Family Policy Alliance Misleads Public on Conversion Therapy Legislation

To hear Focus on the Family’s public policy arm, Family Policy Alliance, talk about it, the opponents of forcing teens to go to sexual orientation change efforts (aka conversion therapy) don’t want kids to go to counseling. Listen to Stephanie Curry use the phrase “basic talk therapy” like it is her job (which in this case it is).

Transcript:

Hi, I’m Stephanie Curry and I’m a public policy manager with Family Policy Alliance. I’m here today to talk to you about a series of bills that we’re seeing across the country that would seek to ban basic talk therapy for our children. Family Policy Alliance cares about this issue because we care about our children and that they’re able to have access to basic talk therapy if they are struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction and gender identity issues. We believe that families and parents know what’s best for their children and they should have the ability to find licensed therapists that support their moral and religious principles.
Some bills we’re seeing that are cause for concern are for example a bill in Massachusetts that said it was child abuse for a family to take their child to a therapist to get therapy for their unwanted same-sex attractions or gender identity issues. We also have seen a bill in Massachusetts that equates this type of basic talk therapy to torture. Now we know that this isn’t true. Because we love our children, we want them to have access to compassionate and ethical basic talk therapy that is open to change. Thank you so much for joining us today.

The Basic Talk Therapy Bill

In fact, the only bill I could find in MA did not refer to therapy as child abuse or torture. The bill does not prohibit basic talk therapy. The 2017 bill — H1190 — specifically forbids interventions which serve sexual reorientation or gender identity change. However, the bill does allow a neutral exploration of sexual and gender identity issues.
Read the the bill below:

SECTION 1. Chapter 112 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official addition, is hereby amended by adding following new section:-
Section 266. (a) Definitions.
For the purposes of this section, “licensed professional” means any licensed medical, mental health, or human service professional licensed under Chapter 112, including any psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, allied mental health and human services professional, licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed rehabilitation counselor, licensed mental health counselor, licensed educational psychologist, or any of their respective interns or trainees, or any other person designated or licensed as a mental health or human service professional under Massachusetts law or regulation.
The term “sexual orientation” shall mean having an orientation for or being identified as having an orientation for heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality.
The term “Gender identity” shall mean a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity; provided, however, that gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.
“Sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” means any practice by a licensed professional that attempts or purports to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including but not limited to efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex. The term “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” does not include practices:
(A)(1) to provide acceptance, support, and understanding of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; (2) facilitate an individual’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development; or (3) that are sexual orientation-neutral or gender identity-neutral including interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and
(B) Do not attempt or purport to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
(b) Under no circumstances shall a licensed professional advertise for or engage in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts with a patient less than 18 years of age. Any licensed professional violating this prohibition shall be such subject to discipline by the appropriate licensing board, which may include suspension or revocation of license.
(c) Whoever violates this section shall be considered to have violated section 2 of chapter 93A. Any such claim brought under this section shall be subject to sections 5A and 7 of chapter 260.
SECTION 2. (a) Subsection (a) of Section 51A of chapter 119 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official addition, is hereby amended by inserting after the words “chapter 233” the following words:-
or (vi) being subjected to sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts as defined by section 169 of chapter 112
(b) Section 51A of chapter 119 is further amended in subsection (i) after the word “family.” by adding the following words:-
Any report including licensed professionals engaging in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts as defined under section 169 of chapter 112 shall be filed within 30 days to the appropriate licensing board for review and possible suspension or revocation of license.

Therapists Should Be Neutral

Religious right pundits have been distorting these bills since they first came along. The MA bill clearly allows “basic talk therapy” which “provide[s] acceptance, support, and understanding of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression” and “facilitate[s] an individual’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development” or “that [is] sexual orientation-neutral or gender identity-neutral including interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices.”
Therapist should facilitate coping, social support and identity exploration and do so in a neutral manner. Therapists should not try to push sexual reorientation.
As a result of supportive therapy, some teens will determine that they are straight or cisgender and others will come out as a sexual minority. Such therapy is legal under this bill. Religious therapists should be perfectly fine with this arrangement. Therapy should not be a platform for spreading religious beliefs or making clients into Christian disciples.
What the state of MA is trying to prevent is for a therapist to use the cover of a state license to pursue sexual orientation or gender identity change. Therapists may do many things to support families who are traditional in their beliefs, but under a law like this, they may not actively use techniques or prescribe methods which have the intent to change orientation. Given that those techniques rarely, if ever, work, this would be beneficial for teens on balance.

David Barton's War on Christian Colleges: Claims Disputed by Focus on the Family Researcher and His Own Book

Last weekend, David Barton continued his war on Christian colleges when he told an audience at Faith Baptist Church in Knightdale, NC that 50% of students at Christian universities deny their faith while in college.  Watch:
[youtube]https://youtu.be/PBnk92GoKSQ[/youtube]
At 1:03 into the clip above, Barton said:

I mentioned before that between 60 and 80% of our kids deny their faith at university, you can at least send your kids to a Christian university, cause only 50% of them deny their faith at a Christian university. How does that happen? Because so many of the Christian profs we have get trained by pagan guys who think pagan in the way they go at it.

This isn’t the first time he has said this. As he did this time, he often couples his claim with criticism of Christian college professors. As with many of his other claims, he offers no evidence. Ultimately, in my opinion, this war on Christian colleges has more to do with self-defense than objective truth. Barton’s strongest critiques have come from Christian academics. He cannot claim we are on the left so he has to make up a cover story — in the case of this claim, he apparently thinks it helps him look better if he can convince audiences that Christian college professors only teach what their pagan graduate school professors taught them.
When I researched this claim before, I found nothing to support it. If anything, Christian schools are showing less erosion of faith commitments among their students.
A new wrinkle in Barton’s war on Christian colleges is the fact that the footnotes in his most recent book with George Barna (U-Turn) actually contradict his claim. In that book, Barna and Barton write about loss of faith for people under 30:

Most studies now show that roughly one-third of them [people under 30] have no connection to organized religion—and that their distaste for organized religion is growing steadily.4 Barna, George; Barton, David (2014-10-21). U-Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots (p. 26). Charisma House. Kindle Edition.

I can find nothing in the book which references Christian colleges.
The footnote about colleges in general goes to several surveys, none of which support Barton’s claims. One study in particular comes from Focus on the Family and suggests that doom and gloom predictions are wrong. Instead, they found that “only 18% of young adults raised with any religion are now unaffliated with a particular faith.” One of the authors of that study, Glenn Stanton, told me that Barton’s claims are actually discounted by current research. About Barton’s claim that 50% of Christian college students lose their faith, Stanton told me in an email:

That number is far too high even for kids at secular schools. No sound research data show anything near that.

Stanton then pointed me to a research brief he prepared for FotF which included some recent research on young people, college attendance, and religiosity. If anything, it is lack of college attendance which is associated with declines in religious participation. From the report:

Is College Corrosive to Faith?

In the last few years, social scientists have “found that the religiously undermining effect of higher education…has disappeared” and that a recent study “using some of the best longitudinal data available has shown that is not those who attend college, but in fact those who do not attend college who are most likely to experience declines” in religious participation and importance. An additional survey of college students found that 2.7 times more students said their faith was strengthened, rather than weakened, through their college experience.

Stanton added in an email:

In fact, the best research shows that all things being equal, young adults are more likely to abandon their faith if they don’t go to college, be it a Christian or secular school.

Sometimes Barton defends himself by telling audiences how many footnotes he has in his books. In this case, he should have read at least this one. David Barton’s war on Christian colleges has nothing to do with Christian colleges and everything to do with David Barton.

The David Barton Cover Up: More on Gregg Frazer’s Critique of David Barton’s America’s Godly Heritage

On Monday, I wrote about a time in 2012 when David Barton was confronted by evangelical historians. I linked to a devastating critique of Barton’s America’s Godly Heritage by Gregg Frazer, professor of history at The Master’s College.  Much of the critique is helpful even if one has not seen Barton’s DVD because Frazer includes enough of the context to make the critiques clear. However, there is one section which might not be as clear as the others. To help readers use the critique well, I want to provide some additional context.

Specifically, I refer to this section of Frazer’s critique:

Barton’s claims about the percentage of quotes directly from the Bible or based on the Bible or from “men who used the Bible to write their conclusions” are gross misrepresentations that are too confusing and complex to explain briefly here. A few comments will have to suffice. First, his percentages are blown out of proportion. He notes that a study found the Bible to have the highest percentage of citations (34%) and he claims that another 60% came from “men who used the Bible to write their conclusions”; consequently, he claims that “94% of the quotes of the Founders were based on the Bible.” First, neither the 60% number nor the 94% number come from the study – Barton made those up. Second, the study is careful to note that “reprinted sermons accounted for almost three-fourths of the biblical citations, making this nonsermon source of biblical citations roughly as important as the Classical or Common Law categories [10%].” Most importantly, while Barton appeals to this study during his discussion of the framing of the Constitution, the study says that during the debate on the U.S. Constitution, “the Bible’s prominence disappears” and “(t)he debate surrounding the adoption of the Constitution was fought out mainly in the context of Montesquieu, Blackstone, the English Whigs, and major writers of the Enlightenment.” Even at that, the percentages are misleading in and of themselves, as misapplication and misinterpretations of passages (abuse of the Bible) are counted the same as proper use. Satan quotes the Bible (e.g. Luke 3:10-11) too, but that does not indicate any righteousness or interest in promoting Christianity on his part.

The study in question was conducted by Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman, both then at the University of Houston. Frazer is correct in his criticisms but there is more that can be said about Barton’s misuse of the study. For that additional information, please see my prior post on how the Institute on the Constitution mimics Barton’s errors and then this post by Jim Allison and Tom Peters.

This is a case where Barton cites the study improperly, and then fails to cite all of the relevant sections of the study. Barton’s main argument is that the founders used the Bible as a foundation for our form of government. However, Lutz and Hyneman demonstrate that the Federalist defenders of the Constitution did not refer to the Bible once in their writings.  On page 194 of the study, Lutz charts the analysis of the citations in the Federalist and Antifederalist papers.

LutzHyneman

Note that the Bible was not cited at all by the Federalists. It was those who opposed various aspects of the Constitution, the Antifederalists, who cited the Bible.  While Lutz and Hyneman are fair in their research, Barton spins and omits relevant information to twist their argument beyond recognition.

The title of this post begins by calling attention to what I call “the David Barton cover up.” Religious right leaders know about the many critiques from Christian academics but those leaders choose to ignore them. David Barton’s fractured history is apparently too important to challenge. Major organizations (e.g., Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Liberty University, Gateway Church) and individuals (e.g., David Lane, Glenn Beck, Sen. Ted Cruz) are aware of the findings of numerous conservative Christian historians. However, the work of these scholars does not matter. Countless state and federal legislators have been led astray which has consequences for the state of our political process.

These organizations and leaders are responsible as are Christian media sources who fail to ask these leaders hard questions; it remains to be seen if they will ever do the right thing.

 

David Barton Back in Good Graces of Family Research Council

After removing the Capitol Tour video from You Tube due to historical errors in May 2013, the Family Research Council again had David Barton conduct the Capitol Tour for pastors during the Watchmen on the Wall conference. According to Time Magazine, David Barton led the spiritual heritage tour and covered at least some of the same ground as in the video FRC’s V.P. Kenyn Cureton removed from You Tube in 2013.
Last year, FRC told me that Barton was not going to conduct the tour in favor of Kenyn Cureton.
Politico reported on Barton’s resurgence last year and he has now come full circle with FRC. Despite the fact that FRC removed the video riddled with errors and Focus on the Family attempted to cover up the fact that they also had to edit Barton’s videos to get them a little closer to accurate, Barton continues to be viewed as an expert on American history by a certain segment of the Christian right.
According to Time, the conference participants talked much about taking the country back to God. Even if creating a Christian nation was possible or virtuous, one cannot expect success when the foundation of the effort is built on half-truths and error.  Unless Barton has had a major change of course, those pastors are now ill-prepared to engage in intelligent dialogue with their ideological opponents. Many Christian historians would have been willing to discuss the full story with those pastors, but instead FRC chose someone the FRC and other Christian groups have admitted traffics in a faulty narrative.  I am never more ashamed of my community when perceived political usefulness trumps truth and accuracy.

Politico on David Barton: What Will Evangelicals Do, Part Two

Yesterday’s Politico article by Stephanie Simon on evangelical support for David Barton could have been subtitled: Evangelicals Choose Pragmatism Over Truth.
In the last year, over 70 scholars (over 700 if you count the 650 votes The Jefferson Lies received for Least Credible History Book in Print) have expressed concerns about David Barton’s history.  Most of those 70 scholars teach history or social science at conservative Christian colleges.* Yet, the Politico article reveals an approach to historical scholarship that is disturbing.
Stephanie Simon told the tale. Although I have some skepticism about Barton’s sunny disposition, he says he is back and better than ever. Evangelical Senator, and probable contender for the GOP presidential nomination, Ted Cruz said he was not in a position to opine on academic disputes. However, there is really no dispute about which to opine. The verdict has been in for some time. Thomas Nelson delivered it just over a year ago. As noted, multitudes of scholars have united to send the same message. Where are the scholars defending The Jefferson Lies, or the claim that Congress printed the first English Bible, or that the Constitution quotes the Bible “verbatim?” We don’t need Mr. Cruz to opine on a dispute, we need him to open his mind to reality. About Barton’s lessons, Cruz said:

David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.

Doesn’t it matter that much of Mr. Barton’s “historical research” has been deemed to be off the mark? Mr. Cruz, aren’t you concerned in the least that these millions are now seriously misinformed? The same questions can be posed to Christian right organizations which use Barton’s work even though they know it is off the mark.
There is not even a question about the accuracy issue any longer. To their credit, the Family Research Council acknowledged that they removed the Capitol Hill video due to errors. And Focus on the Family felt the need to stealthily edit error-filled portions of Barton’s speeches. There are other aspects of the Focus broadcast (of which they are aware) that are incorrect; those remain a part of the broadcast.
Instead of integrity, accuracy, correction and stewardship, evangelical groups are openly discussing the value of content and consultants in utilitarian terms. If Mr. Barton can deliver a certain segment of evangelicals then the standards will be different for him. Mr. Barton gets a pass because he has a big audience and is perceived to be helpful politically.
In February of this year, I reflected on World magazine’s coverage of the Barton controversy and asked how evangelicals might respond. Now, I rephrase slightly.

World Magazine Politico has now put these matters on the front burner. My question is what will evangelicals do about it?

 
*Many more than 70 scholars have expressed concerns but some did not want to sign a letter or write an essay. Some were told not to do so by their college or university administration; others said they did not believe Christian political groups would listen. Perhaps they were right.

Politico: David Barton's Political Usefulness Trumps Scholarship For Evangelical Groups

Politico’s Stephanie Simon has an eye-opening article out today regarding David Barton and his evangelical supporters. Although I don’t agree that Barton’s reputation has fully bounced back, the article correctly reveals the disappointing pragmatism that plagues some Christian organizations. I will have more on this article in a separate post.
This section is especially disturbing:

Focus on the Family, meanwhile, edited two videos on its website featuring a lengthy interview Barton gave to Focus radio. The editing deleted a segment in which Barton declares that Congress printed the first English-language Bible in America — and intended it to be used in schools. That’s one of Barton’s signature stories — it’s a highlight in his Capitol tour — but historians who have reviewed the documentation say it’s simply not true. Focus also cut an inaccurate anecdote about a contemporary legal case, which Barton cited to make the point that society today punishes people of faith.
Asked why the videos were edited, Carrie Gordon Earll, a senior director of public policy at Focus on the Family, at first said they had not been, though before-and-after footage can be publicly viewed on websites archiving Focus broadcasts. Earll then said she could not comment beyond a statement noting that Focus “has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with David Barton” and respects his “broad base of knowledge” about early American history.
In an interview with POLITICO, Barton said his remarks were sometimes taken out of context but defended his scholarship as impeccable.

A subset of the evangelical historians who raised issues with Family Research Council brought these problems to Focus on the Family’s attention this summer. In a post later today, I will point out which sections were removed without notice. It is shocking that Focus initially denied they had edited the material. Why is David Barton’s reputation so important that a Christian group would resort to subterfuge to cover it up?
 

David Barton misleads Focus on the Family on death penalty case

Last week, Focus on the Family produced a series of broadcasts titled the Founding of America, featuring David Barton. In one of them, Barton told the audience that the Supreme Court overturned a murder conviction because the prosecutor used a Bible verse in his closing arguments. Here is Barton’s version of the case:

I mean, you do something religious in the courtroom and you’re in a lot of trouble, as evidenced by the case that we had at the Supreme Court not long ago, called Commonwealth v. Chambers. And that case came out of Pennsylvania. A man named Carl Chambers was convicted by a jury for taking an axe handle and brutally clubbing to death a 71-year-old woman to steal her Social Security check.
Not only was he convicted by the jury, he was sentenced to death by that jury. And yet, the Court overturned his conviction, because they pointed out that despite all the evidence and all the witnesses and all the testimony, something terrible had happened in the courtroom. They said that in a statement of less than five seconds, the prosecuting attorney had mentioned seven words out loud from the Bible. And the Court said, “We can’t have that. So, despite the evidence, despite the brutal nature of this crime, you mentioned a Bible verse, now we’ve got to reverse the murder sentence of this brutal murderer, because you mentioned a Bible verse in the courtroom.”
You see, today law and religion are enemies. They don’t get along, but back then, they were like two yoke of oxen, pulling in the same direction, never to be separated.

This description is quite misleading. Barton makes it seem as though a brutal murder went unpunished because the Supreme Court (Pennsylvania’s) penalized the prosecutor for citing the Bible. The facts of the case paint a completely different picture.
First, here are the facts Barton got right. In 1987, Karl Stephenson Chambers was convicted of robbing and killing Anna Mae Morris in 1986. The evidence was circumstantial but convincing to the jury and they found Chambers guilty of robbery and murder. During the sentencing phase, the prosecutor referred briefly to the Bible. The jury then rendered a sentence of death. Chambers appealed and based on the Bible reference, the PA Supreme Court vacated the death sentence.
At this point, the facts diverge from Barton’s rendition. Barton says the “Court overturned his conviction,” leaving the clear impression that the court let a guilty man go free. However, the conviction, or as Barton also framed it — “murder sentence” — was not overturned. The initial sentence of the death penalty was set aside so that a new sentencing hearing could be held. That hearing was held and that jury came back with the same sentence of death. So Barton’s contention that “the Court overturned his conviction, because they pointed out that despite all the evidence and all the witnesses and all the testimony, something terrible had happened in the courtroom” is simply not true.
Eventually, Chambers death sentence was set aside in favor of life in prison, but this change had nothing to do with the use of the biblical reference. In 2005, attorney William Hangley argued before a York (PA) County judge that Chambers could not be executed because Chambers is mentally retarded. In 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing a mentally impaired person was “cruel and usual punishment.” Chambers scored a 60 as a middle school student and 74 as an adult inmate leading the Court to convert his death row fate to life in prison. The federal court agreed which took Chambers off death row. Attorney Bill Hangley confirmed to me in an email that Chambers is still serving his life sentence.
Having established that Barton embellished the situation to make it seem as though the PA Supreme Court was prejudiced in the extreme against religion, let me come back to what the prosecutor said and the rationale of the Court for their ruling. In making a case for the death penalty, York County prosecutor Stan Rebert told the jury, “Karl Chambers has taken a life. As the Bible says, `and the murderer shall be put to death.'”
Why did the PA Supreme Court have a problem with that? Essentially, they argued that the prosecutor improperly appealed to a law other than civil law. Note that the Supreme Court allows some references to the Bible in court but they objected to this one for specific reasons. Here is the section on point from Commonwealth v. Chambers:

Finally, Appellant [Chambers] argues that the prosecutor overstepped the permissible bounds of oratorical flair in his closing argument by referring to the Bible. The record shows that the prosecutor stated, “Karl Chambers has taken a life.” (R., p. 1201). “As the Bible says, `and the murderer shall be put to death.'” (R., p. 1201). Defense counsel objected. The trial court immediately noted this objection and gave a curative instruction to the jury…
Here, the prosecutor argued, “As the Bible says, `and the murderer shall be put to death.'” This reference is substantially different than the references tolerated in Henry and Whitney where the prosecutor allegorically likened the Defendant to the Prince of Darkness mentioned in the Bible to establish that he was an evil person. More than allegorical reference, this argument by the prosecutor advocates to the jury that an independent source of law exists for the conclusion that the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for Appellant. By arguing that the Bible dogmatically commands that “the murderer shall be put to death,” the prosecutor interjected religious law as an additional factor for the jury’s consideration which neither flows from the evidence or any legitimate inference to be drawn therefrom. We believe that such an argument is a deliberate attempt to destroy the objectivity and impartiality of the jury which cannot be cured and which we will not countenance. Our courts are not ecclesiastical courts and, therefore, there is no reason to refer to religious rules or commandments to support the imposition of a death penalty.
Our Legislature has enacted a Death Penalty Statute which carefully categorizes all the factors that a jury should consider in determining whether the death penalty is an appropriate punishment and, if a penalty of death is meted out by a jury, it must be because the jury was satisfied that the substantive law of the Commonwealth requires its imposition, not because of some other source of law.
Because the prosecutor’s argument in favor of the death penalty reached outside of the evidence of the case and the law of this Commonwealth, we are not convinced that the penalty was not the product of passion, prejudice or an arbitrary factor and, therefore, pursuant to our Death Penalty Statute, we must vacate the sentence of death and remand this matter for a new sentencing hearing. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h)(4).
Accordingly, the conviction of murder of the first degree and the conviction and sentence imposed for robbery are affirmed, the sentence of death is vacated and the matter is remanded to the Court of Common Pleas of York County for a new sentencing hearing.

I think the reasoning of the PA court does not indicate hostility toward religion per se. On point, the money quote from the Commonwealth v. Chambers is this:

Our courts are not ecclesiastical courts and, therefore, there is no reason to refer to religious rules or commandments to support the imposition of a death penalty.

This was not a situation where the Court discriminated against religious speech. The prosecutor invoked Mosaic law instead of the governing statute – the laws of PA. In conservatively religious York County, PA, I can understand why such directions may generate biased responding by a jury. Furthermore, there are many outcomes envisioned by various religions about what would be proper in cases of murder. The courts cannot include persuasion which appeals to authority other than the statutes which cover all citizens.
David Barton offers this case as evidence that “if you do something religious in the court room,” “you’re in a lot of trouble.” That may or may not be true in certain situations, but, in this case, it seems to me that his concern could be stated more accurately, “if you attempt to implement a pro-death penalty interpretation of Christianity in court as a means of deciding a case, then you are in trouble.”
There are religious traditions that oppose the death penalty on religious grounds. Some of those people might argue the fact that Karl Chambers is alive but in prison today is the best religious outcome. It is certainly possible that those opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds are glad that the PA Supreme Court restricts religious speech calling for the death penalty based on the Old Testament. By inaccurately citing the Chambers case, it seems to me that Barton is not complaining that the PA Court disrespected religion in some general way, he is troubled that the court failed to privilege his religion.
Note: The entire legal history of the Chambers case is available in this District Court decision.

What kind of dialogue will we have?

Focus on the Family’s revised Day of Dialogue seems to be a kinder, gentler version of the former Day of Truth. On the new website, the group comes out strongly against bullying:

Any form of bullying and harassment of others is always wrong, including making fun of others, speaking down to them and saying things that hurt people. Christian students in particular should be bold in speaking up to oppose that kind of behavior because it goes completely against the model Christ gave us and that is reflected in Bible verses like these: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:16-17.

They also emphasize that any objections to homosexuality must be expressed in a respectful manner.

Any verbal and written expressions used by students participating in this event should be loving and compassionate—and never be expressed in a condemning or antagonistic way to others. Even when we disagree with others, we should always demonstrate the utmost compassion and respect for them.

While I appreciate this tone, I wonder what kind of dialogue the sponsors hope to create. Let’s set the stage for the proposed dialogue. The DoD is set to take place on Monday, April 18, 2010, the Monday after the Friday the Day of Silence is observed. On the Day of Silence, some students are silent during non-instructional time to dramatize the silence surrounding the harassment and bullying of students who identify as GLBT or those who are perceived to be a sexual minority. The sponsors suggest providing cards to pass out which “speak” for them. Here is what they say:

Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.

DAY of SILENCE – What are you going to do to end the Silence?

This would be one side of a dialogue. What is the other side? Is there another side? The DoS invites a dialogue about ending bullying relating to perceptions of sexual orientation. What kind of dialogue is envisioned by the DoD? From the website:

As a high school or college student, do you sometimes feel discouraged when controversial subjects like homosexuality are brought up in your school—and the conversation seems stifled, one-sided and doesn’t allow free room for discussion? Do you feel like your beliefs—the deepest truths of Christianity—are being mischaracterized?

Wish your classmates could hear more of the story—like the truth about God’s deep love for us and what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality? Wouldn’t it be nice if a deeper and freer conversation could happen?

As it stands, on Friday, the DoS students will ask for a conversation about anti-gay name-calling and bullying and then on Monday, the DoD students will answer with a defense of evangelical beliefs about sexuality. To me, that seems like two groups talking about two different things.

And so, I will continue to promote the Golden Rule Pledge during the days surrounding the “Days.” GRPledgers will join with those calling for an end to anti-gay bullying and offer that response to the question: “What are you going to do to end the Silence?” In addition, I encourage students to be keep the dialogue about ending bullying on the DoD.

Day of Dialogue?

This doesn’t look promising.

A major Christian group will take over an annual event that challenges homosexuality, weeks after the event’s main Christian sponsor pulled support for the student-focused program, saying it had become too divisive and confrontational.

Focus on the Family, an influential evangelical organization, will begin sponsoring the event known as the Day of Truth but will change the name of the happening to the Day of Dialogue, the group is set to announce Thursday.

The Day of Truth has been pushed by conservative Christian groups as a way for school students to counter the Day of Silence, an annual April event promoted by gay rights advocates to highlight threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

I will wait until the news release comes out to react more  but I was hoping the event would go away and everybody would focus on ending bias, bullying and harassment.

Recently, I spoke with an expert in bullying prevention who told me that requests for consultation have increased dramatically over the last few months. However, so too have the fearful comments from worried parents who think anti-bullying programming means their kids will be pushed into homosexuality. I am concerned that this new “day” may mean more obstacles to progress.

Update: Here is the website…

Bullying prevention on CNN: FOF and GLSEN square off

Timothy Kincaid posted the link to this Anderson Cooper 360 segment on bullying prevention. Here is Candi Cushman and Eliza Byard discussing bullying policy along with author Rosalind Wiseman.

In the past I have favored laws which do not enumerate traits (e.g., race, religion, sexual orientation) because the context of bullying can be so diverse that a category could be left out (e.g., gifted kids). However, I think that enumerated laws are better than no laws at all and certainly understand advocates who believe listing is the way to go. I do favor numeration of categories for statistical purposes as bullying prevention programs are implemented. This approach provides a way to know where the problems are and if a district is improving.

Furthermore, I think implementation of bullying prevention often requires directly addressing various social issues, such as race and sexual orientation. If the school-wide assessment finds that gays are being harassed and disrespected, then you have to address the worth and dignity of sexual minorities. Wiseman and Byard are correct to note that silence on the issue sends a loud message – some disrespect is ok, while other disrespect will not be tolerated. Simply saying, ‘all people deserve respect and a safe learning environment’ is not enough and often does not generalize. Human nature being what it is, it is easy to allow bias to convince us that our prejudices are ok, as long as we don’t generalize them. Where a problem exists, it has to be named.

At the same time, I do think that school personnel have a responsibility to avoid stigmatizing religious people who do not approve of homosexuality. This is a difficult challenge and one which mirrors the problem we have finding ways to live together in a society polarized over many issues. However, we have to try.