The fact that both boys were seven-years-old sent chills down my spine. As the friend proceeded telling me about the bullying incident, my heart ached for each of these kids who were part of a larger cultural struggle in this country that just isn't going away any time soon.
The one boy said to his classmate, "You're gay."
The boy being made fun of by his friend went home and recounted the occurrence to his family. Fortunately, the family was able to process with him what that meant in an age-appropriate fashion for a child of seven years. A door was left open for dialogue where the child felt neither maligned, shameful, or confused.
Yet, this is how far our culture has sunk. Children mock each other for being gay, fat, ugly, different, poor, or of a different religious persuasion and in most instances not even knowing what it really means.
That's why I was particularly astonished today when I learned over lunch with friends that the State of Michigan passed an anti-bullying law called Matt's Safe School Law that allows for bullying if a student's actions or words come from "a sincerely held belief or moral conviction."
What this means that if being homosexual is against a family's moral or religious conviction, the student could plausibly call another "fag" or "dyke" and have a defense.
By the same logic, a child could also call an obese child "fatty" and use the Bible as a defense because it speaks against gluttony.
Or if the child is from a Christian persuasion, he or she could mock Muslims, Jews, or other "sinners" because his or her view of religion says they are all going to hell. (Logically, only worthless people go to hell, right?)
Let me be clear. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. This is not about being gay or straight. This is not about being saved or secular.
This is an issue of respect and honor. We honor each other because in this country we affirm that all people are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. We honor each other because as people of faith we recognize the image of God each other.
I believe that it is time for people of faith to say "no" to bullying. As long as religious and cultural institutions remain silent on this issue, they become part of furthering this oppression in our society and not part of the solution. As long as they remain silent, children will continue to take their lives because churches, synagogues, and schools are not safe havens, they are places of shame, fear, and silence.
I have observed that some people of faith are afraid to speak out against bullying because they will have to affirm the humanity and goodness of all people, regardless of religion, creed, gender, race, or sexual orientation. When you are locked in a culture that views everything as "us" and "them", that can be a daunting task; first, because we've never gone this way before and second, because we fear how our friends and family may respond.
So it takes courage to speak out. While it's easy to say what we really feel in private, it's a whole other thing to do it publicly in one's community. That's because the fear-mongers of religion and culture still hold too much sway. We need to let them know there time is done and create a new atmosphere in our churches, synagogues, schools, universities, and communities--an atmosphere of respect, openness, respectful dialogue, and civil discourse.
I am grateful the family of the seven-year-old was able to speak to his family about what happened. That's a step in the right direction. Here's hoping we can all continue the conversation, without fear of shame, retribution, or being bullied into silence ourselves.