiality rather than on prayer and God. I suggest that more focus on prayer and God, than on the actions of others in their private lives would be more productive than trying to forcefully _fix_ others of either persuasion.