My family was going through a time of turmoil and a long string of moves necessitating yet another new school. I don't remember the name of any other classmate nor the name of my teacher, so why do I remember Jimmy so vividly?
Jimmy was a bully. I was his target on only a couple of occasions and I was always conscious of his presence.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 160,000 kids stay home from school every day for fear of being bullied.
In this era of technology-fueled openness, we're learning that bullies are not as rare as many have believed and that their mayhem may be more lasting than just the fading bruises of childhood encounters. A number of young people have taken their lives, including several in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where I live.
Many of those who have taken their lives struggled with same-sex attractions. On March 29, 2007, 17-year-old Eric Mohat was told by a classmate that he should "go home and shoot himself" -- the last in a long line of bullying incidents the boy had been subjected to at his high school in Ohio. That afternoon, he took a gun from his father's bureau drawer, locked himself in his room and pulled the trigger.
The church's discomfort with homosexuality is no excuse to turn a blind eye to those who are bullied because of their struggle with same-sex attraction. The fact that children are taking their lives should be of far greater concern to us than whether we agree or disagree with homosexual conduct. Indeed, if our personal fears drive us into silence over bullying, we're more of an accomplice than a comforter.
Can you imagine for a moment the pain and anguish these children felt? Can you imagine what their parents and loved ones continue to feel? Should we not do all in our power to stop that pain before it starts?
It isn't necessary to share the same beliefs with others to seek to prevent suffering and pain. Christians above all people should know this. God did not send His Son into a world that was in perfect alignment with His will. Scripture tells us: "He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him" (John 1:11). And this: "But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!" (Romans 5:8). Jesus was not showing approval of a lifestyle, for example, when He protected the woman taken in adultery from religious bullies.
As Christians we have a unique perspective on bullying. Our Lord suffered the ultimate act of bullying. The government, the religious authorities and the multitudes in the streets all vehemently demanded His death. And yes, our fallen humanity makes us a part of that.
If for no other reason, our hearts should break over the deep despair and suffering so many children are experiencing. Studies show that serious illness, struggling to hold down a regular job and poor social relationships are among the adverse outcomes in adulthood faced by those exposed to bullying in childhood.
I was asked once by a gay man if I would be willing to go into schools with him to speak against bullying. I responded that I would go anywhere, anytime to seek to put an end to the harassment of children for any reason. I could not, however, do anything that would give the impression that homosexual conduct is biblically acceptable. I'm certainly aware that this last statement, for many homosexuals, disqualifies me as a compassionate advocate for kids.
Too often gay activists are unwilling to join with conservative Christians because no matter what we do or say, if we believe the Bible says homosexual acts are sin, we are labeled as homophobic. At the same time, Christians often are unwilling to do the right thing because we may be perceived to be affirming homosexual conduct.
But it is precisely as our kids see adults able to honestly and civilly disagree that the tension level will be lowered. That which should set us apart as human beings is to be able to honestly and honorably disagree. As Christians it is incumbent on us to love all the world -- not just those who are like us.
We are missing a great opportunity in our schools, communities and nation to manifest the love and compassion of Christ to those who feel hopeless, to those who suffer day after day with pain they should never have to endure. Our churches and pastors must speak out. Our youth ministries should be training our kids to address this in a Christ-like way. Our national leaders must continue to speak out with a clear, consistent voice. Can we afford to do less?
Bob Stith (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, who formerly served as the Southern Baptist Convention's national strategist for gender issues.
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