With kudos to Locally Grown Northfield blog and its commenters, here is a link to yesterday’s program on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), which continues the discussion regarding religion’s role in fostering anti-gay attitudes that are manifested in bullying and teen sexual angst.
Consider Justin Anderson, who graduated from Blaine High School outside Minneapolis last year. He says his teenage years were a living hell. From sixth grade on, he heard the same taunts.
“People say things like, ‘Fags should just disappear so we don’t have to deal with them anymore’; and, ‘Fags are disgusting and sinful,’ ” he told the Anoka-Hennepin School Board. “And still, there was no one intervening. I began to feel so worthless and ashamed and unloved that I began to think about taking my life.”
Anderson told his story at a public hearing last month — a hearing convened because in the past year, the district has seen a spate of student suicides. Four of those suicides have been linked to anti-gay bullying.
Justin Anderson survived. Justin Aaberg did not. Aaberg, 15, loved the cello, both playing and composing numbers like “Incinerate,” which he posted on YouTube. Justin was openly gay. He had plenty of friends, but he was repeatedly bullied in his school. In July, his mother, Tammy, found her teenage son hanging from his bed frame.
“They were calling him, ‘Faggot, you’re gay,’ ” she recalls. ” ‘The Bible says that you’re going to burn hell.’ ‘God doesn’t love you.’ Things like that.”
But a representative of the Minnesota Family Council (the same group behind the flyer that appeared in my mailbox directed to “serious Catholics”—see yesterday’s post), disagreed:
she wants to keep the neutrality policy because she says that controversial topics like sexual orientation should be taught in the home or church — not in school. And she believes that changing the policy to allow such discussions is a ploy to normalize homosexuality for kids.
“It becomes homosexual advocacy when you allow this curriculum to come in under the guise of anti-bullying,” she says.
I actually agree with her in part. Sexual orientation issues ought to be openly discussed in our churches; unfortunately, I sense that the message in conservative churches only reinforces the gay angst, and the silence of many moderate and progressive churches, borne of fear of giving offense, is a sin of omission. Listen again to the words of Cody Sanders quoted in an earlier post:
These messages come in many forms, degrees of virulence, and volumes of expression. The most insidious forms, however, are not those from groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Most people quickly dismiss this fanaticism as the red-faced ranting of a fringe religious leader and his small band of followers.
More difficult to address are the myriad ways in which everyday churches that do a lot of good in the world also perpetuate theologies that undergird and legitimate instrumental violence. The simplistic, black and white lines that are drawn between conceptions of good and evil make it all-too-easy to apply these dualisms to groups of people. When theologies leave no room for ambiguity, mystery and uncertainty, it becomes very easy to identify an “us” (good, heterosexual) versus a “them” (evil, gay).
If anti-gay bullying has, at any level, an embodied undercurrent of tacit theological legitimation, then we simply cannot circumvent our responsibility to provide a clear, decisive, theological response. Aside from its theological base, anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it calls for acts of solidarity on behalf of the vulnerable and justice on behalf of the oppressed.