Just Love

Just Love

Today I’m feeling heartbroken and angry.  Heartbroken that an 11 year old boy is in a hospital bed after attempting to take his own life.  Angry that the cruelty of other children put him there.

Why are we still living in a society where differences are scrutinized, demeaned, and punished?

Why are we not teaching our children to celebrate, embrace, and value the unique, special beings God has called each of us to be?

While most focus on the boy’s affection for a harmless, children’s television show and identify his open loyalty to the program as the fuel for the bullies’ flames, I see a continued societal backlash against a male’s association with anything feminine as the real problem.

An 11 year old boy enjoyed “My Little Pony.”  An 11 year old boy, full of energy and life, skipped and danced from place to place.  An 11 year old boy found innocent and harmless joy from a program typically watched by girls.  An 11 year old boy didn’t fit nicely and easily into the stereotypical masculine mold; he didn’t watch the right shows, play the right sports, or walk the right walk, so he became a target.

An 11 year old boy chose to take his own life to avoid enduring one more day of torment and ridicule; he chose to hang himself from his bunk bed to escape the verbal arrows aimed directly at his heart.

Yes, on the surface, this tragedy seems to be about a television show.  However, the complex layers of discrimination, fear, and hate which lurk beneath the surface of a simple fondness for “My Little Pony” is what we should be focusing on as parents and followers of Christ.

How can there be such malice for another human being in a young child’s heart?  Why are we turning our children against others who express themselves in different ways, who walk to the beat of a different drummer?  Why is there still discomfort and unease when young boys express themselves in what is viewed to be a feminine way?

Are we doing the right thing when we teach our children to love the sinner and hate the sin?  Are children cognitively capable of separating the sin, which they’ve been taught to hate, from the individual who they feel is living out that sin?  What happens when perceived signs of sexual sin, like homosexuality (for those {this author excluded} who view it as a sinful choice), manifest themselves in children?

This is a problem in our society, and it’s a problem in our churches.  There is a negative association with any behavior believed to be indicative of homosexuality.  Love the sinner, hate the sin.  What’s happening is individuals who hate homosexuality come to hate and fear any sign of homosexuality, even if that sign is in a child’s innocent attachment to a cartoon.  Even if that sign is an expression of a child’s innate personality characteristics and mannerisms.

Love the sinner, hate the sin.  Is this what millions of people in the country did when they stood behind Phil Robertson as he publicly compared homosexuals to people who have sex with animals?  A man who used his Christian faith and celebrity platform to defend his slanderous statements?  Slanderous statements such as the following about gay people in a video from 2010 : “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred.  They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters.  They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless.  They invent ways of doing evil.”

It’s not just reality TV celebrities who are fueling the bully flames.  Pastor Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of one of our nation’s mega churches, posted the following on his Facebook page in 2011, “So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?”  Yes the question is appalling.  What’s more appalling is the number of people who responded, who participated, who got in on the fun of tearing others down, all while sending the message once again that it’s ok to bully men who do not fall into the testosterone model of masculinity.

If Phil Robertson and Mark Driscoll are the examples of what it means to love the sinner, then the mystery behind bullying in this country has been solved.

My Facebook news page erupted with people supporting Phil Robertson and his freedom to make erroneous, hate-filled comments like those above.  610 people responded to Mark Driscoll’s call to jump on the bully bandwagon. 610!!

Men and women who defend Phil Robertson and Mark Driscoll should line up and shake hands with the children who bullied an 11 year old boy to his breaking point.

After all, if two adults speak of others from a place of ugliness and receive the support of millions, why shouldn’t the young bullies who hurled hate-filled slurs at a child receive the same backslapping, atta-boy encouragement?

Where do we think children are learning this behavior?

My son experienced his first involvement in bullying this year.  During a dinner out as a family, he mentioned a game called The Ariel Touch.  I first assumed he was talking about the Disney character, and I asked him to explain the game. During the description, I quickly caught on to the point of the game.  Ariel, it turned out, was a girl on the bus.  If one of the older boys had to sit near her, or if they accidentally touched her, they tried to pass on her “touch” to others.  A game reminiscent of the cootie game children played when I was young.  My son was completely unaware of what the school bus game meant, but he participated because other children on the bus were doing it and seemed to be having fun.

I explained the game to him; I told him the game suggested Ariel was somehow yucky, therefore her touch needed to be passed on to get rid of it.  Instead of making the conversation about her, about some perceived sin, Mike and I made it about the people who love her.

We asked Matthew who made Ariel.  After answering God, we then explained God picked a special family for Ariel.  We asked Matthew how he thought the girls’ mom and dad would feel if they knew children on the bus were playing this game.  We asked him how her grandmother and grandfather would feel if they knew the granddaughter they loved was being teased on the bus.  We asked him what he thought the family would think about the kids on the bus who were participating in the teasing game.

Our goal was not to label Ariel as a sinner and then somehow teach him to love her anyway.  Our goal was for him to see her as a human being, created by God, loved by many, and therefore worthy of his kindness.

There is absolutely no justification for the taunting, teasing, and bullying which occur in schools today.  If we follow the love the sinner, hate the sin train of thought, then there is something to hate in each and every one of us.  The Bible is clear.  We are all sinners.  We will never be able to earn the grace, mercy, and love God extended to each of us when He sent his son to die for our sins.

When I speak to my own children about how they should treat others who are different, my hope is to have them see every boy, every girl, every man, and every woman as a child of God first.  I then want them to see that unique individual as someone’s loved one.  That classmate as someone’s son or daughter.  Perhaps even someone’s brother or sister.  They have grandparents who love them.  They have aunts and uncles and cousins who care about them.

They are a member of a family, and ultimately, because they were created by God, they are members of our family, as well.

I can’t help but wonder if the children who relentlessly teased a little boy for his mannerisms and love for “My Little Pony” had taken the time to see him as a child of God, as a son loved passionately by his parents for the very reasons they hated him, if he would be tucked safely into his bed at home instead of fighting for his life in a hospital room.

I can’t help but hope an 11 year old boy’s suffering will bring needed change in how we teach our children to see others who are different.

I can’t help but hope one little boy’s tragedy will open new doors, doors for future little boys to enter, singing, skipping, and dancing their way through to a better side.  

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