A few months ago I went on record criticizing the “It Gets Better” campaign that has gone viral with an anti-bullying message for LGBT teens. My criticism was over the use of “Woody,” the fictional star from the box office smash Toy Story trilogy. I reacted because I hate when iconic children’s heroes are used to further what I perceive to be adult causes. With further reflection and thought, though, I have to admit that I was wrong to question their marketing strategy without expressing my full support for what is the heart of their campaign – encouraging LGBT teens to choose life.
I know I am going to get a barrage of emails, calls and letters about this from those who think that I am caving to pressure. Truth be told I am pressured daily by both pro-gay and pro-Church groups (and everyone in between). I don’t listen to all of the “advice” or “criticism” that is offered, but I do review most it. And, I pray about it. It keeps me up at night as I weigh the impact my opinions and words have on others globally. I don’t want to ever be guilty of towing a “party” line, whether that party is political, social or religious, just because that’s what’s expected or because it garners a donation. I want to live out my biblical beliefs in a way that draws people to Christ. When it comes to kids killing themselves, I can’t justify criticizing a campaign that, at its deepest core, is most about saving the lives of LGBT kids. I care MORE about a kid choosing life than whether or not he or she embraces a gay identity. Life comes first. Living out our biblical convictions means fighting for the lives of young people at all cost. Can any of us actually say we’d rather our teens, neighbors, friends or complete strangers kill themselves than be gay? I certainly can’t. Regardless of where someone falls on the debate over sexuality, I hope we can all agree to move the issue of bullying and suicide, especially where kids are concerned, to a non-polarized, non-politicized and non-divisive issue.
I was a bullied kid. Many of you reading this were, as well. I have often said, sticks and stones will break your bones but names will kill you. Bullying was my reality from 6th to 9th grades. It was humiliating, stressful, unfair and sheer torture, at times. I remember sitting in an abuse recovery group sponsored by Exodus when I was 19 and telling the other attendees that if I were them I wouldn’t sit next to me. I hated who I was and I think that was in large part due to my perception that everyone else hated me. Bullying doesn’t always physically kill, but it does almost always emotionally kill. I wouldn’t go back to those days of being a defenseless kid for anything.
Kids are often insecure which can result in mean behavior when they look for those with lower social standing to pick on—it’s survival of the fittest. I get it. And while I do think we need to be very careful in determining the appropriate punishment for bullies, we certainly need to help children understand the possible grave consequences of their actions and help them reform. And, we definitely need to protect kids that are being bullied. It shouldn’t matter whether someone is gay, lesbian, straight, fat, skinny, transgendered, Muslim, Jewish, atheist or Christian. If they need to be protected, then those with the ability to protect should protect. As for those who claim the name of Christ, we should be the first to defend and protect kids who are being bullied. And, I hope that LGBT groups would do the same for a kid that might be getting bullied for their religious beliefs. Kindness begets kindness.
By the way, for kids being bullied, it does get better. No matter what you decide to do in life, don’t allow others to cause you to question whether life is worth living. The truth is that God gave us the freedom to choose the life that we want to live and death is the end of that choice. What I discovered as an older teenager was that those few years when I was bullied didn’t accurately reflect who I was. The names that were hurled at me were careless and ones that God would never say. We serve a great God who created us for more than we often settle for, but He never belittles us for the decisions we make, even if those decisions don’t line up with His best for us.
It is my desire that Exodus and the diverse group of ministries that make up this worldwide movement will lead the Church in standing up for the health, wellbeing and happiness of all kids. Life is a precious gift from God and I believe when it comes to the wildly popular question of WWJD, He’d stand up for kids no matter what. So will I.