Throughout my bullying series, I cover key issues and profile young people who have committed suicide due to bullying (commonly called bullycide). Click here to read my series from the beginning.
I see the issue of bullying through the vulnerable lives of young people I counsel. Teens are hurting, and they need our help now. Not many of them feel they have access to such help. The hurt they feel on a daily basis is crippling. Many of them are hopeless and barely clinging to life. Bullying has the power to kill these teens; and as we are seeing, it is killing them.
With this kind of pastoral care view, it is clear – and simple – that we must care for teens caught in the cross hairs of anti-gay epithets. Yet in everyday life, the simplicity of helping those victimized by bullies often gets twisted into complexities that distract us. How does the simplicity of saving teen lives turn complex?
1. Conservative Rigidity. Many conservatives remain unreasonably inflexible on purely worldview or political grounds. They attract money and votes by pushing hard right positions without compromise. Even when the sole purpose is saving teen lives, they fear being used to further water down moral truth in society. I disagree with these folks but I understand their passion: I used to be one of them.
2. Liberal Rigidity. Some liberals also remain unreasonably inflexible on worldview or political grounds. Some of them will hold anti-bullying progress hostage by attempting to attach other gay rights initiatives to anti-bullying policies. I do not criticize such folks; but I do believe there is greater effectiveness in seeking to build common ground.
We cannot minimize the power of the extreme right or left: they have tremendous power to delay help to vulnerable teens. That said, I want to place them to the side. It is too easy to blame them for all that is wrong in the world. In truth, many of them are losing power as more moderate voices from both worldviews come together in new ways to address issues like anti-bullying. By placing them to the side, we actually face the real reasons why the simple task of saving vulnerable teens so often becomes complex.
3. Shifting Seasons of Life. I meet young evangelicals who strongly believe that bullying must be stopped. Yet as they marry, these “progressives” become sensitive to how prevention measures impact their family. Whereas the merging of anti-bullying curricula with early childhood sex education never bothered them before, now they are very concerned that homosexuality is being introduced to their first grader. Their stand against bullying remains, but their views on how to accomplish this objective become complex. They are more hesitant to accept a “whatever it takes” posture.
4. Personal Life Experiences. As an opposite example, I meet some evangelical parents that might well fit the category of right-wing wackos. But then, something happens. Life experience radically changes them as their child “comes out” as LGBT+; gets ruthlessly teased; and becomes suicidal. Such parents’ theological views remain, but they urgently decide that bullying must stop – “whatever it takes.” In other cases, Christian parents who had strong opinions about public school policies suddenly become disinterested once their children graduate.
These examples illustrate how elusive a predictable consensus can be on this issue. What seems simple can become incredibly complex; or vice versa. Shifting allegiances driven by personal circumstances make resolving this societal debate difficult. For this reason, I believe it is critical that evangelicals not wait on a future resolution to this debate. Our waiting leads to inaction which witnesses to the world that we lack compassion and common decency. We must take a strong position against bullying today. Why?
It’s simple: because young teens (and pre-teens like Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover) are dying. As Sirdeaner Walker puts it: “…bullying is not a gay issue, or a straight issue. It’s a safety issue.” If folks on both sides will keep the “safety” of ALL students as the goal, we can implement policies that protect ALL students.
Join me tomorrow as I remember the life of Phoebe Prince. If you are being bullied, it is critical to get help today. You are worth it! If you need guidance in how to obtain help, I invite you to contact me. God bless.
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