Bullying Gays, Bullying Christians

From the start, I want folks to know that I write this post as a person who has had close family members and friends who have been and/or are gay. I know the pains and struggles that many of them have faced and still deal with, and I am more than familiar with the sense of rejection that they have experienced, especially from religious folks. I also write this post as a Christian and even more, as a Christian who lives in the midst of the tensions between two groups who often seem to be at loggerheads with one another: the gay community and the evangelical church.

In the wake of the recent suicides carried out by a number of gay teenagers, I have seen several things said or done that I would like to address here. First of all, however, because the phrase "gay bullying" is being used in many headlines, I feel like I need to clarify what "bullying" is (or, at least how I understand and use the term) so that the things I say below are not ripped out of context. For the most part, children themselves associate "bullying" with experiencing aggressive forms of behavior from peers. Adults, however, tend to link bullying with repeated negative actions that inflict or attempt to inflict pain or discomfort on someone. When I speak of bullying here, I define it as unprovoked aggressive acts aimed at a peer with the intent to inflict pain or discomfort upon them.

Now that I have my definition set, there is one other thing that I need to point out. Research has shown (Xin Ma, 2001) that to speak of "bullying" as a one-sided phenomenon is incorrect. In fact, studies have revealed that where bullying is identified, deeper analyses will almost always show that in fact, a "bully-victim cycle" is at work. To put it differently, in a school setting, the student who is most likely to play the part of the bully is the one who just left the counselor's office where he/she received therapy for having been victimized earlier. In short, one who plays the role of a bully has almost always been a recent victim.

This previous point is very important in my opinion because it helps us better understand some of the tension-filled relationship that exists between gays and evangelicals who hold different viewpoints on homosexuality. Let us take for example, the Christian who has shared passages from the Bible to summarize his or her views on why homosexuality is wrong. When they do this, the gay the gay person who disagrees either with the Bible or that interpretation of the Bible, gets defensive. The gay person proceeds to bully the Christian by calling him or her things like "homophobic," "anti-gay," "closed-minded," "ignorant," "old-fashioned," "hateful," "bigot," etc. In this scenario, which is very common in fact, the gay person initially perceived the Christian to be a bully for citing scripture and expressing their disagreement with the gay lifestyle, an act which made them feel victimized. In an act of defense, the gay person then flipped the script and quickly took on the role of the bully by defaming the Christian's character and thereby victimizing him or her. Now that the conversation or argument has started this way, what will continue throughout is the bully-victim cycle. Because this is the case, honest and civil dialogue will be impossible.

And that's just the thing, ground cannot be gained and understanding cannot be reached when the bully-victim cycle is at work. On the one hand, many gay persons feel like Christians are attempting to bully them by passing laws against gay marriage or civil unions. On the other hand, Christians feel like many gay persons are attempting to bully them by passing laws to silence them so that they can no longer express their beliefs. The way forward is not to embrace the bully-victim cycle as the paradigm of choice but rather to realize that different views exist and that such views can be expressed without malevolent intent.

In the case of the teenagers who have recently killed themselves, bullying has been argued to be a factor. While no bully can ever be fully blamed for someone choosing to end their own life, there is certainly truth to the claim that they may have contributed to the stress that led to someone's choice to commit suicide. Again, however, it might benefit us all to ask whether or not the bully-victim cycle was at work in the background of such events. When we do this, it may move us away from merely defaming others and pointing fingers to getting closer to the heart of the matter. Once we to begin ending the cycle is to attempt to find its recent starting point(s).

Certainly, the situation with the teenagers who have recently committed suicide is troubling to hear about. And with the media flocking to the matter and celebrities making videos about it, the emotional roller-coasters that the families were initially on have probably become even more dramatic and/or traumatic. And without a doubt, a lot of finger pointing, name calling, blaming and hating is going on. In such situations it is particularly hard for Christians who disagree with the homosexual lifestyle to offer any support because as soon as they open their mouths or attempt to be pastoral, they get bullied right back. Perhaps another lesson from the Amish on dealings in inter-personal relationships could be learned here too!

All I am really attempting to do in this post is to identify a perceived problem and even inconsistency in this whole matter, namely, the perpetuation of the bully-victim cycle. Many Christians would love to be a healing presence among these grieving families and even gay persons in general but are essentially told that to do so, they must compromise their own viewpoints and beliefs. In other words, they become bullied and victimized for wanting to help. And this extends beyond the homosexuality matter to many other significant issues such as politics, economics or even abortion. For instance, while much is being made over the loss of 9 teenage lives--and yes, it is a big deal--as soon as the Christian who does not support abortion mentions the 4,000 lives of children who will be murdered this week alone in America, they are demonized (again, a form of bullying). Once again, we see the vicious cycle and the inconsistencies that accompany it.

What needs to happen then is a different approach. Persons should not have to compromise their own views in order to gain a hearing or to be respected; these things should be fundamental to any and all human discourse! In the same way that the gay person should not be forced to change their views, neither should the Christian. Civil conversation is possible even where fundamental disagreements exist and occur. Perhaps the relevance of what I've said here has more to do with how to be civil with one another when matters like "gay bullying" come up so that in keeping the dialogue going, negative approaches like the bully-victim cycle are not what we use to steer the conversation down the wrong avenues. At the risk of sounding repetitive, let us remember that we can talk, debate and even disagree civilly, we do NOT have to resort to a bully-victim cycle to try to make our points (for if we do, we will likely not succeed in making a point anyway but rather, only in making enemies).

No comments:

Post a Comment