Earlier this month, I wrote about Tyler Clementi and bullying, saying that society has to take some responsibility for this tragedy. I also said that Christians have had a major influence on society in the matter and it’s not a good one. In the last week, I read three articles that say the same thing and more. And, they say it better than I did. First, an article on the Huffington Post cited a poll by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service that shows most Americans think that the messages coming from religious institutions are contributing to negative views about the LGBT community. Then, Jim Wallis used his bully pulpit, the God’s Politics blog at Sojourner’s Magazine, to say that, as Christians, we should be the ones standing up for those being bullied. I don’t always agree with Wallis, as he sometimes gets a little to political for my taste, but this is an excellent article that every Christian should read. Finally, Gareth Higgins tells us that, ultimately, it’s our fault. Yes, yes it is.
The PRRI poll has bigger implications than just pointing out our screw ups. The far-right, in-bed-with-the-TeaParty group that many young people perceive as the face of the church is keeping them away in droves. More and more of them are claiming no religious affiliation, some even rejecting religion all together. Considering that they’re the future of the church, this is not good. They have different ideas than the older generation about almost everything and homosexuality (and sex in general) is no exception. But, regardless of how you feel about that particular hot potato, kids killing themselves because they’ve been made to feel like shit is a bad thing and we should speak out against it. That’s Wallis’ article in a nutshell, although he’s much more eloquent than I am. For me, this was the best part of the whole thing: “The fact that bullies target gay and lesbian people should mean that Christians give extra attention to protecting and standing up for them. The fact that any community or group of people is regularly the target of harassment and hate means Christians should be on the front line of defense against any who would attack.” Damn right we should. Doing for those who can’t do for themselves is a huge piece of the Christianity pie. Wallis doesn’t talk about the cause of the bullying, though. Which is okay, because Higgins takes up that mantle very well, saying “Tyler Clementi died as a direct result of a culture of sexual shame in which institutionalized religion is the major investor.” It’s not just some monolithic institution that’s responsible according to Higgins, it’s all of us. Try this on for size, “If you have ever affirmed homophobia by not intervening to challenge the snide remarks that all of us have heard, you may be part of the reason that Tyler Clementi is dead. And most of the time, I myself have not intervened. If you have ever used us-and-them language to divide sets of people into “normative” heterosexual cultures and “others,” you may be part of the reason Tyler Clementi is dead. I spoke of “us” and “them” for most of my life until a friend challenged me; I still find myself slipping into old rhetorical habits, for our culture is so deeply wedded to the myth that our identities depend on dividing and conquering. If you have ever disrespected, dehumanized, or belittled a person because of his or her sexuality, you may be part of the reason Tyler Clementi is dead.” I’m guilty of all of this, even now. Whenever I see an openly gay person, the little voice in my head say “Um hmm, look at that.” All to often, I refer to my LGBT brothers and sisters as “them” or something significantly less tasteful. I tell myself that it’s just the way I was raised, but that’s no excuse. In fact, it’s the very excuse that’s used by so many to marginalize people who are children of God. And, it has to stop. We’re going to have to come to some kind of consensus on this subject that gives everyone the respect and love that they deserve or people are going to continue to avoid us. Worse, kids will continue to die because we’ve made them feel like they’re so vile and disgusting that there’s no hope for them. And, that’s definitely NOT what Jesus would do.