Monday, March 11, 2013

Where to take a stand

Bill 18 is big news in Manitoba. It seems I have yet to find anyone who is in the same perplexed state of where to take a stand as I am. No matter what I read, who I talk to, their position is just a little extreme for me, the division seems to be either blindly accept it with all it's gaps or throw out the baby with the bath water. I'm not a fan of either of those options. This post is really more for my own sake than for anyone else to read, but here is a cut & paste version of how my thoughts are developing about this controversy, taken from people more aware than I.

I am 100% against bullying yet also think Bill 18 is deeply problematic, the language of the bill is too important to ignore. Let me start off by saying, I don't believe it's problematic because of my own right to religious freedom....more on that later....but here's a summation of why I believe it is problematic.

1.Bill 18 specifically gives protection from bullying in four areas: (1) Gender; (2) Race; (3) Sexual Orientation; and (4) Disabilities. Bill 18 neglects the huge majority of at-risk children who have the characteristics actually targeted by bullies: In 2006 the Toronto School Board (biggest in Canada) did a survey of children about bullying. They found that the biggest reasons for bullying are body image (38%), followed by grades (17%), followed by cultural background/race (11%), followed by language/race (7%), followed by gender and sexual orientation (5% combined) and religion (5%). In other words, just as many children are bullied for religious reasons as for gender and sexual orientation.

My problem is with the arbitrary decision on which issues receive awareness and protection. Body image is targeted twice as much as race, grades just as much as race, and religion just as much as gender and sexual orientation combined. Only 28% of victims of bullying are being specifically addressed by this bill, and that to me is a problem.

2. There is a problem with the interpretation of bullying behavior, so vaguely defining it as behavior 'known to cause...harm to feelings.' Stating a fact could in turn harm someone's feelings, never mind completely innocent remarks. I have hurt my niece's feelings (she is school age) for telling her she had to eat her lunch. Some children are by far more sensitive than this bill is allowing for.

"By elevating the seriousness of innocent, harmless comments (or even minor albeit unintentionally hurtful, off-the-cuff remarks) to the same level as deliberate and truly serious offenses (i.e., clear and obviously dangerous bullying), Bill 18 threatens to trivialize the truly serious offenses. Bill 18 doesn't just lift up as serious what isn't serious; it may pull down as not serious what is serious. I am concerned that this "flattening" of the moral landscape by Bill 18 will impact the long-term education of our children by morally desensitizing them to the difference between what’s truly good and what’s truly evil." (quoted from professor with Ph.D. studies in ethics).

But that's about where I see the problems end. Here's where I start deviating from the vast differentiating sides I've been aware of - the heightened attention to sexual orientation in the bill.

It has been suggested that suggest that this is 'reverse bullying' against religious schools by legislative means that is socially just or at least the lesser-of-two-evils. I don't know if it's reverse bullying for one, there are some who say Bill 18 renders illegal the expression of a moral-religious position that views same-sex sexual behavior as sinful or wrong—and in effect Bill 18 defines as bullies those who hold this view. I would disagree, the bill says schools need to promote "the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities; and....promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils."

As a Christian I hope I am not alone in welcoming respect and understanding and acceptance of all those with a sexual orientation that strays from what I believe God designed. This is where the arguments start getting divided even among Christians, the question of 'is homosexuality a sin?', if same sex attraction is not a choice, it can't be a sin. Acting on that attraction is the key for me (I like this article that explains it better than I can), just like any other sin, the temptation is not the sin, no matter the reason for the temptation, but choosing to act in a way I know God has asked me not to, that is a sin. But that last part is also key, if they don't have a relationship with God, the definition of sin I just mentioned is meaningless to them.

Granted, the basis for some arguments is that this will be applied in Christian schools, but it is not a prerequisite that you be a Christian to attend a Christian school, just like a Church, you don't have to be a Christian before you attend. I would argue all Churches accept those actively sinning, because we ALL do. I would even argue Churches often have gay-straight alliances, though they may not be called that. I attend a Church that has a program designed to be a safe and accepting place of people with just about every kind of struggle, including homosexuality. I am a core leader of that program. We embrace anyone who identifies themselves as homosexual, and love them just like we do anyone else fighting and/or acting on temptations. We respect them, we try to understand them, we accept them.  If they can't find that kind of safe, accepting love from the Church, they will never accept they can get that kind of safe, accepting love from God, who is the only one who can save them from their temptations.  We speak the truth in love but we do not try to enforce truth, we don't change people, God changes people.  So, why can't a Christian school be open to the same 'alliance'.

Back to the 'lesser of two evils', persecuting religious freedom to save lives.  Jesus always took the side of the outcast, the oppressed, and the marginalized.  Often at the expense of the religious leaders who persecuted based on their perceived view of religious rights. To me, despite only 6% of bullying being sex-based, I can't help but thinking of 'outcast, oppressed, marginalized' when I hear suicide rate of GLBTQ teenagers is 4-5 times the national average.  And those numbers go up in communities where GLBTQ kids don’t feel supported.

How did Jesus respond to those hurting from sin? He wasn't concerned with the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, and he chose to give them grace first (for a foundation of belief) and only after did he give truth (for transformation).  This spirit of this bill is calling for grace first. Is there the threat this bill could be interpreted by someone, some day, to take away our right to be truthful in schools, even in Christian schools? Possibly. Do I think a student at any school, of whatever belief system, who identifies themselves as homosexual deserves a school focused on working to ensure they are not outcast, oppressed or marginalized (accepted, included, respected)? Absolutely.

I think the absolutely wins over the possibly.  I take a stand against bullying.  Every school needs to take a stand against all bullying equally, promoting diversity and equality on all levels, and have a concise plan on what deserves discipline. I do not stand for this particular fight 'for religious freedoms.' I happen to know Jesus guarantees persecution to those who follow him, more and more as the time of his second coming draws closer. I don't think the threat to my religious freedom, the threat of persecution I am to expect, outweighs the dire need to protect all the vulnerable children, choosing death over a life in a world alongside me and those who claim to love Christ. I've heard somewhere that the best way to save a life is to lay your own life down.

Seeing FB propaganda from acquaintances that say, "if you don't stand for our religious freedoms now then you don't stand for God, you are denying God." Jesus knows how much I love him, and how much I love all those made in his image, and my actions say it everyday, and there is no way I'm going to let 'you' define what it means to stand for him. It is within all our rights, we’re allowed to disagree with government legislation, and have discussions regarding improving laws. But I will not take that right and resort to attacking. If I hate the haters, I become what I hate. We are encouraged to pray for religious freedom. Jesus said, 'pray for those who persecute you.' These things I will do. I will end with a quote from one pastor that I believe sums up what I feel perfectly, "in addition to praying for religious freedom, I also pray that we could work together to keep kids alive.  Surely the two aren’t mutually exclusive."

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