A Christian Response to FACT and HB 1153

This weekend my Facebook feed begin blowing up with discussions of the FACT supported law, HB 1153, being debated in Tennessee, a state I lived in for eight years and still love greatly. This would seem to be an incident (much like the dustup about the NDAA or any number of manufactured stories appearing daily on Fox).[1] First off the bill defines harassment as:

“any act that substantially and measurably interferes with a student’s educational benefits, opportunities or performance, that takes place on school grounds, at any school-sponsored activity, on school-provided transportation or at any official school bus stop and that has the effect of:

(1) Physically harming a student or damaging a student’s property;

(2) Knowingly placing a student in reasonable fear, as determined objectively, of physical harm to the student or damage to the student’s property; or

(3) Creating a hostile educational environment.”

All of which seems like a perfectly normal definition which would not be debated by anyone at all. The smoke, however, comes from the next provision which then states that:

“ ‘Creating a hostile educational environment’ shall not be construed to include discomfort and unpleasantness that can accompany the expression of a viewpoint or belief that is unpopular, not shared by other students, or not shared by teachers or school officials.”

At first one should be hard-pressed to really find grounds for debate over this line of thinking as well. We live in a country that values the right to speak one’s mind freely, and as Hustler magnet Larry Flynt has been so kind as to remind us,

“protection of any speech, even that considered wrong, immoral, and abhorrent, is protection of all speech.”

The problem here comes in the form of Jacob Rogers or Jamey Rodemeyer or Tyler Clementi or Ryan Halligan  or any number of teens who have committed suicide after being bullied. It is understandable that the LGBT community might be a little skittish about any piece of legislation which would seem to help the victimizers at the expense of the victims.

Now my Evangelical friends will say they, too, are increasingly the victims and that this law will give them the ability to continue speaking their minds on a divisive issue, and they as Americans deserve this right. Yet one might wonder if all rights deserved equal actions that are justifiable. On this point I always remember something my sister once said. I was going on about some song on the radio that I loved, and my sister, ever the conservative, asked why I was so enthused by it.[2] There’s nothing bad about it, I said. There’s nothing good about it either, she countered.[3] Her logic did have a scriptural logic, equaling the proviso, “whatever is good, whatever is noble, think on these things.” I have long remembered this lesson from my little sister, and sought to find the good and do that.

This cute story would not dissuade many of my fellow church members. They would say that by going public with their feelings on any number of issues, they are speaking the truth to the world, and besides to not speak the truth would not be love. And so they speak this truth to anyone in shouting distance. They complain and bemoan and elicit long discourses on the wrongness of those that they deem wrong. Yet they seem to forget one crucial piece of information: no one asked them what they opinion was. Jacob, Jamey, Tyler, and Ryan never asked the Church or the Religious Right what they thought. They never asked to be reminded time and again about their perceived wrongness. In this regard it is really easy for the Church and the Religious Right to speak out. The LGBT for the most part stands outside of the Evangelical Churches from which these pronouncements commence.[4] In making these pronouncements the Church can appear “tough on sin” without ever dealing with any sin areas that will ruffle feathers within the community itself. Compare these types of statements with perhaps an indictment that strikes closer to home, and suddenly being “tough on sin” looks a lot less enjoyable to the congregation and brings much uncertainty to the status of the pastor’s job.[5]

In these matters we might heed the words of Paul:

“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

Granted Paul is speaking these words to the Church, but they form a standard for how we might consider our standing in the world. We might consider humility, gentleness, patience, love, and an irenic spirit to be the forms our address to the world should take. Getting back on point, we might discuss how true righteousness is a righteousness which seeks to say the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reason. If any of these requirements gets wiggy then the action or thought or speech becomes less than righteous. What this has come to mean for me follows two main provisos to how and when I speak. First, true authority[6] can only be earned, it is never a given. That leads to a second point, one can only speak to the level of relationship attained. Where little exists, little needs be spoken; where more exists more can be offered. These two provisos add up to one simple thought, I cannot think for another or insist that another think like me, but I can help someone think for themselves, and evaluate for themselves. In short I can enter into a conversation, a conversation that implies a long-term relationship built and maintained upon mutual trust and understanding.

This type of discussion cannot occur when both sides are yelling and accusing one another from across a deep chasm. In all truthfulness Christ died for each of these. He loved them and desired that they live and find fullness, and as people called by God to reveal the self-sacrificial love of Christ to a hate-filled world, I would call upon the church to be the first to attempt to bridge that chasm, and embrace those upon the other side.  To take them in, to love them, and when asked to humbly, gently, and peacefully discuss life with them, to stop pushing, to stop prodding, and above all to stop bullying. Those who have gone before us deserve better, it can be better, we can be better. Our savior whom knew the bully’s lash cries out to us to live out a faith that reveals the life gets better with Him in it.  When we do that we will truly be living the family values we have preached.

[1] I kid you not, today I was getting a cup of coffee at McDonalds, to kill time before meeting a friend for dinner, when I looked to hear Fox discussing a “secret party” at the White House. It seems several people were invited for anAlice in Wonderland themed party held on Halloween 2009. If there ever was a smoking gun proving that Obama really is evil, that there, I say, that there is it.

[2] In order to protect the guilty, namely myself, we will not say what song it was, but it my have been Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. What can I say I was young, sheltered and easily impressed by music without an easily discernible message, and changes in melody.

[3] And there you see the main difference between my quasi-liberal self, and my conservative sister. I am ever the optimist looking for the silver lining (well, it doesn’t suck), and my sister, ever the pessimist grimacing at every dark cloud she can find.

[4] Mea culpa. This statement is not totally accurate (but makes, I think, a rhetorical point). There are perhaps many within these churches struggling with their same-sex desires and longing for someone within the church to love them and accept them. So yes there are LGBT persons within the church, but from the moments their desires become prominent, they are quickly ushered out the door. The environment of these churches often makes it impossible for anyone to deal with these issues in a concerted way (whether that means acceptance of them or the attempt to change them). Our starting point makes any work here untenable.

[5] I once made the mistake of comparing the love that many in the church had for Dale Earnhardt to that which the same church showed for the poor. Wow, let me say nothing about that sermon was remembered other than the fact that I had criticized their Dale. Another pastor friend once stated that good Christians could vote Democratic for Biblical reasons and spent a week worrying about his sanity.

[6] i.e. the ability to speak hard truths or express disagreement in a constructive manner.



Add yours →

  1. I’m an MSW student in Indiana doing a public policy internship and we have been looking at bullying legislation across the country (which is how I came upon this post). I’m also a Christian trying to figure out how social work and reconciliation fit together in a world that seems to want to separate the two.

    I appreciate your commentary on the issue of bullying, especially on this piece of legislation (which just got pulled last week). I especially like “true righteousness is a righteousness which seeks to say the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reason.” Well said.

    Just wanted to put my two cents in. Thanks!

  2. Unsanitary Jesus 01/31/2012 — 3:54 pm

    Thanks for the comment. If can ever help let me know. Reconciliation is my passion. Might I recommend looking at the Vineyard USA website, as a denomination they are really trying to provide a forum for that work. The Vineyard South Africa was involved in the Truth and Reconciliation project and there is a great workbook about that experience. I also really enjoyed a Vineyard press book: Welcoming the Stranger (about immigration reform from 2 church workers currently serving the immigrant community). Vineyard Columbus (OH) just had a great write-up in Christianity Today about their work in poor and immigrant communities.

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