by Matt Writt
In the last few weeks, you may have heard about the various campaigns that have started up to combat teen bullying — particularly of LGBT youth — in the wake of several suicides.
Best I can tell, it all started with columnist and activist Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project, a YouTube channel comprised of testimonials encouraging young people to persevere through painful times.
The submissions accumulated quickly from all quarters, including videos from the cast of Wicked currently performing at the Orpheum here in Memphis, President Barack Obama, and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.
Bishop Robinson's video is particularly poignant since the only real opposition to LGBT rights — and the only support for LGBT teen bullying — comes from the religious right.
Another Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong, has since posted a Manifesto*. It begins...
I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility.
I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that "we love the sinner but hate the sin." That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement.
The struggle of moderate Christians against the small but vocal fringes is one I'm familiar with.
When I was in high school, I was active in the youth leadership of my church (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ). One summer, I attended a national conference in Kansas City along with some other youth leaders from Arkansas. The main item on the docket was the issue of LGBT ministers. But the issue wasn't whether there could be LGBT ministers, but how to deal with intolerance within congregations. There was never any question of whether or not an LGBT individual could serve.
The first morning of the conference, we looked out the windows of the convention center and saw that we were being protested. There was a small crowd out on the corner with signs quoting Leviticus. There were children with signs saying "God Hates Fags" and worse. This was my first (and thankfully only) personal encounter with Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.
I couldn't fathom that anyone would protest a church conference. My emotions ran the gamut from shock to anger to sadness, even a bit of titillation that we were somehow controversial.
Luckily, my fellow convention-goers had a more clear-headed response. They went outside and sang to the protesters. Loudly.
Some went out and bought sidewalk chalk. When the protesters left at the end of the day, they went outside and covered the street corner in Bible verses espousing love and acceptance.
Though I'm no longer affiliated with a church, I still have a lot of respect for the church in which I was raised, largely due to the events of that weekend. I was — and still am — proud to be involved with fellow humans willing to publicly stand against bigotry and hatred, especially coming from people supposedly on the same "side."
That message is now gaining strength through leaders like Bishops Spong and Robinson. If you call yourself a Christian and are tired of being tarred with the brush of intolerance and bigotry, it's time to stop talking the talk and... well, you know the rest.
(* First read here.)