Sarah and the Bullies

LGBTQ Brick Wall

It started with a Facebook post – what I thought was a slightly clever offhand bit.

LGBTQ Brick Wall“I received an e-mail from a church friend today, telling me to sign a petition asking Disney not to show a new sitcom by Dan Savage. Which is great because it reminded me to recommend Dan Savage’s podcast.”

One of the overnight replies said, “Savage is the consummate bully.”

Let’s back up. From Wikipedia:

Dan Savage “is an American gay activist, author, media pundit, and journalist. Savage writes the internationally syndicated relationship and sex advice column Savage Love. In 2010, Savage and his husband Terry Miller began the It Gets Better Project to help prevent suicide among LGBT youth. He has also worked as a theater director, sometimes credited as Keenan Hollahan.

“In his writing and public appearances, Savage has clashed with social conservatives on the right and the LGBT establishment on the left. He has been particularly vocal in response to Rick Santorum’s views on homosexuality. He has made several controversial public statements in various media, often lambasting people with whom he disagrees.”

I don’t consider Savage a bully, let alone a perfect one. But it says something about where we are as a society that a gay activist who was only recently allowed to be legally married in the U.S. is now considered “a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.” (Google dictionary.) This was my first reply, in what became an ongoing conversation:

“I’ll grant that Savage has some rough edges, mostly his indiscriminate potty mouth, but I’ve never thought of him as a bully. I think of bullies as those who press an advantage out of cruelty – like Monsanto suing farmers when the wind blows patented seed onto adjacent fields. Or the preacher who said all homosexuals will go to hell, along with those who vote for politicians who support same sex marriage.”

Allow me to elaborate on that preacher. I’m a cantor at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, for the weekly 5:00 “Last Chance” Mass on Sunday afternoons. This is a regional service, attracting people from all over the greater Utica area. Different priests rotate as presiders, which provides (to me) an interesting cross section of liturgical/theological approach. Shortly after New York State legalized same sex marriage, we hosted a missionary priest at the 5:00 Mass. He used the opportunity to give a (quite graphic) 30-minute barn-burning sermon about the evils of homosexuality. He said that anybody who supports homosexuals, or votes for any politician who supports same-sex marriage, was bound for hell. (There followed a likewise graphic description of hell; it was essentially religious porn and I’ll bet that nasty little priest sported a raging erection under his robe the entire time.) During the sermon, my wife stood up, walked to the front where Sarah was sitting behind the priest (she was an altar server), and led our daughter out of the church. Perhaps ten other people joined them. Of course, another ten people gave the homilist a standing ovation when he finished.

In retrospect, I should have turned off his microphone. I was polite, civil, as I’d been taught. I wasn’t a bully. Don’t make a scene – let’s talk about this like adults. But Susan and Sarah haven’t been back to church. For them, there’s nothing left worth talking about at the Catholic church. (Or the Baptist church, the Evangelical church, the Presbyterian church – the lyrics change but the song remains the same.) I can’t blame them. An old Sunday school saw is that a tree should be judged by its fruit. They’ve seen a LOT of rotten fruit in the Christian church.

Back to the Facebook thread. Later that day, Sarah weighed in. She’s 15 now. What surprised me is that I’ve never seen more than a single sentence on Facebook from Sarah, let alone a paragraph, let alone a reasoned argument directed at an articulate adult.

In part: “…The term bully is not solely reserved for those who speak against Christianity… [Y]ou said that Dan Savage has used ‘his platform to belittle and humiliate Christians,’ but have Christians not used theirs to belittle LGBTQ people? You asked earlier ‘how should one counsel a young person who finds himself or herself attracted both to Christianity and to same-sex relationships?’ Why does one need counseling if there is nothing wrong with them? You also said that Dan Savage is ‘out to defend his tribe, his people, the ones he views as needing protection.’ If you are talking about LGBTQ people, the fact is they do need protection, especially the youth, from people who belittle them. According to the Trevor Project, homosexual and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and each time they are victimized their likelihood of self-harming increases, on average, by 2.5 times. Being told that they need counseling for how they were born is a form of belittling and victimizing and it is not acceptable.”

That’s a mouthful for Sarah. (It’s also better writing than you’ll find on 95% of all social media.) My first reaction was pride, my second (internal) thought was that she’d jumped the argument a bit. I knew that the original commenter hadn’t used “counseling” to suggest that all LGBTQ people need counseling. For my part, I agonize over what I write, checking, double-checking, then checking again to make sure I’m responding to the issue at hand, that my statements are logical and defensible. But I didn’t say anything, reasoning that I didn’t want to defeat Sarah’s enthusiasm with technicalities.

Then a strange thing happened. It churned in my brain overnight, and when I woke up this morning I realized Sarah had been right. The comment “how should one counsel a young person who finds himself or herself attracted both to Christianity and to same-sex relationships” can certainly be defended (and it was) as not suggesting that all LGBTQ people need counseling. But it DOES suggest that counseling is required if LGBTQ people are attracted to Christianity; surely a heterosexual person attracted to Christianity wouldn’t need any counseling.

Sarah did something else that was interesting. She jumped two steps ahead to a topic that hadn’t been brought up, but which is arguably far more important than anything we had been talking about. To boot, it suggested why Dan Savage might feel strongly enough about the subject to risk being labeled a bully because of his advocacy. Sarah wrote, “the fact is [LGBTQ people] do need protection… According to the Trevor Project, homosexual and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and each time they are victimized their likelihood of self-harming increases, on average, by 2.5 times.” There I was, concerned Sarah wasn’t being polite or strictly logical – and she’d gotten to the heart of the matter without waiting to be invited.

On a recent Dan Savage podcast, retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson advised one caller to prohibit her ten year-old stepson from attending church with his grandparents, because that church regularly preached against homosexuality. The ten year-old’s older brother had identified as gay, and the younger brother insisted he was going to hell and should repent. Robinson suggested church was not helping the ten year-old, and might even be planting seeds of self-loathing that would eventually bear rotten fruit. Sarah knows firsthand the evil seeds that churches plant; Dan Savage knows those seeds blossom in religious leaders and politicians who seek to enforce their interpretation of God’s Law on their constituents.

The heart of the matter really does turn out to be life and death. The statistics cited by Sarah are correct (and almost certainly understate the crisis.) While my Facebook interlocutor and others of his mindset polish their halos and conduct their lives in ways their faith suggests God likes, young people are dying. They are committing suicide because they loathe themselves, because they have been convinced they have no place in society. I have seen nothing that suggests young Christians are killing themselves because of anything Dan Savage says. But young LGBTQ people are certainly DYING because of the rhetoric of Christian apologists. YOUNG PEOPLE ARE COMMITTING SUICIDE BECAUSE OF CHRISTIANS. Christians who whine because Dan Savage calls them on it. Impolitely. Well, now my 15 year-old is calling them on it, too.

My first cowardly reaction was “let’s all just get along.” What a pathetic, unmanly, inhumane response. Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Billy Graham, Pope Francis, Jerry Falwell, et al. You are/were all part of the problem. So am I. So is every Christian who says “I don’t make the rules.” Of course you do. We can’t even agree on what public figures said and meant fifty years ago, let alone two thousand years. Your FAITH is what enshrines the Bible as gay-hating. You need to own that. You need to atone for it. Maybe counseling would help – I know a good 15 year-old.