On April 17, 2008 thousands of high school and college students will attempt to remain silent during parts of the school day to bring awareness to bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian and bisexually identified students. In its 12th year, this student-run event, called the Day of Silence, is supported by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Some social conservative groups have advised parents either to keep their children home or have them walk out if the Day of Silence is being observed. The groups advocating the boycott are concerned that the Day of Silence promotes homosexual behavior. However, to me, the strategy seems off the mark.
I know that many evangelicals feel conflict about an event like the Day of Silence. Despite moral misgivings about homosexuality, they loathe judgmental disrespect, harassment or violence toward any one, including their gay friends and neighbors. So even though there is dissonance, I think there is something wrong with not showing up.
Are we missing a teachable moment?
What if evangelical kids and college students led the way to make schools safe for all students? Where could we start? How about on the Day of Silence?
Without altering convictions about sexuality, I propose that evangelicals should have something more to contribute than a protest toward the elimination of hostility and aggression against gay people and other people who are viewed as different. Indeed, we should be leading the way to make schools safe and build bridges to those who often equate “Christian” with condemnation.
To pursue those bridges, Michael Frey, Western PA Director for College Ministries with Campus Crusade and I are promoting an alternative. We encourage Christian kids to demonstrate the grace of Christ by pledging to follow the Golden Rule in their interactions with all students. Last year, students in over 30 high schools and colleges participated by agreeing with GLBT peers to respect each other as Image bearers of God. Students distributed pledges to honor the teaching of Christ to love as He loved and to treat others as we want to be treated.
In the process, some bridges were built. For instance, a Christian group at Slippery Rock University entered a dialogue with a gay support group on campus and helped lead a call for respectful treatment of all students on campus. Randy Veccia, student leader, said the efforts of both groups served “to raise awareness that everyone deserves to be loved.” Christian students in high schools in Greensboro, NC reached out with Good News in unprecedented ways. On the campus of Appalachian State University, Christian students took part in anti-harassment activities alongside students from the GLB support groups on campus.
Rev. Bob Stith, Gender Issues Strategist for the Southern Baptist convention had this to say about the Golden Rule Pledge:
Several years ago I stood outside a church which was being picketed by two very vocal and rabid “Christian” groups. Also standing on the sidewalk were some young lesbians doing their own picketing. The first group became more and more vocal in their opposition and insults. They began telling the young women how despicable they were and how God despised them.
At that point I walked over and told the girls, “I am a Christian and I do believe the Bible says homosexual behavior is sin. But I want you to know what these people are saying is wrong. I want to apologize to you and tell God does love you very much. Don’t ever let anyone convince you He doesn’t.”
I have long thought Christians were missing a great opportunity by not being more vocal in helping to make our schools safe places for all kids. It doesn’t require that we compromise our beliefs. Indeed it can give us a great opportunity that we might not otherwise have.
What a wonderful opportunity to express our convictions in a way that is positive, loving and redemptive. What a wonderful opportunity to train our children to care about all people, to model the example of Jesus and the woman at the well.
Who knows but what this could even be the beginning of a movement that will turn the tide of school shootings and violence in the hallways?
I hope you are correct, Bob.
In most schools this year, the Day of Silence is slated for April 17. Students and leaders can learn more about the Golden Rule Pledge by going to the Golden Rule Pledge website: www.goldenrulepledge.com or contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.