Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    CULTURE WATCH: "Glee" Addresses GLBT Bullying

    Last night's episode of Glee entitled "Never Been Kissed" seems to have left many viewers with mixed feelings.  

    The central storyline focused on the character of Kurt who is the only gay student who is out in his high school.  Many episodes have shown Kurt being harassed and ostracized for his sexual orientation but last night's story focused particularly on his being physically bullied by a member of the football team.  Realizing no one really understands what he is dealing with, not even the teachers or his friends, Kurt considers transferring to a new school.  When he goes to check out a local boys school, which also happens to be their biggest competition in the upcoming regionals, Kurt finds a friend in Blaine. Blaine is also gay and sings in the school's glee club.  In a particularly touching moment, Blaine joins his glee club in singing "Teenage Dream."  

    In Kurt's eyes, Blaine is singing this love song directly to him and he confesses to his new friend that he's never been kissed.  Blaine encourages Kurt to have courage, be himself, and stand up to those who mistreat him.  A related storyline focused on Coach Bieste's mistreatment by the students because she doesn't fit the feminine stereotype expected of women in our culture.  When confronted by the cruel attitudes of the teens, her choice is to walk away. Kurt's choice is to stay and confront the bully.

    So what to make of this storyline?  When confronted by bullying, do we encourage GLBT youth to stand and fight?  Do we tell them to go to a teacher or school administrator?  As a former public school teacher, I can tell you this rarely solves the problem.  In Kurt's storyline, his bully turns out to be a teen who is himself struggling with sexual identity issues.  So what do we do with the bully, realizing that those who harbor strong bigoted feelings against gays and lesbians are quite often persons who are trying to hide  or avoid their own sexual issues.  And how do we help our own youth see how much damage can be done by hurtful words and attitudes? 

    High school is hard enough when you are a straight teen.  At least for straight teens, the culture provides all sorts of ways to fit in by encouraging dating, school dances, prom kings and queens, and celebrating youth who best fit the sexual identity stereotypes of our culture.  But what about the GLBT youth who must spend four years imprisoned in a heterocentrist environment where they are the stranger in a strange land?  If you've never considered how hard...really hard it is for GLBT youth just to survive the high school years, please take time to read this review of last night's Glee.

    This all make me wonder: Why does the Church spend so much time pushing GLBT individuals away, labeling them, encouraging society to deny them rights and privileges, and motivating Christians to get out and vote by dangling anti-gay amendments in their faces?  What would happen if the Church spent one tenth of that energy getting to know gay persons as people -not as an issue or biblical hot topic - but as fellow children of God?  What would happen if the Church became the primary voice in our culture speaking out for justice, compassion, and inclusion of persons of minority sexual orientations?  How might such a shift affect how our teens see other students at school and their call as Christians to work for justice and peace for all people? (To see how  youth pastor John Vest thoughtfully answers similar questions go here and here).


    Scott Cheatham said...


    The church I pastor is taught to love all people, regardless of their past or current sinful state. However, the homosexual lifestyle is something that we reject because of scripture's teaching of it being a sin. While I totally agree with the concept of bullying being wrong no matter the reason, the writers of GLEE are seeking, like much of our current culture, to bring homosexuality into the mainstream of life and those who hold a conservative, biblical opinion of the lifestyle itself (NOT the individual) are being labeled as out of touch, bigoted, homophobes.

    I have nothing against people who choose to lead this lifestyle. I have friends who are gay and who know that I am a Pastor and what my opinion of the lifestyle is. I seek to show Christ's love to everyone around me no matter the sinful behavior because we all have sinful tendencies in differing areas.

    My question is, where do you balance your teaching in your church on this matter? Or, like the ELCA and Episcopalian denominations, do you feel we should change our historical biblical position on this matter?

    Brian said...

    Hi Scott. Thanks for entering the conversation. You ask excellent questions. I'll try to address them without getting too lengthy.

    Let me first comment on the use of the word "lifestyle." I fear that for many the use of this word when referring to GLBT persons is intended to conjure up lots of negative imagery. The truth is, there is no one gay lifestyle. Many, perhaps most, gay persons live a life probably not unlike your own. They go to work, pay taxes, see movies, make dinner, mow their lawns, care for their partners and families, perhaps even attend church. Given this, I think the use of the term "lifestyle" is not very helpful for the dialogue. My understanding is that being gay is an orientation -- it is part of a person's identity and psychological makeup - just as is heterosexuality for others. Are there gay person's who live unhealthy lifestyles? Sure. Are there straight persons who do the same? Of course. To me there is nothing inherently sinful about being either straight or gay -- though the scriptural writers may differ as there are apparently hundreds of warnings against opposite gender sexual behavior in the Bible. How does this compare to the 3 or 4 injunctions against same sex behavior?

    Which leads us to another point you allude to. Those of us in the progressive church read the scriptures differently than those in the conservative church. I believe firmly that we must read scripture in light of history, culture, and social context. The Bible was written in a culture hugely different from our own. So, I take this into account when interpreting scripture. My studies have led me, and many others, to a realization that what we understand today as homosexuality was not at all part of the cultural understandings of the ancient world. I can find no injunctions in the Bible about same sex relationships that are mutually loving and edifying, so why should we as Christians be concerned with stable, caring same-sex relationships?

    My denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) believes that scripture is open to interpretation and that this must be done in community and in light of reason, tradition, and experience. We do not codify one particular way of understanding the text but are open to seeing nuances and discovering new understandings each time we open the Bible.

    Lastly, I'll share that I feel strongly that, even with the best of intentions, as long as the Church continues to single out GLBT individuals as disordered and inherently sinful, we help to fuel the flames of violence against gay persons. Why this issue has taken hold and has become such a focus of the Church is beyond me. Jesus had nothing to say on the issue, according to recorded scripture. He does speak out against divorce. Yet the church is not trying to legislate against divorce nor do we spend our time constantly talking about it are calling divorced person's inherently sinful. What to make of this? I'm not sure.

    So, I said I wouldn't be lengthy and I have been. I'd truly welcome to hear more from you and other conservatives on this issue as I'd like us each to better understand where we are coming from.

    Thanks again for commenting.

    Scott Cheatham said...


    Thanks for the good response. I differ with you on some of these points and I'm not sure a forum like this is the best way to dialog but in the interests of the discussion I'll make a few brief points..probably too brief given the depth of this subject.

    You mention biblical warnings against opposite gender sexual behavior in light of the 3 or 4 warnings against same sex behavior and ask why this is an issue then but I would say that God's Word encourages healthy heterosexual relationships in many places in scripture but is silent on healthy homosexual relationships. Therefore, in light of the text I would say that sexual sin is disobedience to what God commands in this area of our lives. In the very beginning He encourages a woman to leave her family and cleave to her husband to be "one flesh". He does not give a second option anywhere else.

    Your last points on Biblical interpretation are ones that could be a discussion unto themselves. I, too understand the cultural barriers we must break through to strip scripture down to its application for today but can find nothing in my studies that leads me to believe that same sex attraction and related sexual behavior in Biblical times was any more barbaric than what many today may claim as the calm manner in which we view it today. The behavior is the same.

    I respect your take on the issue brother. Don't get me wrong. I know as time goes on, my conviction will be the less popular one as our culture seeks to distance itself more and more from what I and many in church today feel are biblical imperatives. This issue seems to be one that polarizes both sides of the issue much more than other actions.

    Brian said...

    Scott,thanks for your response. We are perhaps demonstrating here that it is possible for those of us coming from different places in the Church to dialogue peacefully. I would hope that ultimately, despite interpretive differences Christians may hold, we can all agree that, at the very least, gay youth deserve our love, protection, and compassion. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.


    Matthew Miller said...


    I don't have time right now but I'll respond in the next few days.

    Matthew Miller

    Matthew Miller said...


    Let me start off by saying I have two girls in my youth group who have homosexual desires. I've welcomed them both and I’ve even allowed them to speak about there orientation to our group. I understand your concern for GLBT youth. I echo your compassion. Christ calls us, and our love for Him compels us to seek the last, least and the lost. My problem is not your compassion but rather the line which you’ve bought. Orientation does not equal identity.

    I agree that the vast majority of homosexuals for whatever reason did not choose their desire. But ones identity is more than desire. The Word of God everywhere calls us to submit our desires to the authority of Christ and find our identity in Him. It’s clear that the average heterosexual male is oriented to have sex with multiple women. Yet God calls us to surrender our orientation to practice sex within the confines of a monogamous union. I’ve surrendered to Christ. If my orientation equals my identity why should I remain sexually committed to my wife? Should I not explain to her that God loves me the way that I am and in turn she also must accept my promiscuous ways?

    Or if adultery is not an issue for you, take the orientation of a pedophile for instance. For whatever reason, he or she comes to the realization that they are sexually attracted to children. Most I’ve spoken to would given a choice pick a more culturally acceptable attraction. But despite their orientation, society demands that they actively choose against their desires. In this we admit that there is a distinction between the un-chosen orientation and the individual choice to either accept or reject those desires.

    The homosexual movement has gone to great lengths to convince the public that there is no choice involved in there “lifestyle” and because it’s not a choice we should accept them for who they are. But as you can see this is a morally dangerous proposition. If we must accept homosexuals for their orientation then we must accept the promiscuity of heterosexual males and equally ignore those biblical commands. In fact isn’t sin itself, in whatever form we find it, an orientation? Or have you simply abandoned the outmoded notion of sin altogether?

    I don’t believe the bible teaches that homosexual sex is the worst sin committed. Paul’s point in Romans 1 is simply that homosexual sex is an obvious abandonment of what God has revealed to everyone, it being committed against our natural design. So why the Christian uproar about this particular issue? It’s really the issue of sin itself. If orientation equals identity then we might as well abandon the notion of sin altogether. They want us to believe that what is unconsciously desired is never wrong. My brother, that’s Bull Shit.

    Matthew Miller

    Brian said...

    Matthew - just one issue I'd appreciate your response to: you make analogies between gay relationships, promiscuous heterosexuals, and pedophiles. I would affirm that promiscuous heterosexuality and pedophilia are examples of relationships in which one person does not treat the other with respect and in fact most often brings harm to the other. But what of monogamous, loving, stable gay relationships where the partners have been togther for decades and have created a positive homelife together? How is this harmful, either to the couple or to others? I understand that you beleive the Bible says that it is wrong -- but why is such a relationship wrong? To put a finer point on it - if you claim that it is wrong because God says it is wrong, then WHY does God beleive it is wrong? Who is being harmed? How can God object to two consenting adults mutually loving and caring for each other? I'm not talking here about DESIRE -- this isn't all about sex -- I'm talking same gendered couples who live in partnerships no less loving or stable than the best straight relationships.

    Matthew Miller said...


    First off God does not object to two consenting adults mutually loving and caring for each other. You’ve entirely mischaracterized the issue. No one is objecting to such relationships. You’ve heard of lifelong friendships right? The issue is sex! – Is it loving and caring to engage in a sexual relationship with a person of the same gender? You believe that despite natural design, almost universal aversion and the clear scriptural injunctions against it that homosexual sex (done properly) is okay because no one is disrespected and no one is harmed? But such a premise and conclusion are clearly wrong.
    Leaving aside the issue of scripture for the moment, just look at natural design. To use a wrench as a hammer is to disrespect its purpose and ultimately its wellbeing. Whether or not it knows it, the wrench is harmed. Believe me. I’ve done it more than once. This is why I believe the issue of loving mutual consent – the main premise of your argument – is completely awry. Mutual consent does not negate injury. Homosexual sex like pedophilia and promiscuous heterosexual sex is inherently disrespectful to ones design and harmful to ones wellbeing. Would you like me to describe the physical as well as physiological injury that those who consensually engage in such acts suffer? Such sex therefore cannot be loving, no matter the expressed feelings of affection. It is not love to give what is ultimately harmful to another. And we haven’t even brought in the Bible yet. What if the Bible’s right that homosexual sex damages your spirit, violates our design and ultimately severs our relationship with God? Shouldn’t that be classified as some sort of harm?

    I’ve used comparisons to adult-child sex, not because I believe homosexual sex is equally sinful, but because the things on which the argument for homosexual acceptance depends can and do often cover it as well - along with a number of other culturally abhorrent behaviors (prostitution, bestiality, polygamy). You asked me to explain God’s reasoning. I ask you to explain to me why adult-child sex is wrong in a culture that is entirely okay with it. You think stable homosexual monogamy should be the Church’s standard of right and wrong but where do you get such a notion? Certainly it’s not from scripture or natural design because both have something quite different to say. Without any fixed point of reference I find your standard of loving monogamy just a mask for whatever is culturally acceptable. I very much doubt you would have been making the same arguments 50 years ago. In a society that doesn’t care so much about the injury of others (Nazi Germany for instance), tell me your standard would be the same.

    Brian said...

    Matthew, I appreciate your willingness to explain your point of view. Clearly, this is a complex issue that does not lend itself easily to a discussion in a forum such as this. You and I have very different viewpoints on this issue, perhaps due to different life experiences, cultural values, places we were educated, etc that we cannot readily identify in a blog converstation. Some of the objections you have raised in your last comments regarding same gendered sex and relationships would be hard to sustain if one actually sat down and spoke with a wide variety of gay persons and asked them about their experiences, in my opinion. That said, again I appreciate your willingness to articulate your understanding of all of this. Peace,

    Matthew Miller said...


    I work in a jail. I speak with heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender, pedophiles, as well as adults who practice bestiality and incest. And the list my friend could go on. I have no qualms in asking others about their experiences. One man I knew left love messages for his brother’s Rottweiler. Another described to me the joy he found in having consensual sex with his adult sister (They were monogamous by the way). But by far and away the one group of people that I get a chance to speak with are pedophiles – not surprisingly since their jailed for what they do. In many instances they think their actions loving. The child can think so too.

    I ask and I listen because I want to understand in order that I might show real compassion. But I don’t think understanding or compassion must lead to acceptance. Should the perceived experiences of the participants matter in our determination? I don’t think my issue is that I haven’t spoken with enough homosexuals. I think it just might be that you haven’t spoken to enough of those of other sexual persuasions. They can just as easily mistake their sexual acts for love too.

    The heart of this of this discussion is really not about homosexuality but about what it means to be human. And God and or ones view about him is central to this discussion. If you believe in the God revealed in Christ you believe we were designed for a purpose and thus to violate that purpose is in some sense to do an injustice. Justice is both corporate and individual. The two are not mutually exclusive. No man is island. Ones actions either support or mar the corporate image. Likewise corporate actions can mar the image in the individual. Our cultural love affair without absolute autonomy is sadly harming both.

    P.S. If this blog isn't a suited forum for this discussion - remember I wasn't the one who raised it. I hope you know I love you Brother - more than you may know (James 5:19-20).

    Matthew Miller

    Brian said...

    Matthew, I still don't see the analogy between the behavior of a pedophile and two consenting same-gendered adults. Neither do the majority of healthcare professionals or our legal system accept that analogy, or am I mistaken?
    I think you rightly point out that part of this discussion has to do with how we understand God..and, I would add, the Bible. I imagine we understand both very differently and both of us have honestly and thoughtfully reached different conclusions.

    Barry K said...

    I personally believe the Church is more responsible than any other institution for the bullying of gay kids and the abuse of gay persons in general. Every time the church says "Well, we love gay people and don't want to see them harmed, but..." and then spend the other 99% of their time saying how disordered gay persons are, they are reinforcing that what is most important to the Church is not love and acceptance, but condemnation, which many use as an excuse for bullying and abuse.
    What if the Church instead said "We are challenged by the notion of same-sex relationships, but..." and then spent the other 99% of the time supporting the humanity and value of those sames persons? That would be the church living into the example of Jesus.

    Matthew Miller said...


    What if I said I think those who say such things are the biggest cause of anti-Christian bigotry and only serve to fan the flames of violence against Christians? You say the Church is condemning but don't you see how your words also condemn? Don't you see how they insight violence against me? Or do you believe that only certain types of words about the right types of people can lead to bullying?

    The real issue is not weather we accept or condemn. Jesus was not above condemning nor are you truly accepting of every type of belief and behavior. The real issue is truth, purpose and design. Does it exit? And if it does are we walking in accordance with it.

    It may be that the Church is wrong for speaking out against homosexual sex but feelings of compassion are not an adequate basis for a decision. Apart from the Truth misguided intentions can easily become their own kind of cruelty.

    I feel for kids who are bullied for their sexual orientation but I also feel for those who struggle with drug addictions. If my speaking leads to bullying should I stop speaking out against drug seekers and pusher because my words might lead to a societal pressure to conform. I don't think so.


    Mr. P said...


    I think this might be a simpler issue than it is becoming.

    Christians are called above all else, to Love our neighbour.

    The Bible implies a particular way that God intended people to relate to each other.

    Interpretation is difficult, especially when belonging to a tradition that doesn't codify its interpretive framework.

    Worldview affects our interpretation of everything, including identity, morality etc.

    If someone decides to act on attraction or feelings, they do so willingly, and they do so assuming that it is morally acceptable.

    Christians should defend those who can't defend themselves, or who won't.

    Jesus spent time with marginalized people. prostitutes, tax collectors (read:bookies, drug dealers)

    If you call yourself a Christian, you should be comfortable having honest friendships with anyone and everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

    It's okay to have friends who are from the LGBT(etc) community, be a christian, and let them know that according to the way you see things, men fit with women. Its also okay to let them know that your understanding of the world, ergo, morals, don't have to apply to everyone else. Perhaps if you have successfully become able to keep EVERY moral standard you have, maybe and only maybe then.

    oh wait, Love your neighbour.

    I posted something about this on my blog a while ago, and was sent here. Glad this discussion is going on, it really should not be said that Christians promote hate. it shouldn't be possible to interpret that from any of our actions or words.

    Danelle Layne said...

    It's a sin. Sorry. I disagree. Bullying is wrong, and no person that calls themselves a christian should partake in that. I have 2 friends that are homosexual and they both know beyond a shadow of doubt that the way they are living is wrong. Both of them have told me it was a choice. And I've heard it from many many others. I have nothing against homosexuals, I love them and I want them to be saved, but I refuse to believe that it's ok, and that God doesn't care about our "sexual identity". As much detail as there was about the tabernacle in the Old Testament how can we think that that God doesn't care about our bodies, what we do with it, what we allow into it... especially since he made us in his own image and we have the Holy Ghost dwelling in us.. Surely our bodies deserve the same care that the OT tabernacle did.

    I cannot be convinced that homosexuality is OK when there are multiple scriptures in both the Old Testament and New Testament that explicitly say homosexuality is a sin. And not just a sin but an abomination.

    If we just pick out the parts of the Bible that we want to believe then what is the point? God cannot contradict himself so if homosexuality is OK then why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Why did it upset God back then and not today? The Bible tells us God is the same yesterday today and forever... So is that a lie? Did God change His mind about homosexuality? The apostle Paul must not have known what he was talking about.. and that part of the Bible is just in there for fun.. we don't really have to obey that part?? Ok, well I don't want there to be a hell. I wouldn't want my worst enemy to go to Hell.. Not a rapist, not a pedophile... not anyone because it is torment forever... So do I just take that part of the Bible away? Stop believing that it's real, stop preaching and teaching that there's a Heaven to gain and a Hell to lose... I can't do that.

    "The Church must return to the truth, the whole truth, the sum total of truth founded and grounded upon Him Who said, "I am the truth" (John 14:6). In our Lord's high priestly prayer for His own He prayed, "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth" (John 17:17). There must be in our churches the clear exposition of the Scriptures and a continuing exaltation of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ if our civilization is to be saved from the disasters that overcame past civilizations. Any civilization with a philosophy or a doctrine which denies the real truth cannot survive."

    Brian Kirk said...

    Thanks for commenting. I think you and I sat down and had a conversation about this one on one we would quickly discover that we read the Bible very differently and understand the texts very differently. Both of us, I will assume, are passionate followers of Christ and yet we represent that within the Church their is a wide diversity of understanding.

    Regarding Sodom and Gomorrah, the texts are clear that their sin was inhospitality (and certainly we would not correlate the gang rape threatened in that story with loving same-gendered relationships, would we?). In fact, if you do search for Jesus' own words about Sodom and Gomorrah, even he says their sin was inhospitality -- the unwillingness to welcome "the other."

    Danelle Layne said...

    Ok... Say that S&G was burned for in-hospitality only... Then why put anything about the wicked activity of S&G in the Bible?

    Shouldn't we heed everything that is in the Bible? If God says or even hints toward disliking something, even if it's just one little scripture... Shouldn't we pay attention to it?

    Otherwise why read the Bible? Obviously God was not in agreement with the way the people were acting.. What are we supposed to do with the fact that there were not even 10 righteous people there... Why were they unrighteous? Was just because they were inhospitable? And again... if so then why does the Bible mention men laying with men, lasciviousness, and tell about the men being so full of lust they wanted to lay with the angels of the Lord...

    I've never thought that God would say something just to say it... Isn't all scripture given as inspiration from God? God speaking through men to write what He like, dislikes and wants us to pay attention to?

    I am not trying to be controversial but I do not understand how you can read a scripture in black and white and then wonder what the meaning is.. I know in the Old Testament they lived under the dispensation of the Law and now after the cross we are living in the dispensation of Grace .. so some things are different like eating pork - The Levitical laws were met through Jesus dying on the cross.. no need to kill a goat or ram. But surely we as Christians should know the moral law of God never changes. Completely taking S&G out of the conversation - Homosexuality is explicitly spoken against. Just because we are living in the dispensation of Grace does not mean that God changed his mind on Homosexuality.

    In all respect to you it is very frustrating that you feel fine in speaking your opinion of the scriptures and your opinions are well received by many because they don't want an absolute truth. But other Christians like myself and those who teach/preach the Bible as we see it are more often than not called & seen as haters, bigots, too straight-laced, old fashioned and every other derogatory adjective you can think of. I enjoy some of your posts - but I disagree completely with you on this subject. If God at one point hates something, doesn't he always hate it?

    Matthew Miller said...

    Brian, I agree with you that Sodom sinned by it's inhospitality but don't you think it's rather narrow to conclude that this was their only error? The original readers of Genesis would be aware of Leviticus 18:22 and therefore would have understood same gendered sex, whether consensual or not, as a grave defilement. The people of Sodom were hospitable, yes, but in light of the context the earliest audiences and every Jewish and Christian audience up until the 20th centuary understood that the sodomites were inhospitable in one of the worst ways imagined. No matter how you work your interpretation, you can't ignore this. Would you suggest in a similar way that Sophocles" play Oedipus the King doesn't concern itself with the immorality of incest? Of course the immorality of incest is not the main point of the play but clearly the main point is underscored and heightened by the violation of this established taboo. In just the same way the Sodomites demand to have sex with these men intensifies this particular case. Of course Jesus in Matthew 10:11-16, the passage I beleive you are referring to, connects the sin of Sodom with but his point also goes further. It takes for granted Sodom's particular heinous brand of inhospitality. Jesus point is not that Sodom will get off easier than those cities which reject his disciples' words but rather that the latter's fate will be worse. If Jesus intended his statement to have any poignancy he would have first had to accept Sodom as a worse case scenario.

    Brian I'm curious. You say you read the bible differently? Exactly how do you read it? By what standard do you interpret it? Is it authoritative? If so in what way? Why do you read the bible? Why do you teach it to your students?

    Matthew Miller

    Brian Kirk said...

    You ask a lot of great questions, but more than would make sense to answer in this kind of forum. For a quick background on how I read the Bible, you might check out this essay I wrote for another youth ministry blog:

    Regarding your comments on Sodom and G -- I just don't see any connection between our modern-day construct of sexual orientation and how a pre-scientific, pre-pyschology, pre-medical culture understand human behavior thousands of years ago. Any reference to same gendered sexual activity in the Bible has nothing to do with our modern day understanding of monagamous loving same-gender relationships. In almost every case, including S&G, the references are warning against taking up the behaviors of temple prostitution the Israelites saw practiced in the cultures around them.

    Anonymous said...

    Brian -

    I just stumbled across your blog and am enjoying it tremendously. I especially appreciate your viewpoint in both this post and this discussion thread.

    For Christian gay young people, the challenge of reconciling their faith with their sexuality is incredibly daunting. It's hard enough for a youth who's "coming out" to figure out his/her new identity in the context of their family and friends. When their faith community adds a layer of condemnation to this already difficult process, many gay youth often give up and turn away from the faith.

    Just when they most need our active expressions of love and compassion, too many of us are giving gay youth messages of condemnation instead. This should not be.

    I've recently started a blog for gay Christian youth that gives them reconcile their sexuality and their spirituality. It's my hope to help these youth understand that God is for them, not against them. I would value your input...