Christian teens are the target of a new curriculum that is aimed at propelling young believers to take a leadership role when they see others, including gays, being bullied.
"A middle school student who is bullied daily doesn't care about religious differences. He needs help," said Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.
Throckmorton is the co-creator of the Golden Rule Pledge – an initiative that encourages respect and concern toward GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) persons without compromising beliefs – which has produced a new youth curriculum that tackles gay bashing and bullying.
He believes that Christians could help bullied youth if only they followed the golden rule – do unto others as they would do unto you.
"There's much controversy around homosexuality. There should be no controversy around practicing the golden rule," he stressed.
He wants young believers to take the lead in denouncing gay bashing and bullying. "I'd like to see Christian kids, youth group kids become leaders against bullying."
The gay bullying issue took center stage after a string of gay youth suicides. The September suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death after being outed by the secret taping of his sexual encounter with a man, opened the floodgates for other stories. Texas teen Asher Brown took his life last month after being bullied at his Texas school. His parents told CNN that he was taunted with gay slurs, among other things. That same month, Californian gay teen Seth Walsh died after trying to hang himself on a tree. Seth mother said that he was "different."
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has named eight other suicide victims whose death they believe was motivated by gay-bashing. The group designated Wednesday as Spirit Day in honor of the eleven youths and urged people to wear purple to bring awareness to bullying.
"The tragic suicides of our youth have started an important dialogue among Americans about the dangers of bullying, and now is the time to show our children that millions of Americans accept and value them regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios.
Several gay and heterosexual celebrities have chimed in to the anti-gay bullying dialogue. They include comedian Kathy Griffin, Project Runway star Tim Gunn and openly gay talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Some of those voices in the dialogue have turned on the church. Griffin, during an interview with CNN, put some of the blame for what she called "trickle-down homophobia" on "so-called religious leaders."
On Larry King Live, she remarked that "All religion isn't bad," but noted that there "people under the umbrella of I'm a religious leader" who she affirmed would say it is "OK to bully a gay person." She included in that group people who didn't want homosexuals in their church or didn't believe in gay marriage and homosexuals serving openly in the military.
Throckmorton said he knows there is a division over the homosexual lifestyle and biblical beliefs.
"I think a lot of people may not agree with my religious views, but they're not attacking me," said the Pennsylvania professor who does not agree with homosexual behavior but believes Christians should practice love and forgiveness as Jesus did in his day when dealing with sin.
He believes that Christians can co-exist with homosexuals without crossing the moral line.
"I think what they are asking for is mutual respect," he said. But the treatment of homosexuals is a hard issue for many churches, he noted.
"It's probably one of the hardest things to talk about in church," he said.
The five-page Golden Rule Pledge curriculum has been designed to address the issue within church youth groups. Teens must participate and pick sides in a skit entitled, "The Freshman in the Lunchroom," in which a gay student is bullied.
Students then discuss questions such as "What roles should teens take in a situation where someone is getting bullied?" and "Should our helping depend on the reason someone is getting bullied?" and study the biblical accounts of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, and the Samaritan woman at the well. In both accounts, Jesus socializes with people considered social outcasts.
"Jesus transcended groupings," Throckmorton highlighted. "He didn't do it with philosophical rhetoric. He transcended them in a very personal way."
Through the curriculum, Throckmorton said he hopes "to see the elimination of anti-gay name-calling."