October 8, 2010
Each of the four teenagers who committed suicide in the last few months reached out at least once for help with being bullied - to no avail. News sources have reported that, whether to their parents, school administration or friends, none of these requests were taken as seriously as they should have been. And in the case of Tyler Clementi, he was a kid who even had an involved church background.
The national response to these suicides has been an underwhelming fulfillment of what I feared would happen. Well-known gay activist Dan Savage started the It Gets Better Project, a YouTube channel featuring numerous celebrities and LGBT adults "targeting gay teens to let them know their futures can still be bright." In turn Savage has also very directly blamed the conservative Christian world for these suicides. Then there is Albert Mohler, president of one of the largest theological seminaries in the world. He wrote about the justification of his worldview of same-sex sexual sin in an article intended to be about a gay teenager killing himself.
I believe there are two types of cultural umbrellas within mainstream: mainstream secular and mainstream religious. I also believe that both of those majority mainstreams are going down the wrong path. Both of them do nothing except play off the other in the same political, social, scientific and theological ways. This is especially true when it comes to the LGBT and conservative Christian worlds. When one group moves in a certain way to prove a point, the other reactively attempts to use the same means to prove they are actually the ones who are right. It's a never-ending back-and-forth with no winner.
To me, both Savage and Mohler - who represent the mainstream in both of their worlds - are doing nothing more than passing the buck once again. It's always someone else's deal.
Savage doesn't think he had anything to do with these suicides - he blames social conservatives. Mohler doesn't think he has anything to do with these suicides either -- he's still questioning how someone else's church should have intervened, asking, "was there no one who could have stood between that boy and that bridge?"
Well, this is my deal. Not because I was directly involved in any of the four teenagers lives, but because I am a part of a broader group of people that play a significant part in our culture: those that claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Until we are the first ones to change what is deemed as the current ‘acceptable medium of engagement,' nothing will ever be different. Why would Savage stop blaming us if we don't intentionally live and do things differently, even incarnationally? He won't. Sadly enough, it seems that neither will Mohler stop trying to compassionately justify his non-culpability. Meanwhile, mainstream secular and mainstream religious culture will continue churning victims of any tragedy into the medium that addresses what they want to change about "the other."
Jesus gave us the Great Commandment, but that does not mean it will ever be the Great Reality in this life. There will always be an "other" - an opposite, someone who doesn't believe us, or like us or what we're all about. That is a cold, hard fact. So which is more effective: attempting to politically undermine our mainstream opposites and waiting for them to agree with us before we can be reconciled? Or working to dignify the humanity of even our worst enemies, just as Jesus did?
Cynicism, blame and questions are easy. Intentional commitment to change paradigms with tangible action is hard. These back-and-forths would not be needed if the current medium was truly effective. Everyone would be too busy learning how to live out an actual reconciliation. We'd be relentlessly pursuing those people most unlike ourselves because that is what our Savior modeled for us.
This one article and everyday people like you or me are not going to change the system. Fine. Then let the talking heads and gatekeepers keep doing the one thing they know how to do - politic. Meanwhile, it is up to you and me to start making a difference within this broken system and world we have been given. I want you, as I am, to go to your local middle school, high school, youth group, gay-straight alliance (GSA) or street corner, and get this message out:
Bullying needs to stop. We have a responsibility as children of God to strongly communicate a message that bullying, making fun of, or not including "the other" - especially in the case of sexual orientation - is wrong, unbiblical and it will not be tolerated. There is no room for such destructive patterns to occur under our watch. It is our time to set an example of who we are and what we believe. Our faith compels to run towards the things that everyone else is running from.
Be empowered in your voice. I don't care if you are backed by an organization, church, school board or none of the above. Just go. Make a difference now. The blood of these four youth is on my head. Your head.
Disagree with me as much as you want. But know that not one time did Jesus ever pout, complain or antagonize. He rather engaged and dignified those that were actively trying to kill him. Jesus said in Matthew 11:19 that wisdom will be proved right by her actions. It is time to show our wisdom by starting that redemptive process in our own neighborhoods to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. If you don't do it, don't expect anyone else to either.
Andrew Marin is the founder and president of The Marin Foundation. He blogs daily on all things related to faith and sexuality in our culture at www.loveisanorientation.com.