Peggy Johnson's son knows what it is like to be a friend. He also knows being a friend can hurt. Literally. According to a report in the Seattle Times, a fellow freshman friend of Johnson's son was being harassed at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie Valley, near Seattle. One night Johnson found her son texting his friend, "Just stay by me."
On November 6, during the school day, the two freshmen entered the boy's locker room to change after P.E. Then taunting began, including anti-gay slurs and Johnson defied the bully. At that point, an older student assaulted Johnson's son, leading to two broken teeth, a broken eye socket and a concussion.
The theme of the bullying reported in this incident is all too familiar: A student is bullied because he is perceived to be gay. Mount Si High is no stranger to the controversies surrounding anti-gay bullying. Two years ago, local pastor Ken Hutcherson led a protest of Mount Si on the Day of Silence, a day supported by gay advocates as a way to raise awareness about such bullying. Last year, there were no protests but nearly a third of student's stayed home on that day.
Sadly, the Seattle Times article juxtaposed the protest from Christians against the very real consequences of antipathy towards gays at Mount Si. I do not blame the reporter for doing so. I believe the mistake was with the protestors. In their zeal to stand up for their religious beliefs about sexuality, they left themselves open to the charge that they do not respect gays as image bearers of God.
In 2008 and again last year, I looked for families in the Mount Si district to become involved in the Golden Rule Pledge. Although designed for Christian students, the GRP simply invites all students to pledge to treat others they way they want to be treated. I found several who lived close to the Mount Si district but no one stepped up to make that pledge. I will always wonder if the GRP could have made even a small difference there.
I am not suggesting that the attacker was a Christian who protested or avoided the Day of Silence. I don't know anything about that. However, I do know that in bullying situations there are victims, perpetrators, bystanders and heroes. I believe there are too many Christian bystanders and too few heroes. Many students and parents know there is a problem but do nothing.
Some Christians have become fearful of anti-bullying programs because social conservative groups have warned parents that "bullying prevention" is code for pro-gay propaganda. Groups like Mission America have scared parents that anti-bullying means pro-gay. On Mission America "risk audit," school's score lower for having an anti-bullying program. Various groups have promoted this "audit" to their constituencies as a way to combat what they view as pro-gay instruction. I have talked to some of these parents who trust these groups. Some protest without knowing much about the programs they oppose. Other parents, out of fear of looking liberal, shrink away and become bystanders, allowing the problem to persist.
Peggy Johnson's son was not a bystander and it cost him. In relation to the bullying problem at your local school, which role are you playing? At risk of being considered soft on gay issues, why not be a hero? Reach out to your child's teacher and principal and tell them you want to be a part of the solution. After they recover from shock, they will probably find something for you to do. If not, contact me and I will tell you more about the Golden Rule Pledge and other ways to help combat school bullying.
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About Dr. Warren Throckmorton
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College (PA). He co-founded the Golden Rule Pledge which advocates bullying prevention in evangelical churches. His academic articles have been published by journals of the American Psychological Association and he is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He is the author with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, of the book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. Over 200 newspapers have published his columns. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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