I found a blog post from the blog Her-menutic that had an interesting perspective on bullying. I can say that I don’t agree with the writer’s viewpoint on being gay (and she seems to ignore the fact that there is more than one Christian viewpoint on homosexuality), but she does make a point that I do agree with:
After the suicides of Clementi, Brown, and Walsh, Degeneres posted a video in which she expressed grief and outrage that anyone would feel so alone that suicide seemed their only option. She said intolerance of homosexuality is the foundation for today’s bullying: “There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting and we have to make it stop. We can’t let intolerance and ignorance take another kid’s life.” She concluded that “things will get easier, peoples’ minds will change, and you should be alive to see it.”
Degeneres’s comments give Christians much to think about. When any person commits suicide, it’s a tragedy, one Christians especially should grieve, given the person’s God-given dignity and irreplaceable presence in others’ lives. Bullying, taunting, and physical or emotional abuse is not to be tolerated by believers who see it happening, regardless of who is being bullied. Nevertheless, Ellen’s comments present some troubling assertions — namely, that bullying is simply any moral judgment about another person’s behavior.
It’s a fine line between bullying and tolerance, and Christians have made blunders on both sides. Some have seemed to put homosexuality into its own category of sinfulness, as if it takes a special kind of atonement to make clean. This has only added fuel to the pro-tolerance fire. In an effort to reverse these effects, some Christians have swung the pendulum too far, ignoring Scripture’s prohibitions against homosexual behavior in favor of a widely embracing, culturally acceptable sexual ethic.
Christians must bridge the gap between bullying and the cry for tolerance. We cannot turn a blind eye to sinful behavior of any sort, whether it’s homosexual behavior or hateful bullying. And we also must clearly define bullying, focusing on physical and verbal abuse rather than simple disagreement with another’s actions.
After Clementi’s death, Albert Mohler wrote an article lamenting that four young men had committed suicide in one month. He wrote, “Tyler joined Billy, Seth, and Asher as tragic evidence of the dangerous intersection of sexual confusion, hateful classmates, and the wide-open world of social media. These boys simply ran out of the emotional ability to face life, crushed by the burden of secrets and the bullying of their peers.” What was once a fight in the hallway or a rumor passed in a classroom note has become an online epidemic. A girl who sends a text message to a boy at school can be an internet sensation by the end of the day. A young man who has a sexual encounter with another young man can be broadcast unbeknownst to him by a cruel college roommate. This is a problem and a tragedy, especially when it leads to death.
Yet the answer is not a ceasefire on all moral pronouncements in the public square. Degeneres’s definition of bullying, like many in the LGBT community, assumes that if we simply normalize homosexuality, bullying over sexual orientation will cease. As Christians, it’s more complicated than that. In order to be faithful to what God says, we must resist the notion that “tolerance” will solve the bullying problem. Living outside God’s design for sexuality, no matter the specifics, has implications for this life and for eternity.
Christians should be the first to offer a healing hope for the victim of senseless bullying of any kind. As Mohler asked, “Was there no one to step between Tyler Clementi and that bridge? Was there no friend, classmate, or trusted adult who had the courage and compassion to reach into his life and offer hope?”
The nugget that I glean from this is the belief that we can somehow end bullying through tolerance. I tend to think it’s an erroneous belief. It’s not that I don’t believe in teaching tolerance, especially of homosexuality, but because navigating those years between childhood and adulthood just sucks. And it will suck even if we ban bullying and send the offenders off to jail.
It’s been nearly 30 years since I was an adolescent, but I can remember it was not always fun or easy to be a teen. And I can also remember being teased and and just feeling bad overall. Those years can be harsh and lonely. As I said last year, being a teen in the 1980s was hard and it still is today.
The debate over bullying has been swept up by culture warriors on the left and right, but while they are fighting there are still kids in the middle feeling hurt and alone. Maybe there need to be more laws on the books, I don’t know. What I do know is that as a gay adult and especially as a pastor, I do need to provide a listening ear to a kid in need. A law can only do so much, but sometimes what’s needed is for people to reach out to each other.
What I think gay adults and allies should be doing is spending less time getting angry via Facebook and making “It Gets Better” videos and more time being friends to gay and straight teens. Get to know these kids and let them know they aren’t alone. And for God’s sake teach them to stand up to those who taunt them.
I know it’s not that simple. But it might make a difference in a kid’s life.
My teen benefits from having adults in his life- especially those who advocate for and sponsor GSAs and other alliance groups that allow students to gather with adult mentors and learn (together!) to cope with the hard stuff. I am so thankful for those in the LGBTQ community who have reached out when it becomes clear we are in need of a village to help raise this child!