About this blog: Discussing religion, spirituality and values. About the writers: Amy Umble is the religion reporter for The Free Lance-Star. Janet Marshall is the religion editor for The Free Lance-Star.
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: