Religious Responses to Anti-Gay Bullying


BOB ABERNETHY, host: There is a new conversation taking place in parts of the religious community about anti-gay bullying. In recent weeks, several young men committed suicide after being targeted for harassment and violence because of their sexual orientation. Religious supporters of gay rights have launched new anti-bullying campaigns, while some opponents of homosexuality are re-examining their rhetoric. Our managing editor Kim Lawton has more.

KIM LAWTON, managing editor: There’s been a lot of concern in the religious community about these acts of violence and harassment. Several religious denominations and faith-based organizations have been providing local congregations with resources. They’ve been urging pastors to preach about this in the sermons and providing information for youth groups and for youth leaders how to minister to people, young people, who might be struggling over some of these issues. A coalition of Jewish organizations from the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movement is actually asking Jewish leaders to sign a pledge promising to end bullying, this kind of anti-gay bullying, within the Jewish community. And even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons—they oppose homosexuality—this week they released a statement saying while we are not changing our position we do condemn any kind of bullying based on sexual orientation.

ABERNETHY: And the language involved, that’s being reconsidered, too?

LAWTON: Well, there’s been some interesting soul-searching among those religious groups that do consider homosexuality a sin. But how do they communicate that? How do they come across as they are communicating that? And some evangelical leaders have suggested that perhaps their community has been too harsh in their condemnations, as if homosexuals are in some kind of special depraved category or something like that. The Catholic Church, which considers homosexual behavior a moral disorder—one Catholic priest this week suggested that perhaps it should be considered within the pro-life agenda if these kids are committing suicide. None of these groups are suggesting that their churches change their theological position, and that then leads to this dilemma—how do you communicate dislike for the behavior without condemning the individual, and that’s a difficult dilemma.

ABERNETHY: Kim Lawton. Many thanks.

  • Hugh (Bart) Vincelette

    Forgive me, but I’m going to be very blunt. I’ve witnessed four decades of gay life. I have never been harassed or bullied in school or since, so I have no axe to grind. Most everyone I’ve known as friends, however, have been, including three friends, over the past 25 years who were murdered, in brutal hate crimes that have never been solved. Ironically, one of the worst violent attacks I’m aware of took place outside a restaurant, where a young man was waiting for his girlfriend. He was severely beaten by young thugs who thought he was gay. It is worth noting, that the mother of Matthew Shepard, who was tortured & murdered in Wyoming, some years ago, said afterwards that she didn’t blame the punks who killed her son so much as society for giving them permission to do so.
    There’s no doubt that the aetiology of such barbarism & the damaging of self esteem that leads to suicide is religiously inspired. One doesn’t have to attend any church to pick up on what is being said. Having followed the online articles found on the usual conservative Christian websites, I can guarantee you that none of them stick to anti-gay opposition based solely on verses from the Bible. They use an endless array of lies, slander, defamation & innuendo, & usually it involves statements that were long ago disproved, but they ignore this & carry on defiling people they don’t even know. There’s a term for that. It’s called hatred, pure & simple.
    Many years ago, while living in California, I recall seeing an episode of POV (Point of View), on a PBS station. In the particular program I speak of, they interviewed sex offender inmates at Atascadero. This included quite a number of incarcerated men who had commit serious crimes of violence against homosexual men, & some had actually murdered their victims. Without exception, they cited religious teachings as having motivated their crimes. Some were homosexual themselves, of course, but hated that part of themselves & took it out on others.
    I`m no theologian, but I`ve read numerous articles by those who are respected in the field. They mention the verses from Leviticus, which we`re all aware of. They explain that of all the 76(??) things forbidden by God, all were considered abolished as belonging to some ‘old covenant’, that was replaced with a ‘new one’ with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Except one, & they didn’t really understand why. It was the sections dealing with homosexuals, as you know. What the uninformed do not know, or refuse to accept, is the fact that homosexuality is far more about who one falls in love with, rather than specific sex acts.
    Thank you for your attention, & please forgive the length of this message. There may well be soul searching over the recent suicides, but I’m not optimistic. Too many clergy & denominations have painted themselves into a corner, & fear the loss of credibility should they suddenly display anything resembling understanding or compassion. Just as so many who decades ago participated in the lynchings of blacks & are still around, having gotten away with it; those who have fed into & enabled the negative mindset that damages both body & psyche; are typing online daily.

  • Matthew Gatheringwater

    “A lot of concern in the religious community” about religiously-inspired anti-gay bullying is a pretty vague characterization. Some religious groups, such as Focus on the Family, are expressing their “concern” by actively opposing education programs that deal with anti-gay bullying.

    If you attend a church that preaches that homosexuality is a sin or a disorder, you are promoting hatred and giving permission to violence. If your religion opposes equal rights for sexual minorities–from marriage to adoption to insurance and Social Security–you are promoting hatred and giving permission to violence. If you think you can hate the so-called sin, but love the sinner, you are kidding yourself.

  • Kimberly

    Have you seen the latest post at Faith In Public Life? They’ve highlighted some “It Gets Better” videos from people of faith and invited others to share their own

  • Mark Chancey

    The sermon at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas addressed this topic very directly on Oct. 10: “Bullying and the Theology Behind It.”

    See also the “This I Know” study guide developed by Northaven on Christianity and homosexuality, developed to be used with the award-winning documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So”:

  • Moishgil

    If only they had been straight…….

  • Bob Rushford

    When I attended H.S., a Dominican priest told our sophomore religion class that homosexuality was a weakness and a sin. Being 100% heterosexual, I believed that I could get married some day; but also being an empathetic person, I wondered what homexsexuals could do to satisfy their sex drive.

    That began my lifelong study of the causes of homosexuality, the rest of H.S., while attending college, my stint in the US Army, reading every scientic study on the sturdy of the causes of homosexuality that caught my attention, a lifetime as a musician playing for every internationally significant ballet company in the world, playing for broadway shows etc., associating with gays and meeting their family members etc.

    After a lifetime of study as to its causes, I have come to a definite conclusion…not my opinion, but an overwhelming no-doubt-about-it definite, intellectual conclusion, that is precisely the way they were created.
    For the religious groups, Jesus Christ, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John said not one word one way or the other about homosexuality.

    For the secular people, “In 1973: The board of the American Psychiatric Association voted unanimosly to remove homosexuality from its official list of psychiatric disorders, the DSM-II. The resolution also urges an end to private and public discrimination and repeal of laws discriminating against homosexuals

    With removal of the definition of homosexuality as an illness from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973.” This after many decades of working conscientiously with gays on an individual basis.

    Even though the vast majority of us are straight, a far smaller percentage of people are gay, or in some cases AC-DC, that is just the way the minority of human beings were created to be. I ask those who still consider homosexuality wrong or a sin, did you “choose” to be heterosexual?

    One’s sexual orientation cannot be changed.

  • Mark U

    Thoughtful comments. Personally, my experience has been that people “opposed to homosexuality” simply do not want to have a heart to heart discussion, or even a good thoughtful debate about the matter. Not once have I gotten a response to a question that actually answers the question. Not once has an individual entertained a statement I have made on the matter to counter something said. For example, a common “explanation” for homosexuality I have heard is that it results from “not enough fathering”. Note right here that the matter has just been limited to males (like the suicides). Do straight men derive their sexual longings from “not enough mothering”? Sound silly? The “not enough mothering” quote was said by a respected Jungian analyst, so I was just wondering.

    I certainly have never gotten a clear response to the question “tell me about how you made your decision, or what you went through when you decided to be straight?”

    The fact that more straight people are involved with “homosexual behavior” with the person of their gender preference than are gays (I’m omitting lesbians because I think we are really talking about gay men here) is inconceivable to most of these people. And if you propose the concept of a gay couple living in a loving, committed relationship, they simply go back to the argument from scripture about “it” being a sin. Which, if you really get past the presupposition that scripture is “talking about homosexuals” (it’s not), you see that the condemned behavior is actually destroying the fabric of the community. There’s the sin, and I wish someone in authority in these conservative churches would recognize that their teachings here are destroying the fabric of the community in both church and society.

  • Lee Peterson

    I consider myself to have come through a journey past homosexuality, being drawn to other women, obsessed, and now I am past it. I am past it because I am not vulnerable as I was. I had no one telling me it was a sin. I went to church, nothing was ever said about it. This was in the 60s and 70s. Had a woman tried to engage me in lesbian activity I was vulnerable enough to perhaps try it. But the same would have been true of a man. I was more leery of men and very insecure. I think I was terrified of the idea of either one. I disliked the obsession I had, but I explained it to myself as a longing to myself be more womanly, a jealousy of other girls having developed more. Basically, I would have fallen into the category some have called “born with it,” but I really think I was just not ready to engage in sex, period. I think sexual experimentation comes way too young, and once you have that experience, whether it was pleasant or forced on you, then you become oriented, because you have become “one” with someone. I have a body that is designed to respond to pleasure, and were I blind, it would still respond to certain stimuli. There needs to be, in my opinion, a greater emphasis on waiting to engage in sex! I would have been eaten up with shame, MY OWN. It would never have been possible for me to confide in anyone had I taken that step. That is because of my internal pressure, no one else’s. I think my parents were very tolerant and would have loved me through anything, but I would have disappointed myself so badly, I waited. I am glad I did, because I went on to fall in love with a man. Later. For me, the mental battle was constant until I could accept myself as someone who could be attractive to a man. That was a process, but not the fault of the church, or others. If we as a culture could be more discreet we’d be better off. Whose business is it? Why do others have to know I even engage in sex? It has become so banal that you might as well ask me how I voted. That used to be private, too. The discussion goes downhill because what is meant to be so special, reserved for 2 people alone gets bandied about like politics. Let children (all the way to age 18 or more!) have their childhood innocence, let them not be sexualized, why do they need to think about it? The culture pushes it on them. And it is my guess that first encounters always involve someone older initiating a younger person. If that is true, then truly, shame on you, and I say that with all the love in my heart. Let them alone. Give them the season of growing every person needs without that powerful sexual influence. It will be interesting to see if my honest comments are labeled hate speech.

  • YCJones

    @Lee. Your comments come from a very personal and comprehensive perspective. I appreciate and agree wholeheartedly with them. As a heterosexual woman who was raised in a conservative Christian church, I must agree that there is a good amount of fear and ignorance. Alongside that, I must also argue that all conservative Christians do not hold to be true what many non-conservatives believe us to. Before accusations are made and fault is found with conservative exegesis or interpretation of scripture, it should be understood in its complete context.

  • jess

    hun waiting has nothing to do with what your sexual orientation is. you fell in love with a man because you are probably bi sexual. you have just been taught and told that being gay is so wrong that you faught those feelings towards being attracted to women. I dated men all my life and never was I happy. I tried and tried but never could be physically or emotionally happy with one. and no it is not because I just didn’t find the right person. I am 30 years old. I know I am still young. that is not my point. people are born with it. no you do not pop out gay or straight. but you are who you are. people will stuggle with their sexuality only because what this world has been taught and that is a shame. we have been taught wrong. no where in the bible does it condemn homosexuality. we think it does because it has been misinterpreted. very badly. Leviticus, clearly states that god tells moses to tell “the children of isreal” all through the chapter. it also talks of molech and his fertility goddess. do you know who he is? they use to have cults that used same sex ritutals to worship their false gods. god did not intend to condemn same sex relationships. it was ment to condemn shrine prostitution and pagan worship with molech! it clearly states that all through Leviticus. also Leviticus laws and holy code were thrown out the window after jesus died. and no where in the new testament did jesus say being gay was wrong. also the laws and codes were never ment for Christians or people in this time in day, nor for the people who lived before it was given to moses to tell! people need to be educated on this stuff and to learn how much religion has brainwashed people. religion is not wrong, its the people that have misinterpreted it. or pick and choose rules to follow from the bible. if it were wrong, then why don’t we follow all the other rules. in Leviticus it tells us anyone with a blemish is of sin. lol we can not wear 2 different fabrics at one time. and if my dad goes out hunting and kills a deer we must eat it that day. haha all kinds of craziness hun. it was not ment for us now. it was ment for those ppl back then! I am sorry that you have had to deal with this. but I am happy that I actually can live my life knowing I am not going to hell for it. you obviously need some help. because you have got it all wrong. people do not “overcome” being gay if they truly are. yes they can live miserable lives pretending to be someone that they aren’t, but who wants to live that way? unfortunately people do live that way. and it is very sad that they fear being who they are all because of someone reading the bible the wrong way. nobody influenced me to be attracted to women. I became gay on my own, and I am very happy being this way because that is how god created me. yes I could easily be with a man, but do I want to? no I do not want to. because my heart will not be happy. I will be lieing to myself and him. that would not be fair. lucky for you, you are bisexual and fell in love with a man. so maybe that makes you feel better about yourself because of your religion. you could of easily fell in love with a woman too, but you did not, because obviously gods plan for you was to fall in love with that person. not so much as to fall in love with a man, but him as a person. good luck in life but I really hope that you open your eyes and see things in a new light. for the sake of your children, because there is a chance that they could end up gay. what are you going to do then? deny them, not accept them? let them be victims of bullying and possibly suicide?

  • jess

    lee Peterson, hun, you can’t overcome being gay. haha you are bisexual if you were attracted to both. you have just had it hammered in your head that being gay was so wrong and such a sin that you believe it so you are forced to pretend and tell yourself that you are no longer attracted to women. I myself have researched many things about homosexuality and religion. I have come to find that all the things in the bible have been misinterpreted by the churches and others. in Leviticus, 1 things you need to know that god tells moses pretty much through the whole thing to tell “the children of isreal” also anything in the old testament stopped after jesus was born and died! also the Leviticus laws and holiness code is not intended for Christians to begin with. also it talks of molech. do you know who molech is? he is a fire god. him and his fertility goddess(I forget her name) use to have rituals where people would come there and prostitute same sex acts to worship the fertility goddess. gods intent was not towards loving homosexual relationships!! it was ment to ban people from following molech and performing those rituals! through the whole chapter it will tell you that. instead people follow and listen to what their churches are telling them and aren’t really reading it clearly or taking in which context it was written. times have changed. it is 2014. if we were even really suppose to follow those rules. it even talks about how someone with blemishes, broken foot, hand, hunched back, or a dwarf can not eat the holy food. lol really? it also talks about how it is a sin to wear two different fabrics at one time. why is it that religions pick and choose things out of the bible? it is not wrong to be gay. but this world has been taught and told that for so long many people actually believe it and to them it is out of the norm so they will never see it as being “natural” when in fact it is natural, otherwise we wouldn’t naturally get those homosexual feelings. is being straight a choice? do people choose to be straight? no they do not. just like people do not choose to be gay. if that’s the case, then we are all really bisexual we just choose to be either or, or just both. lol it doesn’t make sense. religion doesn’t make sense. I do believe in god and jesus. do not get me wrong. I just believe that a lot of the things have been taking out of context. people should live and let live. bullying should be stopped! and religion should not be an excuse to bully. if so that also proves my point that most of relgion does nothing but say spreading hate and violence is okay. and its not okay!

  • jess

    yes people need to understand the context of the bible. time and day in which it was written. and know that it was not written in English and many things have been re and misinterpreted. read my other post about Leviticus. very interesting and hopefully will change others minds and open up their eyes and minds.

  • jess

    study what Leviticus really means. I have. for one god tells moses to tell “the children of isreal” so these rules only applied to people of isreal in that time and day. also it talks of molech all through Leviticus. man who lieth with mankind as with woman, is not talking about “homosexual relationship” it is talking about how ppl use to follow molech and worship his fertility goddess. they use to perform prostitution same sex acts to worship these false gods. it talks about sacrificing children and all kinds of other stuff. that is where it has been misinterpreted. it doesn’t just talk about molech in only Leviticus either.