Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bullying: A Brief Word and Response

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words they can destroy me. This seems more appropriate in light of the continual rise in bullying and in-school violence. Even more, the recent bullying of gay students that has led to instances of suicide has caused me to pause once again and reflect on the violence of language and the abuse of speech. The students in my youth ministries over the years have heard time and again my constant rebuke of those who choose to use slang terms of sexuality as filler words or insults, even of their friends. This ought not to be so. Regardless of your theological convictions, the slurs that are tossed around at the expense of gay individuals and the gay community have repercussions that are sometimes irreversible. We are to be a people who promote peace, advocate for compassion, and give voice to those on the margins of society. Instead, we so often exclude and oppress, not only through our activity, but also and especially through our language.

This leads to another point. On the issue of homosexuality it is common to hear those in opposition say, "hate the sin and love the sinner." I am afraid that such a posture towards homosexuals will never allow for authentic community to take place between gays and straights. Homosexuality is not necessarily that which can be removed as an isolated characteristic of a particular individual as though to say I hate your red shirt, but I love you. That is, their sexuality is a portion of who they are just as much as I am a heterosexual male. Moreover, the reductionist statement not only assures that homosexuals will forever be kept at arm's length (if that), but also assumes that we as a people are actually capable of separating our opinions of homosexuality from those of homosexual people. To put it bluntly, "hate the sin and love the sinner" becomes breeding grounds for hatred of the "sinner," as the "sin" and the "sinner" are no longer able to be distinguished. Again, in light of the devastating consequences of our irresponsible speech, individual and communal theological convictions and reductionist statements must be reevaluated. The consequences of anything less is unacceptable and unfaithful as people who claim to be witnesses to the liberating gospel of Jesus.

I would be amiss if I did not end this brief reflection with a call for intercession. Last week our church and youth ministry participated in Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday in the Presbyterian Church (USA). As a part of this collaboration, we invited a counselor from the local domestic violence center to share with our high school and middle school youth about the reality of domestic and dating violence as well as bullying. In light of recent events, we are so grateful that we did this. But the hosting of a one-day event is not enough. We must continue to be agents of peace in contexts of abuse; voices of hope in circumstances of suffering; advocates of justice and compassion in the midst of oppression and hatred. And we do not have to leave the country to do so. In the days ahead, may we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear those who are in need of our intervention. May we be on the lookout for those in need of our intercession. Even more, may we look inward and be challenged to consider how we have been the inflictors or bystanders of discrimination, hatred, and violence and then act towards change. And for those of you who continue to suffer at the hands of the na├»ve and the cold-hearted, rest assured that you are not alone and that there is help and hope for you. Even more, you were made in the beautiful imago Dei (image of God),which is not something that can ever be separated or taken away from you.

Here is a great post by Jim Wallis of Sojourners, "Christians and Bullying: Standing by Gays and Lesbians":