Thursday, September 22, 2011

How Many More?

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Matthew 5:21-22

The Greek word translated as “hell” is “Gehenna.” It refers to a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, a place where literally, the fires never went out. And those walking by could hear wild dogs gnashing their teeth as they fought over the scraps. If you insult a brother or sister, says Jesus, you deserve to be thrown into the garbage dump outside of the city.

He is speaking metaphorically, of course. He doesn’t really want people thrown into the garbage dump. But the point is that words matter and attitudes matter. We should not commit physical violence, and we should not commit verbal violence.

Some scholars argue that the obscure Greek word “raca,” typically translated as insult, is actually an ancient epithet equivallent to the “f” word as a derogatory reference to homosexuals.

Last May a young teen named Jamey Rodemeyer posted a video as part of the “It Gets Better” project, appealing to younger kids to recognize that life will get better. You will accept yourself and others will accept you, and life will get better. The project was launched by Dan Savage, in an attempt to convince GLBT youth, that suicide is not the answer. Though they may feel like outcasts now, life really will get better.

Somehow, between last May and last week, something went terribly wrong and Jamey Rodemeyer, who had spoken so eloquently of hope for the future, took his own life.

He had gone to his parents and he had spoken to teachers, and he was being helped by a therapist. But it wasn’t enough. The bullying which had seemed under control in the spring, increased over the summer through an internet outlet called Formspring. Among the messages he received, were these:


And, “I wouldn't care if you died. No one would. So just do it :) It would make everyone WAY more happier!”

We should be cautious in linking Jamey’s suicide directly to the bullying he received. Bullying, by itself, is usually not enough to “cause” a suicide. Ninety percent of all suicides are connected to mental health or substance issues, and those percentages are true for youth as well as adults.

But that does not change the fact that bullying is a major problem. And the bullying of young people thought to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is a significant part of that larger problem. And it has to stop.

Last winter, when I testified in favor of marriage equality at the State House, it was painful to listen to the testimony of other professed Christians who talked about how they really loved everyone, but the lives of the gay and lesbian people in the room were “an abomination.” Some went on to say that they were sick. As I listened to those adults, I wondered what their children were saying. Isn’t that precisely the message that the cyber-bullies sent to Jamey Rodemeyer?

This summer I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, “I BELIEVE IN THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND HATE.” So do I. But how sad it is that such a bumper sticker could be necessary.

How many deaths will it take 'till we know
That too many people have died?

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