Free Speaking Controversy

6:03 AM

Normally I don't comment on socio-political upheaval. I consider my insights more fit for the every day melodrama. But when every day melodrama equates to national news, even a homebody like me has to blog about it.

I drive to our public high school several times a year -- plays, kindergarten chaperoning, standardized tests. I know teachers, students and staffers personally. The superintendent even judged a speech I delivered for an oratorical contest. My town is just as typical as any -- so it blew my socks off to see it all plastered across national television, to read the combox vitriol against people I could run into at Walmart on any given Saturday, to have firsthand knowledge of events so divisive that a woman in Wyoming wrote into the newspaper to share her opinion. (Wyoming, to me, is the end of the earth.)

The controversy? Gay rights. At least, it turned out that way. It started with a pair of pro/con editorials in our little high school newspaper. One side took the position that gay couples adopting was a perfectly acceptable and loving option, backed by science and common sense. The other strongly disagreed -- and cited Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, God and Christian morals as legitimate reasoning. Big oops.

Long story short, a gay couple with children in the area complained that the boy's article was hateful. The superintedent apologized, reprimanded the student and labeled the article as unacceptable "bullying." It doesn't take much imagination to guess how the internet exploded.

The day after the local newspaper covered the story, a front page article detailed the exploits of a gay college student who filmed a video set to Lady Gaga's "Hair" at another local school, from which he graduated. The video followed the student in his high school years getting pushed around and going to the junior prom with his gay date. Its message was to bullied gay students: accept who you are and keep your chin up -- it gets better.

I watched the video. It's a strange feeling to see such a viral YouTube video with footage of a hometown school. I sat in the parking lot of that school a couple times. I drive past it whenever I pick up our twelve-passenger van from the repair shop (which you big family people know is more often than not). I have good friends who walk those halls and eat at the lunch tables the actors danced on.

Being so close to the action -- I have mixed feelings. Mostly I'm plain frustrated -- frustrated with the PC bias against a fifteen-year-old who made the mistake of taking advantage of free speech, frustrated that ignorant people bully gays, frustrated that this aberrant lifestyle has been rammed through as if it's a done deal.

It's not. The discussion is still wide-open. The science and the American people have not unequivocally agreed that the gay lifestyle is healthy, that gay couples should adopt and that gays are born the way they choose to be. We're still hashing out the theological, sociological and psychological implications of something heretofore considered inappropriate and detrimental. Much is at stake for all people involved, gay, straight or somewhere in between.

That's why it frustrates me to no end that the discussion ends up so childish and shallow:

Someone disagrees with the homosexual lifestyle. You bigot! You're such a hateful person, and I hate you! "Yeah, well, you know what?" the opposition screams. "You're disgusting and I hate you too!" Gays commit suicide! So ha! You're wrong, hater! In wanders a confused Christian: "But God loves everybody, right?" Or if there's some semblance of a respectful discussion going on, someone invariably enters with a slew of profanity and rudeness and everyone pig piles onto each other in a full out brawl.

So much for not bullying.

The issue becomes either hush-hushed by government intervention or derailed by rudeness and illogic. Nobody's allowed to appeal to morals or God. Nobody's allowed to enter by common sense. Nobody can bring in scientific evidence, as each side shouts down negative evidence as twisted bigotry. Apparently all we have to offer is hatred and loud mouths.

While I disagree with the homosexual lifestyle, it's my deepest concern to reach people with the truth. Yes, people -- not instigators of an agenda to pollute America and usher in the anti-Christ. I don't pretend to understand the feelings, outlook and identity crisis of someone who identifies as gay or lesbian. It breaks my heart that there are bigots on both sides and that people would be cruel enough to belittle another human being made in the image of God.

But there are two levels to the discussion -- the personal, where we reach out to the individual, and the larger cultural and moral implications. To hate a homosexual person because one hates homosexuality in no way contributes to decency and discussion. That's disturbing and disgusting. But to try to argue "That's the way I'm made" or "God loves everyone" doesn't even scratch the surface of the real problems people have with homosexuality. Anyone -- from the five-year-old cookie stealer to the pedophile, murderer or prostitute -- can claim the same. Because someone in the school district is gay does not silence another person's right to disagree with that lifestyle. Because someone feels comfortable and confident in their chosen identity does not make it morally right.

This is the biggest problem with the homosexual discussion. Defenders of traditional morality bash gays as purposeful perverts; homosexuals slam dissenters as bigots.  The problem is not bigotry and bullying only. The difference between a "straight" person and a "gay" person is not his sexuality -- it's a significant and legitimate moral difference. Gays honestly believe they are right. Disagreers honestly believe they are wrong. On both sides there are hotheads and ignoramuses, but the real solution does not fall in compromise or name calling. It lies in serious evaluation.

And that takes dialogue. I mean to say, opening one's mouth little and listening much.

No good comes of silencing either side in a volatile discussion. Nobody is proved right or wrong by the triumph of an oppressive majority or a stifling minority. Everyone needs to listen. Everyone needs to quit slinging the bigot card. There is no gap of humanity between homosexuals and heterosexuals: we're all human, we're all biased, we're all finite people with a penchant for misunderstanding. So let's admit it -- and get on to the real controversy.

P.S. Shout out to Jasmine, who wrote about her encounter with a gay young man -- and how each learned from the other.

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20 impressions

  1. I think your heart is in the right place and I appreciate what you are saying here. But this is Lev 20:13: "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." If the student cited this verse, then he is advocating murdering all individuals who are members of a specific group. The fact is, that IS hate speech and to publish it in a school paper IS bullying. You can say you believe that on your blog, the student can say it in the street, but the school has a responsibility to protect ALL its students from bullying and the administration should never have allowed that editorial to be published in the school paper. There are limits to free speech.

    One other point: In this post you state, "The difference between a "straight" person and a "gay" person is not his sexuality -- it's a significant and legitimate moral difference." This is not a correct statement. By definition, the difference between a straight person and a gay person is sexual orientation. That's what the words mean. You can argue that "gay" refers to a lifestyle choice whereas homosexuality refers to the sexual orientation itself, but the words gay and homosexual are used so interchangeably now, I don't think that is a valid argument. In any case the other side of your equation definitely does not work. I am straight because I am physically attracted to members of the opposite sex. I also strongly support gay rights. That is the significant moral difference between you and me, not between a straight person and a gay person.

    Finally, you cannot hate homosexuality and claim not to hate homosexuals. Or rather, you can claim that, but nobody will be comforted by that claim or think more highly of you for it. My impression of you from your blog is of a highly intelligent, thoughtful, and perhaps more importantly, sensitive and compassionate young lady. This post is beneath you in my opinion.


  2. I appreciate your thoughts, Adele, as usual. But your comment is exactly what I'm speaking against -- automatically calling my disagreement of homosexuality "beneath me" and borderline hateful instead of letting a back-and-forth dialogue exist. You disagree that homosexuality is a sin and I say that it is. We both feel passionately on the subject and think that it has great implications on homosexuals and society. This is a serious, controversial matter. So let's talk about it, really listen to the other person and argue from logic, statistics and morality instead of political correctness. Instead of silencing one another, why can we not respectfully converse on the issue?

  3. It is not your saying homosexuality is a sin that I object to. It is your saying, or at least implying, that a student ought to be allowed to argue in favor of punishing homosexuality with death in a school newspaper. To me the issue is not about political correctness; it is about protecting my child. Honestly, if an article like that were published at my daughter's school, having a constructive dialog with anyone involved would not be high on my list of priorities. Making sure nothing like that ever happens again would be my primary objective.

    Also, you object to my saying this post is borderline hateful and say that prevents or inhibits dialog, and I agree. But in the story that prompted the post you mention the boy using the Bible verse I quoted in support of his case. You can't start by calling your opponents' actions "detestable" and then say they are the ones who are not interested in respectful dialog. Statements like that shut down dialog and they are hateful, whether I point that out or not.

    I know I am probably overreacting, and I do apologize, but I read a post like yours and this is what I perceive: "I think a lot your close personal friends ought to be put to death. Since I can't make that happen I will have to settle for restricting their civil liberties as much as possible. Hey, wait, why are you getting upset? It is because you get so upset that we can't have a nice respectful discussion on this topic."

    I know that is not at all what you intend to say, but it does read that way to me, and I would be very surprised if I were the only reader who felt that way.


  4. I agree with the opinion of the young man who wrote that letter, that is, that homosexuality is wrong. Yet, I wish he--and all Christians--would quit citing Leviticus {we're no longer under Mosaic law}, and instead cite Romans 1:26-27, Revelation, I Corinthians, and other places where homosexuality is put on the level with other sins. Homosexuality isn't more sinful than pride, lying, dishonor, theft, or selfishness. All are equally wrong in God's holy eyes. To reach homosexuals for the truth of the Gospel, we must understand them as sinners seeking a Savior. They need God's love just as much as we do. It's a question of salvation, truth, and love--which all people infinitely need.

  5. Now I see your point, Adele. Put that way, I would be offended too. Anyone who advocates the death of homosexuals needs no support.

    So two things need to be cleared up: the student wasn't advocating or supporting the death of homosexuals, and I don't necessarily agree with the way he argued against homosexuality.

    Let's say I argued, "Christians need to understand how serious disobedience to parents is. This is such an offence to God that in OT times, disobedient children were put to death." Can it be reasonably extrapolated that I'm calling for the death of disobedient children? I don't think that argument can be made. Is it convincing? No. Is it tactless? Probably very much so.

    That's how the student argued: he cited those verses to show that homosexuality was a moral sin, not to advocate capital punishment. Ironically, his previous pro/con article tried to make the case against capital punishment in general while the student who supported gay adoption argued for it.

    I did not find the article compelling on any level but it did offer the standard Christian argument against homosexuality. What frustrated me is that hateful, bullying motives were slapped onto him when he merely tried to share what he thought morally right.

    Because it was tactless and caused offense in the community but wasn't intentionally trying to "bully" anyone, I think it ought to have been handled in a different way than reprimanding the student. The superintendent could have apologized for the controversial nature of both the pro/con articles without singling out an amateur journalist who meant no harm.

    This post was a frustration against both sides -- one yelling "abomination" and the other "bigot." You are so right that inflammatory passages and Bible-backed name calling do not create respectful dialogue.

    I think our first two comments reflected the worst of both sides on the gay rights movement: you thought I was insinuating that hate against homosexuals is justified and then hypocritically complained about the (over)reaction of concerned critics while mindlessly chanting, "Hate the sin, love the sinner"; I immediately supposed you wanted to slap "hater" on me simply because I disagreed with homosexuality. I ended up talking past you, treating you as a disciple of political correctness without even thinking that this was more than just a hot topic for you. I apologize for that. I hope this comment clears up my position a bit and makes it more honorable than your first impression. I know I have so much to learn in respectfully navigating these very controversial waters.

  6. Yes, Melody. Yes. I so wish more of the Christian community would grasp this -- that homosexuality is not the defining feature of a gay person and not the unpardonable sin. We are all equally human, all equally sinful and all equally in need of a Savior.

  7. I have friends who are adulterers.

    Does that mean I hate my friends, when I cite Leviticus 20.10 or Deuteronomy 22.22 to them?

    What moral imperative is this in Leviticus 19.17-18? How should I interpret Ezekiel 33?

    Is it hatred to assert my religious beliefs or reference from whence those beliefs come?

    Miss Bailey,

    Thank you. I guess I don't listen enough. I keep wanting to ask questions.

    If anyone wants to answer my questions, I will try to attend to what they say without further interaction.

  8. I read both your and Jasmine's posts and here is the take home point (in my opinion). Gay people are people. They are sinners. They struggle. Straight people are people. They are sinners. They struggle. Dehumanizing either side of the issue also dehumanizes the adversaries themselves (BIGOT or SINNER (even ABOMINATION)).
    Isn't there a language where we can come together and see that this issue is not an either/or? Many shout "Born this way!!" Many others shout back "It is a choice!" Are we not all born sinners, and without getting into some scientific debate, isn't it pretty apparent that each of us are born with certain tendancies toward some sins over others? (Yes I realize enviornment plays a factor, but I still believe that we each have unique temptations and struggles that even when brought up in the same exact enviornment manifest differently, making a strong argument for some sin tendancies being there from birth.) So maybe I have a tendancy to covet possessions or life situations that are not mine. This is a sin, a violation of the ten commandments, and abomination in God's eyes, no?
    But our society, and yes, even our conservative Christian culture, does not treat this sin with the hatred and vitriol that we so often treat homosexuality and abortion. Why are these two areas the only areas where we stick our necks out in accusation and disgust? Why do many of us vote with only these two issues in mind, when the state our economy reflects so many other arguably more immediately relevant sins (greed, envy, debt) to our own lives? Is it because yelling from the pulpits and politicizing sins that we ourselves are more likely to be guilty of (greed, envy, gluttony, not treating our neighbors as ourselves)would just hit too close to home? Most of us agree abortion and homosexuality need to be dealt with in the religious, political, and communial sphere, but we limit ourselves when we focus on these two issues as the turning points of our faith and politics.

  9. My feelings on this are very adamant on this topic. Although my college would probably throw me out for what I'm would say.

    There is a difference in sins such as lying, cheating, and stealing vs. homosexuality, divorce, and prostitution. The first group, people commit, repent, and then try to never do it again (though they fail) whereas the second group continues in that sin. There isn't any repentance, nor is there any commitment to quit.

    Next, homosexuals use the excuse that they were born that way which is genetically impossible. I'm in Lifespan and Human Development and we are discussing genetics right now. In order for someone to be born a certain way, one of their parents need to be homosexual which ends with the impossibility of creating a child. This is a part of the Nature vs. Nurture debate that sociologists study.

    God does love everyone, even homosexuals. With that there is no contestation. He commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves... even homosexuals. Therefore, Christians especially ought to feel comfortable around homosexuals because *we* are *all* sinners. God can reach everyone eventually.

    Knowing all of this, I will still feel awkward around anybody that I know is homosexual because I am who I am. I will stand up saying that homosexuals should not be leaders of the church even as divorcees or prostitutes should not be leaders of the church. Call me a hater or bigot all you want, God is still bigger than anything this world has to offer me and he is the one I have to answer to.

  10. Jake,
    I admire your conviction, honesty, and acknowledgement that we need to love our neighbors as ourselves. I am going to try to respect Bailey's desire to foster a respectful conversation on this subject matter where we listen as much as talk. So please read this in that light.

    Because of original sin, we were all born sinners, prone to fall from grace and into temptation. I think you would agree with me so far. I am no genetics expert, but I do know that traits, like blue eyes, can happen even if both parents have brown eyes. Obviously, sexuality is much more complicated than what color eyes or skin we have. And I agree with you that homosexuals are not "born this way" as in I was born with a certain color skin and now I can't do anything to change it. I am simply proposing that I believe some are born with the tendency to be tempted toward some sins over others. There is a saying that genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger. So, based on your circumstances, you may have the urge to abuse alcohol, but you may never act on this urge or you may become a raging alcoholic.

    You do not have to have a homosexual parent to be born attracted to the same gender. Perhaps this gene has been dormant for generations, or the unique combination of your parents' genes combined produced this result. Let me also point out that many people who are naturally attracted to the same gender resist this urge and marry someone of the opposite gender and go on to have children. There are many people who suppress their natural tendencies until after they are already married with a family. And I am sure there are some people who suppress their innate sexual urges altogether and never act them out. That does not mean the temptation and attraction to the same sex wasn't there. So I have to disagree with your postulation that it is impossible for homosexual people to procreate. In fact, I would argue at least a significant minority of people innately attracted to their own gender procreate with the opposite gender anyway, in an effort to conform to society and prove their heterosexuality. I am not saying this is good or bad, I am just saying that it is, that it happens so that any genetic predisposition would have the chance of being past on.

    Also, many homosexuals, or those naturally attracted to the same sex as themselves, are tortured by this temptation and repent of any mistakes they make. Not all, but many. So I disagree that homosexuals never repent and always keep perpetuating the same sin. Likewise, I know many people who continually lie, cheat,and steal and never seek God's forgiveness or seek to stop their sins. I think your distinction of sin hierarchy is inaccurate.

    Jake, I say these words not with certainty but with the hope that you are reading this with grace and deep consideration. I seek the truth.

  11. Bailey,

    Thank you so much for your response. That makes a lot of sense to me. My first comment WAS a quick emotional reaction that did not clearly explain where I was coming from.

    A little additional clarification - I actually agree with you that the student probably was not trying to bully anyone. When I said if that happened at my daughter's school, I would not be all that interested in constructive dialog, my anger was mostly directed not at the student, but at the school administration and the school paper sponsor. The student was just expressing his opinion, an opinion he has every right to hold. His method of argument is what I thought was offensive, and in allowing the article to be published I feel the adults at the school were complicit in allowing a culture to exist at the school that I think can reasonably be described as hostile to gay students, which is why I think it qualifies as bullying. I think the administration should have done more beforehand to prevent an atmosphere of hostility to any group.


  12. Interesting thoughts- thank you!

  13. Adele, that is a fair reaction. I'm glad you commented on this -- it got me thinking. Thank you.

    Anon, I really appreciated and resonated with your first comment (if you're the same anonymous!). I wanted to jump in on your second comment, if I may. I definitely believe that same-sex attraction is a real temptation or could become one in this sexually confused culture. Whether or not it is related to genetics at all is debatable. But I think it's helpful to distinguish between temptation and an actual lifestyle/orientation. Jake's talking about practicing homosexuals -- not those struggling with temptation.

    I don't think Christians should associate their sexual identity and especially not their primary identity with a sin tendency. Indeed, homosexuality has been regarded as a complex condition with no one thing triggering it or rescinding it. I'm glad this culture crisis has opened up the doors to help individuals struggling with homosexuality or confusion about their sexuality in general. I still wouldn't call someone who is fighting their sin tendencies a homosexual, though. I think that word connotates a fixed sexual orientation instead of changeable sexual attraction. Does that make any sense? :P

  14. Bailey,
    That does make sense, and I agree with it generally. I think labeling is a difficult topic. We label others, ourselves, and whole groups of people. One person struggling with their sexuality (though not practicing homosexuality) may nonetheless still resonate with the label of homosexual, just as an alcoholic who no longer drinks, though still deals with the urge, may resonate with the label of alcoholic even if they have not had a drink in twenty years. It is hard to distinguish because I don't think society has a mainstream term for someone struggling with their sexuality who is not currently acting on it vs. someone who has accepted their sexual attraction to the same sex and is acting on it. I have heard the gay/homosexual distinction used, but I think that these terms are mostly used interchangeably these days.

    I loved your line "I think that word connotates a fixed sexual orientation instead of changeable sexual attraction." And I hope that is what homosexual connotes. But then we need a word for someone of changeable sexual attraction, someone struggling with their sexuality. I also, this can be distinguished even further. I believe (from meeting some very enlightening individuals although not having any direct experience myself, as a heterosexual female)that there are people who struggle with their sexual attractions to those of the same gender as young people exploring their identity, and then through prayer and Christian support, correct these tendencies and are generally able to have healthy relationships with those of the opposite sex. But I have also met those who have attempted what is known in many Christian circles as "Conversion therapy" without success, if success is defined as a complete lapse of attraction to the same sex and ability to cultivate an attraction with a member of the opposite sex, marry, and have children, etc. I have met individuals whose sin tendencies persist, so they have chosen to live a life like Paul: single and celibate and devoted completely to God (as much as possible considering all of our sinful natures).

    I understand now that Jake was probably referring to practicing and unrepentant homosexuals. But I still don't believe that even they are worse sinners than practicing and consistently unrepentant liars, cheaters, thieves, etc.

    I also concede that the origins of sexual attraction are complicated and I don't think there may ever be a clear, undeniable answer. I was simply pointing out that I disagreed with Jake's assertion that sexuality does not have a genetic component because gay people don't reproduce.

    Thanks Bailey for welcoming this difficult topic, and handling it with conviction and compassion.

  15. Amen to that!

    I met a lesbian in the library once. She and her mother tried to help me choose a book for a school report. I thought she was funny and an overall cool and funny person, and when I discovered she was my friend's neighbor, I got to talk to her some more (about spiders, of all things) and again felt like she'd be a fun person to hang out with. I didn't even know she was lesbian until some friends of mine who had known her previously told me. (I had, at the time, suspected she might be emo or something, but I didn't really know for sure that she was 'anything,' if you know what I'm trying to say.)
    All that to say that lesbians and gays are just confused, misinformed, and sinful individuals - just like the rest of us. As a person who tends toward legalism, perfectionism, and people-pleasing, it took my personally meeting a lesbian to grasp the humanity in controversial issues.

  16. I think that, if one were to found a society, one should seriously consider setting up a death penalty for same-sex relationships, for the same reason one would for murders; it's horribly wrong. Keep reading. I do not (I repeat) I do not think that we should start killing homosexuals in our society. Definitely not. Also, I do (I repeat) I DO think that they are, morally, no worse than the rest of us.

    Socially, yes. Morally, no.

    They are human beings, just like "straight" people, and in a way they are more to be pitied than anything else. They are barking up the wrong tree in their search for happiness - and so are drunks and criminals and idolaters - and so are upstanding, respectable citizens. Their trees may be a few yards closer to the right one, but that doesn't mean they aren't barking up the wrong one.

    (Excuse the weird illustration.)

    I don't know if I've been as coherent as I'd like to, but those are my thoughts on the subject.

    One more thing: Does it really matter whether a person being gay has to do with genetics?

  17. Sahara, with all respect, friend, I would seriously reconsider that position. What's the difference between saying you would support capital punishment for homosexuals in an imaginary ideal society but not for this current one? The ideal society should be the one we're aiming at.

    It is true that homosexuality -- and indeed all misplaced sexuality (pornography, fornication, adultery, etc.) -- impacts society, as all sin does. But it is not something that affects society in the way murder does. Sexual immorality, Paul explains, is a sin against the body. Homosexuality involves two consenting adults that does not immediately harm anyone else. Murder is a direct offense against justice and another innocent person.

    The reason the Bible called for the death penalty on homosexuality (and disobedient children and adulterers and fornicators and idolators and those who broke the Sabbath) was because Israel was a special covenant community that could not tolerate such an egregious sin as homosexuality. America -- and any other country -- is not a special covenant community called to be separate and holy from the rest of the world. The church is that new community, and its steps to remove sin from the church do not involve capital punishment but restoration and repentance. I think homosexuality would fall under the authority of personal and church government (if one professes Christ) -- not the civil government.

  18. Not to make this a discussion on government, but I believe its only job is to protect people from harm. I say that not as a snap back at anything said before, but merely as the contribution of my $0.02.

    Blessings all!

  19. Please forgive me. I scribbled out my post in haste and excitement, and, I must confess, was not thinking very clearly. Bailey, your comment made me stop, go back and read my own again with clearer eyes.

    I am not totally convinced that there should not be legal consequences for homosexuality, adultery, and the like. Still, you make an excellent point about Israel being a special nation. I realize that America is not, and is not bound by the old civil laws, though they are excellent examples in many ways.

    I don't wish this discussion to drag on (especially as this is an old post), so don't reply unless you'd particularly like to. I will merely thank you heartily for your caring, insightful disagreement. It is helping me to see the issue in new ways.

    (Only one thing more. I only said I wouldn't make a death penalty law against homosexuality in our society today because that would be like saying all residents of Philadelphia should be fined $5000 a year. They didn't know that would be a penalty of moving there; it wouldn't be fair to implement that suddenly, even if there were cause for it.)

    Thank you so much again, Bailey!


  20. Hi Bailey,

    I went back to this older post because last night my husband and I had a discussion about this very issue (not this case itself, but the conversation was prompted by a television show we were watching with an extremely similar situation). My husband's views on homosexuality are in complete agreement with mine, but on the issue of free speech he is 100% in agreement with you. He did not buy my arguments about protecting my child and hostile environments at all. He thinks everyone should have the right not just to hold his own opinions, but to express them in whatever matter he sees fit, even if the language someone chooses seems hateful to some people. As you said, the way the boy made his argument is not the way you would have chosen, but he should not have been reprimanded for attempting to exercise his right to free speech (according to my husband). My husband has not totally convinced me, but I am thinking about this again.

    When I came back to post I read the later comments and I think your response about the difference between homosexual acts and murder and the difference between Biblical Israel and modern America was excellent.

    -- Adele


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