This commentary is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the opinion of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
April 24th, 2008
The authors at Box Turtle Bulletin do not share consensus on this issue. For another perspective, please see Timothy Kincaid’s commentary.
Tomorrow is the much-talked-about Day of Silence, a commemoration organized by students across the country to illustrate the pressure that many LGBT kids feel to remain silent in the face of violence, torment and general hostility. This year’s Day of Silence is dedicated to the memory of Lawrence King, the 15-year-old Oxnard, California student who was fatally shot twice in the head by a classmate because he was gay.
Anti-gay activists are clamoring for a strong response to the Day of Silence, but all of their suggestions ignore the very real problem of violence against LGBT students. Instead, they’ve turned their outrage over merely bringing up the subject into a political attack against all things gay, threatening to pull their kids from classroom, stage walkouts, and organize noisy protests in front of schools. They say that calling attention to the fact that kids can actually be murdered is “disruptive,” presumably more disruptive than their own disruptions. But I wonder: how disruptive was Lawrence King’s murder to his classmates and family?
There is one response to the Day of Silence which is unique and notworthy. It is Dr. Warren Throckmorton’s call for a simultaneous Golden Rule Day. The idea behind the Golden Rule Day is that “Christian students” should grab the spotlight by handing out cards printed with the Golden Rule. The cards read simply:
This is what I’m doing:
I pledge to treat others the way I want to be treated.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31).
The Golden Rule is one of Christendom’s highest tenets. It’s how we all should seek to live. And the Golden Rule represents everything that all of us have ever asked for in our lives, gay and straight alike.
And I am happy to see that one of the expressed statements offered by Dr. Throckmorton in promoting his Golden Rule idea is that
GLBT students and peers as well as other who appear different have been the target of harassment, violence and scorn. We believe this is wrong. The church should lead the way in combating violence and harassment in schools. [Emphasis his]
I’m glad to see that that Dr. Throckmorton has gone straight to the heart of the problem. I believe that he is sincere in his motivation for proposing the Golden Rule Day. I agree that the church should lead the way in combating violence and harassment. And I am happy to see that a few groups are truly taking his suggestions to heart by reaching out to LGBT groups on campus to address this very issue.
I’m glad that Dr. Throckmorton and a few very specific groups have taken on the challenge of discussing anti-gay intimidation and violence. But if people of good faith are willing to talk about anti-gay violence, the Day of Silence was already there as an invitation.
But I am concerned that the Golden Rule Day will go forward without those direct conversations far more often. And under this more likely scenario, I believe there are four critical problems with the Golden Rule Day as it is conceived right now.
A Tool of Division
First, the proposed Golden Rule Day is to be held on the very same conflicting day that LGBT kids are trying to raise awareness to the problems they face, including violence, ridicule, and even death threats. By doing this, the Golden Rule Day too easily becomes a competing counter-event which draws attention away from the very problem that LGBT kids are trying to highlight. At least the organizers of the horribly misnamed “Day of Truth” have the courtesy of holding their event on a different day so as not to appear to infringe upon the Day of Silence. With the Golden Rule Day, LGBT kids don’t even get that.
Second, because the Golden Rule Day is a competing counter event as a response motivated by opposition to homosexuality, it places the Golden Rule itself — one of Western Civilizations most cherished precepts — in opposition to homosexuality. If the Christians are “for” the Golden Rule, then it follows that those who are participating in the Day of Silence aren’t following it. It’s appalling see the Golden Rule become a tool of division, but this is precisely the implications of using the Golden Rule this way.
And this leads directly to my third objection. By framing the Golden Rule Day as a “Christian response” to the Day of Silence, it perpetuates the false Christian vs. Gay dichotomy. I know that it galls a lot of people to suggest that it’s possible to be gay and Christian, but thousands of gay Christians are doing it anyway. But in several parts of the country where Christian identity is paramount and everyone else is worse than terrorists, this can set up a very dangerous dynamic with gay kids caught in the middle — the very dynamic that Dr. Throckmorton seeks to prevent.
And finally — and this, I think, is the biggest problem — the Golden Rule card doesn’t address violence at all. It’s very open ended, allowing it to be exploited in any number of ways. And I do believe it will be exploited because there is a long history of positive sounding messages being turned against us. There is no mention of violence and harassment anywhere on the card, and there is no expectation that such a specific conversation will actually take place.
We’ve heard the “love the sinner, hate the sin” being used to justify the notion that because I really love you, I must condemn your sinful ways, tell everyone you’re caught up in an evil agenda, repeat all sorts of slanders about people like you, and even make harassing phone calls while uttering the most vile accusations.
Too many people believe this is how the Golden Rule works. Incredibly, I’ve even heard non-gay people say that if they were gay, they’d want someone to do everything possible to force them to “stop being gay.” I’m sure Sally Kern believes that pleas to follow the Golden Rule needn’t be directed toward her.
The Golden Rule is one of those wonderful aphorisms which serve more as a Rorschach test than a standard. It can mean whatever anybody wants it to means, allowing it to a provide a “nice” cover for those who have no intention of changing their attitudes or behavior. It’s too easy for the Golden Rule Card to become a sanctimonious, self-righteous and passive-aggressive reaction to the Day of Silence. It allows them to claim the moral high ground — a high ground which by their definition is not a level playing field.
Days and Days of Silence
More than a year ago, I attended a Love Won Out conference in Phoenix put on jointly by Exodus International and Focus On the Family. That’s where I heard Focus’s Mike Haley address anti-LGBT violence in a Q&A session:
I think, too, we also have to be just as quick to also stand up when we do see the gay and lesbian community being come against as the Body of Christ. We need to be the first to speak out to say that what happened to Matthew Shepard was a terrible incident and should never happen again. And that we within the Body of Christ are wanting to protect that community and put our money where our mouth is…
That was a real “Wow!” moment for me. I thought finally, someone gets it. I can’t tell you how encouraged I was to hear Mike Haley say that. It was an ultimate Golden Rule moment. And I can’t begin to describe how disappointed I’ve been since then.
One year later, Lawrence King was killed in cold blood on February 12 in front of his teachers and classmates. Since then, conservative Christians leaders have celebrated seventy-three consecutive Days of Silence.
I’ve searched for Lawrence King’s name on Focus On the Family’s web site and CitizenLink. Guess what? There’s nothing but silence. I’ve searched the Family Research Council’s web site. More silence. Same with American Family Association’s OneNewsNow, the Christian Post, Christianity Today, the Christian Newswire and the Baptist Press. Nobody has raised their voice. Instead, we’ve had days and days of silence all around.
Exodus International, one of the principal sponsors of the so-called “Day of Truth,” has joined this perverse Days of Silence observation as well. I haven’t been able to find any statements of concern or condemnation from Exodus president Alan Chambers, vice-president Randy Thomas, or youth assistant Mike Ensley.
Believe me, I’ve been looking for it because I’d love nothing better than to be able to write a post and say, See? They really are concerned. But none of them could be bothered to put down their instruments of cultural warfare to say, “This was a terrible incident and should never happen again.”
But we do we hear from those who profess to follow the Golden Rule that we are part of an evil agenda, that there is a war between us and them, and that protecting LGBT youth is “worse than the holocaust.” We even hear preachers make light of anti-LGBT violence from their pulpits and threaten teachers who provide a safe place for gay kids to meet.
Oh yes, these people we hear loud and clear. No silence from them at all. And you can bet that each one of them thinks they’re following the Golden Rule.
So forgive me if I see this whole Golden Rule Day in a cynical light. A whole trainload of well-designed cards with yet another scripture quote won’t paper over the problem of anti-LGBT harassment and violence. And using Christianity’s highest ideal as a salve for Golden Rulers’ consciences won’t cut it either. Based on my past experiences with others passing out similar messages, if someone handed me a card like this today I would just throw it in the trash and roll my eyes. I’ve seen too many wonderful statements like this that have turned out to be empty platitudes, and I now find myself suffering from yet another case of déjÃ vu.
My question is this: what happens the day after everyone has handed out their Golden Rule cards and gone home? Will a conservative Christian leader somewhere suddenly decide to remember Lawrence King? Because I’m still waiting.
If you really want to know how I would have you do unto me, there’s my answer.
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