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Who Would Jesus Bully?

Post by Jay Michaelson

In a move not widely reported outside of Michigan, the Michigan State Senate passed the country’s first pro-bullying bill on November 2. At first, it was an anti-bullying measure not unlike the laws passed in many other states. But under the perverse influence of a few far-right opportunists, legislators led by State Senator Rick Jones (R, of course) became convinced that the law would somehow persecute those noble enforcers of Christian—I’m sorry, “Judeo-Christian”—values in our nation’s high schools: bullies.

Thus, at the eleventh hour, additional language was added to the bill exempting any bullying if it was done on the basis of “a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.” In other words, you can bully the faggot if the Bible tells you so.

 

The pro-bullying position did not make it into the final version of the law; the Michigan House version lacked the provision, and following the outcry over the Senate’s, the pro-bullying exemption has been dropped. However, that the Senate passed it at all points to the blasphemy of the so-called religious right, and its outrageous misuse of Scriptural teaching. All religious people should condemn it in the harshest possible terms, and oppose it when it is introduced, as it inevitably will be, in state legislatures around the country.

 

Let us suppose, purely for the sake of argument, that some forms of homosexuality are indeed prohibited by the Bible. I vigorously dispute this point in my book (God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality), where I argue that religious values compel us to read the few biblical verses that speak about some forms of same-sex intimacy so narrowly that they apply to no one today. But suppose there is some biblical prohibition. Is bullying an appropriate response?

 

I hesitate even to cite scripture to prove such an absurd point. By definition, bullying involves preying on the weak. Presumably, the “weak” in these cases are effeminate boys who are gender non-conforming—perhaps wearing makeup, or not playing sports. Maybe the category includes gay kids who refuse to lie about their sexuality or gender identity, but instead tell the truth about who they are. Whoever the targets of bullying are, however, they are definitionally already weak and marginal—otherwise they couldn’t be bullied.

 

Now, perhaps concerned students, worried that their lack of bullying might be interpreted as a tacit approval of sexual diversity, might be justified in convening a student group devoted to upright heteronormative morals. They might publish essays in the school paper arguing that while sexual orientation may be innate, God requires sexual minorities to repress their sexual urges and conform to dominant gender norms. Expressing these preposterous beliefs are part of free speech.

 

But can anyone find me a religious value that says that the strong should prey on the weak? Is there a verse justifying violence, intimidation, and taunting as ways of enforcing religious norms?

 

I’ll admit—I can think of a handful. The story of Pinchas, for example, who impales an Israelite caught having sexual relations with a Midianite and is met with approval by the biblical text. Maybe that should be a model for our laws. Let’s impale interfaith couples on swords. It makes God happy.

 

Then again, I can think of more than a handful of contrary teachings. That only he who is without sin should cast a stone at another. That we must be kind to the weak (widows, orphans) and remember that we ourselves were once marginalized, or descended from those who were. That the ways of God are peaceful. Call me crazy, but these values seem a little more useful as potential bases for laws and social norms. They also seem a little more enlightened, holy, and compassionate. I guess that’s just my opinion.

On the other hand, maybe I’m underestimating the worth of the pro-bullying bill. Personally, I believe I have a moral justification to antagonize all those who perpetuate sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. That includes, of course, anyone part of a church without fully inclusive clergy and power structure. Watch out, religious conservatives! As long as you can’t fight back, the law says I can kick your asses.


Jay Michaelson, a Religion Dispatches associate editor and founder of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture & Spirituality, writes regularly for the Forward and Tikkun. He is completing his Ph.D. in Jewish Thought at Hebrew University and his most recent book is God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality (Beacon, 2011).

© Religion Dispatches 2011. All rights reserved. Reproduction of materials from any Religion Dispatches pages without written permission is strictly prohibited.

Online Publication: Religion Dispatches; Date: November 25, 2011; Section: Opinion

 

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