Friday, September 23, 2016

Dealing with Bullying and Religion

Outsports founder Cyd Zeigler Marries His Partner Dan Pinar 
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Exodus 20:7

Cyd Zeigler was the first person I knew personally who could dunk a basketball. As basketball players go, Cyd was not very tall by today’s standards. I’m guessing he was 6’2” or so. And he played center. Today there are taller high school guards. But in the Cape League in the late 60’s he was tall, and he could jump. He was also a very nice guy.

His son, also named Cyd Zeigler, was an even more accomplished athlete in high school. He led the Harwich High School track team in scoring for three straight years and he set two high school records. He went Stanford University and became a very successful sports journalist.

The younger Cyd Zeigler is gay.

He founded with Jim Buzinski, with whom he also co-authored a book “The Outsports Revolution: Truth & Myth in the World of Gay Sports.” He broke the story or John Amaechi coming out as a gay professional basketball player as well as the coming out of Michael Sam. He has been on ESPN, MSNBC, and Fox News. In the world of gay sports and sports writers, Cyd Zeigler is a big deal. 

He will return to Cape Cod on October 6 to speak at a special program called “Identifying the Intersection of Athletics, LGBTQ Diversity and Anti-Bullying Rhetoric.”

In an introduction to the event, he writes:
“From fourth grade until I graduated I was teased for being gay, despite not even knowing I had any attraction to boys until about eighth grade. As I succeeded more and more in sports, winning team MVP awards and setting school track & field records, the teasing abated the last few years of high school.
“. . . I hope the schools across the Cape . . . will send their student-athletes to this great event created . . . . and I hope some parents, coaches and teachers join us too. I know I'll be sharing some powerful stories . . . .”
It sounds like a great event and an important milestone in how our schools can support and affirm our LGBTQ youth. 

But I was particularly struck by this paragraph:
“Growing up a very closeted gay athlete in Harwich, Massachusetts, had a profound effect on me. My experiences in that small town on the Cape helped shape the person I am today, from dealing with bullies and religion to taking time to listen and learn.”
He will talk about “dealing with bullies and religion.”

As a Christian, I find the juxtaposition of “bullies” and “religion” heartbreaking.

In our increasingly secular age, Christianity specifically and religion generally, are often criticized. Many of these criticisms are false or misguided. 

But on this issue we are guilty as charged.

A century ago, perhaps even half a century ago, our embrace of a cultural taboo was understandable and unsurprising. There are many places where the biblical witness is no better than its cultural and historical context, and one of the great challenges of biblical interpretation is separating the passages which are time bound from those that speak across the ages. But on this issue our understanding has evolved over time. We know things now that we didn’t know even a few decades ago.

But we have been slow learners.

We have bullied our LGBTQ youth. And we have done it in the name of God.

That last part is what the Bible calls “blasphemy.” 

We have made “wrongful use of the name of our LORD.”

Our religious bullying has left a trail of broken hearts and minds and bodies from coast to coast and around the world. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that even now there are people who call themselves Christian who persist in this profoundly unchristian oppression and harassment. 

In a video about the event, Zeigler says that as a young person he was “very religious.” I have no idea where he might be now in his spiritual journey, but he must have lived through a very painful time as he came to terms with his sexual orientation. I cannot help thinking how different his growing up might have been if his religious experience had been more open, accepting, and affirming.

Beyond the unconscionable pain inflicted on LGBTQ youth and their families, the Christian church has done great damage to its place in the world. 

If you belong to a church, by which I mean a local church, you know that it is a remarkable place. At its best it really is the body of Christ in the world. And as Saint Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” At its best, the church is a place of healing and wholeness, where people accept us as we are and help us to grow into our best selves.

The Christian Church has never been perfect. From the smallest individual local church to the largest denominations, there have always been flaws. But the church has also been a force for enormous good in the world.

That great legacy has been done great harm by our unfaithfulness on this one issue. Our failure on this issue has jeopardized our witness on everything else. 

This should not surprise us, “for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”

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