The Words We Use.

My blog about Louie Giglio last week was mostly inspired from reading other responses to the situation from a variety of perspectives. Some of what I found was thoughtful, some was depressing. What troubled me most was some of the word choices that conservative evangelicals seems to use in all their entries. The words we use are important. They are how we communicate and connect with others. James talk about how important the tongue is of course and regrettably some evangelicals are using words that are unhelpful, inaccurate, and deeply hurtful. I offer three examples.

Agenda- Many evangelicals love to bemoan the fact of a “Homosexual agenda” that seeks to undermine Christianity. Giglio himself falls into this in his statement declining the invitation when he states, “…it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.” The implication is that the LGBT “agenda” is somehow “less-than.” The reality is LGBT people and advocates view their work as more promoting themselves as opposed to being “against” anything. Some LGBT people are faithful and genuine Christians. Of course where is the most fervent opposition to anything seen as “pro-gay” coming from? You guessed it, Christians. If you want to keep calling LGBT people’s calls for equal rights and recognition an “agenda” you can but evangelicals should at least be honest about the agenda that various conservative evangelicals leaders, groups and churches are leading themselves. Of course lamenting a gay “agenda” leads invariably to calls of…

Persecution- Many blogs are highlighting about how this incident is undeniable persecution of Giglio and his right to free speech in the public square. This is inaccurate on multiple levels. A website found an old sermon of his that they found repugnant and called him out on it. Rather than hold firm, renounce the sermon or defend his beliefs he offered a simple statement and backed out. If he had been arrested maybe persecution would be accurate. The ironic fact of the matter is that Giglio is benefiting immensely more from NOT speaking out than if he did. He is now able to go back to his pastoral duties and his ministry work. As I noted in my last entry, If he had renounced his sermon he would have likely lost all his leadership positions he currently holds. The persecution would come solely from his fellow Christians. Giglio is still allowed to work at and preach about whatever he likes. The fact that more people in the public square vehemently disagree with some of his beliefs is not persecution, it’s America.

Bullying– This is perhaps the most shocking word I have seen used but evangelicals have even used it in the titles of their blogs about Giglio. Just as many liberals know little about evangelical subculture, the use of this word to describe this situation shows how painfully unaware most evangelicals are to the experiences of LGBT people. LGBT young people more often report feeling unsafe in school and skipping school than almost any other group. Suicide rates among LGBT youth are tragically high. In the last few years, an “It gets better” campaign has started online where famous people tell young people that if they can survive school things will be better when they reach adulthood. To compare what Giglio has experienced to the torment many LGBT kids face on a daily basis is not only ludicrous it is unimaginably hurtful to LGBT youth and those who are seeking to make their lives better. Giglio was confronted on his beliefs, he was not bullied. He will continue leading an amazingly blessed life while too many LGBT kids see no alternative to their suffering.

If we want to have a conversation about the religious, political and social implications of the Giglio event, I support that.  I think we can have a serious conversation about the balance between religious liberty and individual freedoms in this country. But as long as the evangelical establishment (my personal faith) continues to demonize, undermine, and ignore the very real concerns of LGBT people and their advocates I see few positives occurring.

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Some Thoughts on Bullying…

Bullying has been all over the news recently. The main cause has been a rash of suicides by teenagers who were bullied for being gay or being perceived as gay. It’s been troubling reading all these stories. On one hand I connect personally with a lot of the articles. I grew up unpopular, not for being gay but just different. On the other hand I never experienced extreme feelings of depression or suicide. I’ve never had any desire to harm myself.  In addition I read about some of the physical abuse these kids take, some on a daily basis , and it really is shocking. I got in my share of fights and dealt with lots of verbal abuse but I never went to school scared of a certain group of kids.

The response to all this media attention has been a glut of anti-bullying laws across the country. This is great. Here I want to offer what I think is one major cause and enabler of bullying. Hopefully by verbalizing it adults, teachers, coaches and other leaders will be more aware about seeing and dealing with bullying in their communities.

For many teachers and leaders in my life growing up I was just a big question mark. I wasn’t fat or stupid. I didn’t look different. I talked a bit differently but not in a significant way. I was good at sports. And yet for the most part, outside of Christian events, I was almost invariably on the outside looking in. I remember hearing a teacher discuss to another in 8th grade that, “the kids just don’t seem to like him.” The overwhelming sense I got from leaders in my life was of resignation and indifference. This indifference is where bullying has the potential to grow into the tragedies we have been seeing. In almost every case I read there is some point where for once an adult actually sees the bullying taking place, yet instead of helping the victim or punishing the perpetrators, nothing is done. “The boy needs to toughen up.” “Some kids just don’t fit in.” This is often the breaking point for many kids. They come to believe adults won’t help them and so they retract and internalize until they can no longer take it.

I thankfully never had a severe breaking point. Church, sports, and family gave me more than enough respite from my crappy social life. I’ m also not asking adults to become our overprotective nannies, watching over us 24 hours a day. All I’m saying is if you see bullying or some other form of abuse, stop it. Don’t ignore it or shrug it away. Step in and use it as a teachable moment for both parties. If more adults in our communities do this I think bullying and the tragedies resulting from it will invariably go down. Stopping bullies wouldn’t have made me cool or popular but it would have made my day-to-day life that much better and given me a healthier psyche growing up.  Some kids today need that, a lot more than even I did.