I dread that day. I know I will be required to call upon every grown-up, rational bone in my body to hold back my Mommy protective nature, to be the bigger person, to scrape a life lesson out of one of life’s realities. I dread that day–the day when one of my sweet children comes home crying, hurt by hurtful words spoken about him.
They’re all too young to care right now. They are blissfully absorbed in their own worlds with their own thoughts and their own stories, unaware of how they are perceived by others around them. I dread the day one of them realizes someone doesn’t like him because of something out of his control–like where he lives or the color of her hair or the style of his blue jeans or the accuracy of his pitch. It makes me sad to even think about that day. I dread them not having the favor of someone, a friend or a teacher or a playmate, whose opinion for however fleeting a moment matters to them.
Perhaps it will be Little Drummer Boy who realizes for the first time someone is laughing AT him and not with him. It could be Bug who realizes someone is running AWAY from him rather than alongside him. Maybe it will be Baby Girl who, for the first time, hears that her smile isn’t as beautiful as we’ve always told her. I dread that day. It will be the day my heart breaks. And, it will be the day I must take a narrowly reined vow of silence–the day I rely on God’s Spirit and will-power to hold my tongue, to keep myself from lashing out in anger at someone else’s child or some child’s parent or this world in general. It will be another chapter in a series of many lessons I attempt to teach them about where their true and lasting worth lies, and the bittersweet rewards of being who you are. But, it will break my heart nonetheless. For, on that day, they will have lost (if only for a moment) that carefree indifference to what others think. On that day, they will have lost the innocent belief that all the world values them as we do.
Sadly, that day is a reality. It’s coming. Our penchant for hasty judgements and cruel words is evident all around us, and it’s often revealed in surprising ways at surprisingly young ages by surprising people. Today, I read of a boy, Carl Walker-Hoover, who took his own life less than two weeks ago because of the daily teasing he received. The accusation: he “acted gay.” Carl would have turned 12 years old today. His mother said in an interview with Essence magazine that being gay had never presented itself as an issue because Carl had not even experienced puberty yet. He was interested in soccer and basketball and football and school and Pokemon.
Today, April 17, also marked the National Day of Silence, an initiative sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that encourages students to take some form of a vow of silence to raise awareness about school bullying based on perceived or actual sexual orientation and about the silence many students who’ve chosen a LGBT lifestyle feel they must keep to avoid harrassment. Many conservative groups have denounced the initiative as simply a vehicle for promoting and indoctrinating students in the homosexual “agenda”.
But, I am not writing about the “agenda.” And, being gay or straight wasn’t on Carl Walker-Hoover’s radar. And, whether my little ones are accused of being gay or prudes or rednecks or poor white trash or nerds, it’s the same kind of speech that will require my narrowly reined silence as a protective Mother one day. So, today, I’m writing. Because I don’t want to be Carl Walker-Hoover’s mother.
The problem I have with the conservative approach to so many social issues (including the gay one) is that so often our so-called righteousness is used as a weapon. Our own speech, the names WE call, reveal our refusal to see a created soul of infinite worth to a Creator God. We see what God calls sin, and we name it such. Yes, but we are blind to the fact that “sinners” are souls. And this is not the way of the Savior I know. The harshest words Jesus spoke in the New Testament were reserved for the religious leaders of the day. The smallest chunks of time in his schedule were given to those religious leaders. Most of his time was spent with prostitutes and cheaters and working class, the uneducated, the disloyal, the confused. And, the time he had with them, he spent slinging, not insults and accusations, but bread and wine and conversation, and more often than not forgiveness.
In the conservative movement I see, we’re running away from ourselves. We run alarmingly close to creating a culture that promotes the kind of stigma and bigotry and soul-blindness that made an 11-year-old boy’s topic of teasing so unbearable. In that culture, it’s better to be dead than to be called gay. That’s not the Savior I know. It’s not the salvation I know.