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I recently heard a minister say that America isn’t a Christian nation anymore. We conservatives like the idea of a Christian nation—I know I do. I’m thankful that I don’t live in 1940’s USSR or 1970’s China, but as it applies to eternity location doesn’t matter. Because our citizenship is in heaven, Paul said for us to be content whatever our situation might be: whether we’re in America on a Sunday morning or in the salt mines of Russia.

This minister—Scott Lively—has stated that Uganda is a Christian nation because they are taking a stand against homosexuality. Apparently this must be Mr. Lively’s litmus test for what constitutes a Christian nation. In watching the documentary Missionaries of Hate, I heard a Ugandan pastor preach about gay sex practices—extreme information that would be similar to a minister preaching that all heterosexual couples use whips and chains—yep, that extreme. However, sex details of any kind are inappropriate to be included in a sermon. As he spoke the congregation was ‘in a lather’ against the gay community. A message of this kind only sows seeds of hate and fear.

What would Jesus do—in Uganda, for instance? The only lifestyle Jesus challenged was those people who believed that they were holier than others. Jesus looked at all men and women as being precious to God, and wanted us to give unconditional love to our neighbors. Read Matthew 22:36-39: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Right now in Uganda there’s a critical piece of legislation that we conservatives need to say a hearty “no” to its passage. This bill seeks to imprison or execute homosexuals; it’s morally wrong and totally un-Jesus. As Christians we need to actively oppose this legislation. Why? Let me offer a few reasons…

  • First, it’s wrong to target the gay and lesbian community—or any community. An example we can surely remember is how several school shooters targeted the football players. In the end only God knows what’s in a man’s heart, and our command is to love.
  • Secondly, this legislation is fertile ground for a ‘witch hunt’ if someone wanted to get even with another person; or if someone assumed the ‘guilt’ of another simply because of that person’s manner of speech, dress or associations.
  • Finally, if it starts in Uganda, where will it end and what other groups will be targeted as part of ‘cleansing’ the nation? Germany is a good example of this type of cleansing.

I think Martin Luther King stated it quite well in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: …I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Please speak out for those who need your voice. Consider the words of Martin Niemoller:

“THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

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I’ve been reading some books lately that are along the same subject: what does the world think of us? Us being conservative Christians…or simply Christians. In my humble opinion I think many Christians take liberty in the verse that says “the world will hate you because it hated me first” (loosely translated from John 15:18). Being a jerk doesn’t qualify for ‘being hated’ in the manner Jesus was talking about.

The first person I think of regarding a misuse of this verse is Fred Phelps. He isn’t liked because exhibits no Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23). But where are we creating a problem that interferes with people coming to Jesus?

One area I believe is when we mix politics and Jesus. Jesus was about sacrifice and grace (unconditional love) that draws people. Now let me just jump right in and be more specific with a current event…when we’re out in force saying rude and unkind things about our President, then non-Christian say “oh yes, they’re political, therefore Christians are…” So when violent calls are made to political foes, people see Christianity as being a violent political religion. Jesus tells us to be content no matter what the circumstances. Therefore when I can’t get into a doctor for six months–I will have to rely on Him to help me through. Total trust in Jesus, now isn’t that a novel concept? I wish it was 1960 again but it isn’t and I know that Jesus will keep me even in the darkest hour of need.

Try reading Lord, Save Us From Your Followers! by Dan Merchant (or just get the video!) or unChristian by David Kinnaman (this is back by research done by the Barna group, a recognized church research organization.

For the last ten years I’ve been trying to see things from a different perspective than Southern United States, conservative Christian doctrine. I started by reading the Bible for myself and not through the eyes of “pick and choose” and “this is what my seminary taught”. Then I got very basic when I started seeing real life situations bleeding before my very eyes. Case 1: Pillar of the church family in Big Southern Town, USA where the family helped to start the church, Dad was head of the ruling board of that body. Mom was director of the children’s ministry. Only son came out as gay and the church “didn’t need them anymore.” Case 2: Wife is abused, but church members secretly gossip about what she did to ‘make him do it’ and will there be a divorce. Case 3: Gay father wants custody of teenage son. Mom and stepdad are abusing him. I was helping the father, and when I asked for prayer, a church friend said “well, I don’t think that is a good idea.” The boy was being routinely beaten and more. The judge in the case refused to listen to the boy or the father because the father was gay. The judge got his position because of family values and being a Christian. However, his honest desire to serve families was marred by idiotic teaching that a gay father cannot love his son and protect him as much as a heterosexual parent.

Not that all issues are gay-straight, but gay is the issue of the last two or three decades that divides the church. Before that it was Women’s Rights and before that it was the race issue…were we going to let “colored people” go to church with us? Ugh!!!! I moved to Alabama in 1964 and I can tell you it wasn’t pretty. We lived in a place that was ruled by the KKK. Sunday morning pew warmers (I will not call them Christ Followers even though they identified themselves as Christian) who had hate in their hearts for African Americans.

Therefore, use this Holy Week of the Christian faith to look at your life and how others see it. Choose to change to a course of being a Christ Follower…Red Letter Christian (i.e. do what Jesus said in the red letters) and forget all the other. Be His example!

I wanted to add this little bit of personal information. I’m part of that group of 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys who are molested. There were no books in those days to help ease the pain, since it happened when I was a youth and now I’m 55. I was the victim of countless nightmares and would come almost nightly until I told the secret. My violater never was punished and I never got a financial reward. As well, when I reported it I was told “if we do something then it will upset so many people.”

About 15 years after it happened I visited my doctor who was also a church fellow. I explained that for each of the last 15 years the season when I was molested was black and I felt lifeless, depressed and dead for a span of three months. He did pray for me and then he told me this: You have no choice but to forgive. Whether you ‘feel it’ or not, you have to start speaking it out forgiveness.

I can remember leaving his office and looking into the clouds saying: I forgive you (I saw looking up there to tell God I forgave the perp). Just a little note here: there were no registered sex offenders back then. There was no group to sit around and discuss it, and no going back to get my day in court. It was simply God and me.

Realize now I had already been praying for at least five years about getting emotional healing from this, and it would take another seven more years….actually the Sunday before I got married…when our church had a time when people were asking forgiveness of things in their heart. I later fictionalized and wrote that service into my book And You Invited Me In.

It seemed that everyone was confessing hurt and pain and asking forgiveness during that extra long Sunday morning service. If you come from a tradition of three hymns, prayer and a 20-minute sermon, then this spontaneous service might seem a bit odd. Yet in a flash that can only be God, I knew my hurt and pain was gone, and I had truly forgiven the person who had violated me.

For over 20 years I had lived in deep emotional pain and suffering—not only from the abuse, but the lack of help from those who couldn’t help me when I asked. There were moments during those years when I had wished I could open my skin and let out the pain because it was so deep. I knew I’d done  nothing wrong, but I felt all messed up because of this physical assault and wondered by God had permitted it to happen. However, there in that Sunday service after seven years of speaking forgiveness each time I didn’t feel like forgiving—in a flash it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was no longer scar tissue over my heart and mind, but just another event I lived through like breaking my leg.

Therefore, the following post entitled WW(y)CD and registered sex offenders operating with the church is more than blog-lite. I’ve been there, and I know that no amount of money or prison would have done what God did for me when forgiveness for this man became real. I had to embrace forgiveness before it ‘felt okay’; I had to speak forgiveness each time the waves of darkness rolled over me in the day and night.

My doctor said: you will never be the same, but God can make you better. And it happened. Grace works…it’s the only thing that heals. Forgiveness is difficult but it is imperative.

“…a good and decent man who saw wrong

and tried to right it, saw suffering

and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

Ted Kennedy speaking at the funeral of his brother

This week we lost Ted Kennedy. I’m a conservative, but many times I’ve felt he was a little too liberal. When all was said and done, Ted was my least favorite Kennedy. However, I’ve gotten a different picture of him this week, and I’m now very impressed with Ted. Here’s a man with money and power who never forgot people who were suffering. From all accounts Teddy Kennedy was the first person to call when you lost a family member or were sick. In speaking the Southern conservative talk…he’d be the first at your house with a casserole or cake in your time of need.

I believe that Ted Kennedy lived Matthew 25:35-36. Ted gave his time and energy to help the less fortunate; he was a voice to those without a voice. For example, he was concerned for a baby in Russia who had digestion problems, and used a diplomatic trip to get her and her family out of that country. Why? The baby’s grandmother was a resident of Massachusetts, and Ted served his people well. Too many politicians (and preachers) live to be served. They love their power and abuse it—nothing else needs to be said about this.

Certainly in the early years he was reckless and Chappaquiddick will always be there for people to point a finger. How many of us have had our Chappaquiddick moment where we lied not to get caught for something?

As conservatives we need to take stock of the noble things this Ted Kennedy has done. He was a strong supporter of civil rights—that’s a good thing. He wanted people to have an opportunity to have health care (today’s issue that has conservatives up in arms)…but have you ever sat without insurance and without money to take your child to the doctor? Back seventeen years ago I prayed that the Lord would send me money to take my daughter to the doctor because of a severe ear infection. I’ve made health benefits a priority since that time. This week I need benefits because my younger daughter is having major health issues. If I had to pay the medical bill out of pocket it would be many thousands of dollars by the time we finish…everyone needs access to good health care and health insurance. I don’t know what the solution is, but I can’t imagine people suffering for lack of insurance.

The liberal agenda of Ted Kennedy included getting us portability of insurance (i.e. when we’ve had health insurance we cannot be denied insurance for pre-existing a condition—the new company has to insure us); Family Medical Leave Act—so when you have to attend to sick family you won’t lose your job; and finally making the pharmaceutical companies offer generics (to cut through it all) so you can have affordable meds—don’t you just love those $4 generics from Walmart? So far I’m glad Ted Kennedy was my champion because we needed all those things. This blog isn’t about health care.

This is a tribute to the good of Ted Kennedy. In Philippians 4:8 God told is to look on what is good, noble and pure. Today I suggest we look at the good of Ted Kennedy and learn. He served America. In turn we should serve God in the same way: from being there first with a casserole to being a voice to those who have no voice.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you invited me in,

I needed clothes and you clothed me,

I was sick and you looked after me,

I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Matthew 25:35,36


I think one of the bigger issues this week has been the bill having to do with punishment for people who commit hate crimes. I’ve gotten a couple of pieces of advice from both sides of the debate. I would like to weigh-in a bit on this for my more conservative pals.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know that when I was ten we moved from the “north” (Kentucky) to an area just south of Tuscaloosa, AL. I had lived my first years where the integration of schools was simply merging a school rather than a political drama. The drama began (after we moved) in 1964 when my fifth grade teacher asked me about going to school with black student…she actually used the n-word. She asked about “them” smelling and biting. I learned that “them” were hated by the locals. As well the locals believed that “them” could be treated in a sub-human way. Members of my father’s church bragged about the terrible deeds they did to “them”. Members of our church harassed my father for refusing to join their local whites-only club called the KKK.

So here we are 45 years later. I’m finding there is a new “them” out there. I’m a school counselor and one of “my” children told me it was okay to hit, stab or kill a person because they were gay. Certainly a nine-year-old doesn’t just go to bed at night and dream this up without a bit of help from a significant adult in their lives promoting this belief.

I’m not much for making comments on hot political issues, but let me throw this one out for you (my conservative pals) to chew on….

Almost eleven years ago we had the opportunity to speak out for someone who had been injured by a crime borne of hate. Matthew Sheppard was brutally killed and I don’t remember one significant conservative pastor opening their mouth to say “this is wrong!” Instead we were silent…I was silent. Maybe we just wanted to be “us” and if we spoke out against what happened someone might think we were “them.” No clue.

Instead, in our silence there was one “Christian” voice–an evil man who said he represented “us” because in his demonstrations of hate he held signs that stated he was a Christian, and was speaking for God. Because we chose to remain silent, he became the face of fundamentalism and in many peoples’ eyes they think he is one of us…

This bill was written to protect people from him. So when we worry about what the hate crimes bill will do to “us”–we need to first think about what happens when our acts of grace remain hidden. Next, take we need to take our “grace” temperature. Are we servants who live like Jesus or do we have a political agenda to protect our rights? Grace isn’t a warm fuzzy…it is dying to self so others can see Jesus at work.

I’ve heard rumor will this take away the rights of pastors/Christians who want to point a finger at sin. The answer I have: a person giving grace won’t lose their rights. When we live like Jesus our “rights” aren’t so important. We will take a bullet for them because we refuse to let “them” be harmed. Jesus did it for us…

I read in the newspaper about conservative churches being picketed by gay groups. I already knew that $73 million was spent on this election on the gay marriage issue. Thought: WWJD with that much money? That’s a lot of warm meals for hungry people poured down the proverbial toilet. We didn’t have that on the ballot in my state; however, if we did, and if the final tally went against my belief I know that when I got up the next day the sun would still come up and nothing would change because God is still in control. But some people forget that and forget about grace.

There are rumors of all kinds of change that might occur if the gay community got the right for same-sex marriage. One of those rumors is that “kindergarten children will be taught about same-sex marriage.” Answer: Kindergarten teachers don’t have time to teach what they have to teach, and certainly won’t take their time to teach about same-sex marriage. However, most teachers already speak to the hearts of their children and make them feel safe. These teachers will do whatever it takes to make their students feel “normal.” Last year a dear ultra-conservative Christian co-worker had a child with two moms, and she always treated those moms with dignity. So Mrs. K was teaching her students that she respected every parent as well as every child no matter what.

I would like to suggest that God’s heart breaks when we conservatives speak such harsh words about people who believe differently from us. I believe that God wonders how we can experience such grace for our lives and not turn around and hand it out to others.

And talk about the things we make up to try to win people to our side…did you ever hear “the one” about how all gay people want to corrupt our kids and make them gay? Sure you have if you attend a conservative church. Guess what…its a lie. Certainly that myth was in my mind the first time I let my daughter spend the night with a girl who was the daughter of a lesbian couple. But she came home and the only thing that she knew was that her mother (me) lived my faith.

I just want to leave you with this parting thought: 3 John 1:9-11 says: I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

In this scripture I believe that God is warning us about gossiping in a manner that hurts people, refusing to welcome brothers, and putting people out of the church; God calls it evil. Therefore, use your words wisely, my dear conservative fellows. God loved us so much that Jesus died for us. For ALL of us.

And $73 million of walls have been built between the conservative community and the gay community. What would Jesus do? Simply read the Gospels and see what Jesus did each and every day.

I’ve been a guest blogger for Practically Paradise with the School Library Journal. Here is the link: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/830000283.html Or you can read it here:

Providing a Safe Environment for All Students to Learn

 

This past summer I was teaching a class of non-white students. It was a marvelous mix of cultures. As we got to know one another, the kids asked the girl from Vietnam if she did nails. Immediately, I realized she was being stereotyped. How many times do we put people into a box? All white people like country music, or all African Americans are good basketball players, or all Hispanics do lawns. The word “all” or “them” implies that someone isn’t part of our group.

 

One of the more controversial social issues in our American society is the conservative vs. gay community. On parent night we may feel uncomfortable greeting two moms or two dads. Our time-honored ideas are being challenged, and as adults we might immediately think: them. But realize children of these parents come under ridicule from other students; traditional families may not want their children associating with these kids. Yet, it goes beyond simply after-school friendship. Kids may believe this gives them liberty to do things that are harmful, either physically or emotionally.

 

One day during a guidance lesson on personal safety, a student remarked “it’s okay to hit a gay person.” You can understand from this statement that gay, lesbian and questioning students (or those who feel they are living in a body that isn’t their real gender) are at risk for harassment or bullying. As school professionals we have a commitment to maintain a safe environment for all our students, and be the catalyst for acceptance by their peers.

 

Sunday, October 12, 2008 marks the 10th anniversary of the crime committed against Matthew Shepard. For those who cannot remember him, he was beaten, tied to a wooden fence and left for dead in a freezing Wyoming pasture—a crime motivated, in part, because Shepard was gay. FBI stats show there are about 1200 hate crimes committed a year against people based on sexual orientation—that’s 16% of the total of all hate crimes. That figure is the actual crime and doesn’t account for countless incidents of bullying and harassment.

 

We have the opportunity to educate our students against prejudice in any form, and help end tragedies like the one that happened to Matthew Shepard and countless others like him. Be proactive to protect valuable children who cry when they are teased and bleed when they are hit—they are not a “them” but students with worth and value. They need your watchful eye, your voice and your concern. Select opportunities such as books, stories, and current news to be proactive.

 

 

Part 2:

School bullying is an epidemic, and to ignore it is to ignore the single common thread among all the school shootings in America. We school professionals have the power and ability to (metaphorically) strong-arm the oppressor by our position. This “strong arm” is to teach our students to respect and value each other in our differences. By doing this we will probably save a life.

 

I experienced being bullied when I was a kid, but it doesn’t compare to the pain of seeing my child being bullied by a group of mean girls in the 4th grade. They stomped her coat and kicked it across the classroom floor (among other things). We told the teacher, but she chose to do nothing. In January we decided to home school because every Sunday night she would become physically ill and would cry herself to sleep. Our beautiful, intelligent daughter felt ugly and stupid, and it took years for the damage of those few months to be put behind her.

 

How can we not see the bullying happen? You know that student who is being tormented: it’s the child who might use any excuse to not be in class. Or one who won’t make eye contact with certain peers. If you can’t see “the bullied,” you can at least see “the bully.” That would be the mean girl who has a little smile when you tell her she’s upsetting someone. It’s the boy who makes fun of and/or calls other boys “gay.”

 

Earlier this year California middle-school student Lawrence King was killed because he was gay (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/23/us/23oxnard.html). The statistics about harassment of gay students are astounding. According to a comprehensive national study, 86.2% of GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) students report being verbally harassed, 44.1% physically harassed, and 22.1% have been physically assaulted at school. Grades are lower and the drop-out rate is high for these students. How can we not see these things happening?

 In a wealthy and liberal school district in California, researchers found that GLBT students are bullied and harassed more than overweight or disabled students. Anti-gay bullying has only gotten worse in schools. Teachers generally will only recommend a student shouldn’t say that about their peer. That lack of force further suggests that being gay is wrong. Here are some facts taken from the Palo Alto (CA) High School Online School Journal (link: http://voice.paly.net/view_story.php?id=437):

 

  • 78% of the total student body has witnessed harassment of gay student;
  • 93% report hearing gay epithets (such as “a fag” or “that’s so queer”);
  • 51% report hearing anti-homosexual slurs daily;
  • One-third of these (GLBT) students are harassed due to their orientation;
  • One out of six is beaten where (s)he requires medical attention;
  • Gay kids are four times more likely to be threatened with a weapon at school.
  • Because 40% of all students at some time experience a degree of same-sex attraction, there is a tendency to over-compensation by striking out against gay students as a means of not being perceived as gay. 

 

 

Part 3:

Before I focus on literature I wanted to spend a non-academic moment to address the issue of our belief system. Amid our convictions, we possess prejudices—even if it’s prejudice against prejudiced people. It’s easy to vilify people who don’t believe like we do. For example last night someone stomped the Presidential candidate sign we have in our yard. It is all too easy to get into a “we-them” mentality, because what we believe seems so right.

 

Here’s a far out analogy that takes it from the thought into experience: I’m left-hand, and the first leftie born in the 20th century. My grandfather was the only leftie born in the 19th century. When my aunts taught me how to knit, it was difficult because they could only see it from the way they had done it all their life. They couldn’t identify with my “difference”—but for me it wasn’t a handicap because it was me.

 

The issue of protecting gay students might be offensive to you and cut across the core of your fundamental beliefs. Therefore, it is quite okay to tell a student you don’t understand, but you’re there for them if they need you. See this issue through the lens of protecting a child from being harmed physically or emotionally; certainly that’s on the radar of everyone’s value system. Making school safe for everyone is part of the mandate from your school system, and probably in the mission statement for your school.

 

What if someone comes to you for Heather Has Two Mommies? This child will get comfort from the book because there’s at least one other someone out there who has two moms. His situation is normalized as he turns the pages, even though his name is Joe and not Heather. Undoubtedly there’s no difference than when you give a child a book dealing with any other issue you don’t find “in common” in school. Think about those books: the parent in prison, a mom who is bipolar or a dad who is a gambler; in elementary school you don’t read a book to a class about the dad who drinks, but you certainly have the book tucked away for the child who needs it.

 

Gay teens state they live their life wearing a mask, and they’re in need of a caring adult. Students will look to school librarians to help them find answers. Here is a list of websites and literature you might find helpful (there is a range of literature in here, and some schools and school districts may not permit you accessing it):

  • Gay-Straight Alliance Network (www.gsanetwork.org)
  • GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel (7th grade and up).
  • Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  • Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez, a trilogy for 9th grade up.
  • Gay Christian Network (www.gaychristian.net) is a website for conservative gay Christians. They present both the side for remaining celibate, or to date and find a life partner.
  • For parents who come to you, they may be interested in PFLAG (www.pflag.org). This is a group for families and friends of persons who are gay.
  • GLSEN (www.glsen.org) stands for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
  • Exodus International is a group for people who want to live a heterosexual life (www.exodusinternational.org). My note: This is a faith-based group and the research that supports their claims of same-gender attraction change has been questioned, however many students will ask about this program. 
  • The Advocate (www.advocate.com) is a national, award-winning gay and lesbian e-zine.
  • Tolerance.org (www.tolerance.org) is a project created by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A free Teaching Tolerance Newsletter that is available to educators who are interested in anti-bias issues and new educational materials.
  • Open Lives: Safe Schools a book published by Phi Delta Kappa and edited by Donovan R. Walling. It addresses gay and lesbian issues in education.

This week has been prolific with news about gay students. We started the week with the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, then there was the information about the school in Chicago for GLBT teens, and finally actress Hillary Duff has started a new advertising campaign to help stamp out gay slurs. Here’s a link to the CNN video:

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/living/2008/10/16/phillips.gay.ad.campaign.cnn

 

My book—And You Invited Me In—began fifteen years ago when I saw that my nationally-known conservative church was not available when our landlord, and fellow church member, died of AIDS. While I’m conservative, I also strongly believe that no matter what the issue, the law of grace trumps everything. That’s the kind of love we possess when we shield our students from a shooter. Everyday there are “word shooters” in our classes. The words might be a look or a sound but they all say the same thing. Don’t let that happen. Be the change agent in your school. Make a difference and you’ll save a child.