In his September 23, 2010, Savage Love column, Dan Savage wrote about 15-year-old Billy Lucas, an Indiana teen who committed suicide after persistent bullying and harassment by his classmates for being gay. Savage wrote: “I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”
So Savage started the “It Gets Better Project” on YouTube, in which LGBT adults are encouraged to submit videos of themselves talking to LGBT teenagers who suffer abuse similar to Billy Lucas’s. And several other teens who ended up committing suicide recently, as it turns out, including Cody Barker, age 17, of Shiocton, Wisconsin; Asher Brown, age 13, of Houston, Texas; Seth Walsh, age 13, of Tehachapi, California; Tyler Clementi, age 18, the Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge; Raymond Chase, age 19, a student in Providence, Rhode Island; and Justin Aaberg, age 15, of Anoka, Minnesota.
Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it has a theological base. I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti-gay violence and bullying exist without the anti-gay religious messages that support them.
These messages come in many forms, degrees of virulence, and volumes of expression. The most insidious forms, however, are not those from groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Most people quickly dismiss this fanaticism as the red-faced ranting of a fringe religious leader and his small band of followers.
More difficult to address are the myriad ways in which everyday churches that do a lot of good in the world also perpetuate theologies that undergird and legitimate instrumental violence. The simplistic, black and white lines that are drawn between conceptions of good and evil make it all-too-easy to apply these dualisms to groups of people. When theologies leave no room for ambiguity, mystery, and uncertainty, it becomes very easy to identify an “us” (good, heterosexual) versus a “them” (evil, gay).
I don’t think it’s religion bashing to suggest that Rev. Sanders, an ordained Baptist minister, BTW, is making a valid point here. Indeed, I always fight off the urge of some to paint religion, and especially Christianity, with the broad brush of intolerance, just because there are intolerant (and generally LOUD) Christians who are better at attracting media attention. *** Make It Better Project on Facebook, and the website.