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Gazette Premium Content Christian right decries bullying, but sticks to anti-gay message

MARK BARNA Updated: October 8, 2010 at 12:00 am

Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from a bridge after his college roommate allegedly videotaped the 18-year-old in a sexual encounter with another man, then put the video online.

Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell dedicated a blog to lambasting Chris Armstrong, the gay president of the University of Michigan’s Student Assembly, saying in one post that Armstrong wants to “promote the radical homosexual agenda.”

The cyberbullying of Armstrong and Clementi’s death have spurred a national debate on the bullying many gays face, and whether Christian conservative ministries like Focus on the Family, Liberty Counsel and  the Family Research Council are partially to blame because of their anti-gay rhetoric.

Focus doesn’t “want to stop bullying against gays and lesbians, because that would mean that they can no longer use shame and violence to keep gays and lesbians in their place,” wrote Candace Chellew-Hodge, author of “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians,” in a September essay for the online site Religion Dispatches.

But the ministries say they are against bullying, including that directed at gays. Moreover, there are many anti-bullying programs they support. They do, however, object to advocacy groups bringing, in their view, pro-gay lessons into schools under the guise of anti-bullying programs.

This is dangerous, the ministries claim, because it can encourage children and teens to experiment with homosexuality.

“We’re seeing more and more advocacy (groups) targeting kids — at younger and younger ages — with materials to promote homosexuality,” said Candi Cushman, education analyst for CitizenLink, Focus’ lobbying arm. “Children may then be pushed into prematurely embracing a sexual identity they may not be ready to handle.”

Christian right ministries follow the biblical view that homosexuality is a sin. Some of the ministries like Focus, Exodus International and Family Research Council maintain that homosexuality can be treated because it’s primarily a developmental condition.

Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., said the rash September suicides by gays might be linked to the students believing they were born gay. “That creates hopelessness,” he said. “It is more loving and compassionate to say you don’t have to be gay for the rest of your lives.”

Though most peer-reviewed psychological and scientific studies conclude that the majority of gays are born that way, and that trying to change them can be emotionally harmful, the ministries contend that gays potentially can be cured of their same-sex attraction.

But this week, Exodus announced a change in its approach, if not its stance, on homosexuality. The Orlando, Fla., ministry coalition, which puts on seminars contending gays can become straight, will no longer sponsor the Day of Truth, an annual event in April in which evangelical school students rebuke homosexuality.

“All the recent attention to bullying helped us realize that we need to equip kids to live out biblical tolerance and grace while treating their neighbors as they’d like to be treated, whether they agree with them or not,” Exodus president Alan Chambers told CNN.

Two organizations the Christian right has waged war against are the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, and Mason Crest Publishing, a Pennsylvania-based secular publisher of school pamphlets and books on social issues.

GLSEN, which has 40 chapters in the United States, trains school teachers how to counter gay bullying. It also lobbies for gay rights, and is pushing Congress to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which addresses bullying.

Focus and the Family Research Council say GLSEN’s training of teachers is a gay agenda to infiltrate schools, and that the Safe Schools Act is too focused on the bullying of gays while ignoring other bullied groups. The ministries are also against Mason Crest Publishing’s 15-book series called “The Gallup’s Modern Guide to Gay, Lesbian & Transgender Life.” The series presents the “gay lifestyle in a positive tone and as an accepted way of life,” according to a Mason Crest news release, and is targeted at people ages 12 and up.

Mason Crest publisher Louis Cohen said the series has no agenda other than “to push tolerance and respect for people in general.”

These groups confront gay issues head-on in hopes of creating understanding. But other anti-bullying organizations have a different approach.

Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in Clemson, S.C., has placed anti-bullying programs in more than 6,000 United States schools and claims to cut bullying in half.

Olweus teaches respect for the beliefs and feelings of others. As for combatting gay bullying, no one is asked to change their moral view on homosexuality, and specifics of homosexuality aren’t discussed, as they are in GLSEN programs and in the Mason Crest book series. “We promote the Golden Rule,” said Marlene Snyder, director of development at the secular organization.

Olweus and similar anti-bullying programs, such as Rachel’s Challenge and that within the Alliance Defense Fund, resonate with conservative Christian groups because they strike a balance between combatting bullying and remaining neutral on the moral issue of homosexuality.

“I really think it is important to have an objective prohibition against bullying of any child,” Cushman said.

To read more on interviews on gay bullying, go to Barna’s blog, The Pulpit, at www.thepulpit.freedomblogging.com.

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