How should Christians respond to April 20’s Day of Silence, a student-led national event that brings attention to the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in schools?
It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse. In my reading of Scripture and leaning on Christian tradition, particularly the Heidelberg Catechism, the “No” does not turn to “Yes” when certain subgroups of our community are named. On this year’s Day of Silence, Christians should also say “NO” to bullying that teens suffer because of their sexual orientation.
My reflections on this topic usually begin with the Heidelberg Catechism’s discussion of the sixth commandment: Do not murder. Structured as a series of questions and answers, the Catechism addresses God’s command in this way:
Question: What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?
Answer: I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor - not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture and certainly not by actual deeds - and I am not to be party to this in others.
Our neighbor is not just the people like us whom we like. She or he is the one we come across in the course of our daily activities. This certainly includes the ones we pass in the hallways of our schools and pass on the sidewalks and buses on the way to school. And the behaviors that the catechism finds offensive include the daily schoolyard practice of belittling, the common practice of offense gestures, the ordinary practice of demeaning texting that creates a culture threatening for gay and lesbian teens.
It even includes thoughts. If there is any way our thoughts say “you are not my neighbor” or say “you are not worth my kindness or my time,” the catechism would say you are guilty of breaking the law of God.
I find it interesting that it adds, “I am not to be party to this in others.” Being a silent bystander is unacceptable. This is good news from our tradition and church to those who are often victims of bullying and abuse. Every church, school and parent can powerfully encourage teens to become a vocal neighbor when they see a person being bullied. It is simply a matter of being a good neighbor.
But the Catechism goes a step further:
Q. Is it enough then that we do not murder our neighbor in any such way?
A. No. By condemning envy, hatred and anger, God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can and to do good even to our enemies.
The call is not just for friendliness, but for protecting our neighbors as much as we can. This is not about vigilantism - going after those we fear. This is about making our schools and neighborhoods safe places for all. This is not making it a safe place for some who are like us, but for all - including our gay and lesbian teenagers.
It is sad that the church has not always been a safe place for our neighbors. It is sad that members of the church have been known to treat our gay and lesbian neighbors with disdain and ridicule. Indeed, we ought to seek God’s forgiveness for such sins, perhaps even in the form of a school assembly.
Maybe this year, on the Day of Silence, we can listen to our Christian heritage and find the strength and commitment to resist the bullying that undermines the good news we want to share. And maybe instead of being a silent bystander we can become listening neighbors who seek our neighbor’s good.
What Do You Think?
- Is the Day of Silence common ground where Christians and the LGBT community should be working together?
- Do you agree with the Heidelberg Catechism’s reading of the sixth commandment?
- What sort of bullying because of sexual orientation have you witnessed/experienced? What would have been a proper Christian response?