Safe Schools & LGBTI Students: What Would Jesus Do? - Hope 103.2

Safe Schools & LGBTI Students: What Would Jesus Do?

What would Jesus do in response to the needs of LGBTIQ students? He would be kind, accepting and compassionate, say many Christian leaders.

By Clare BruceTuesday 19 Jul 2016Christian LivingReading Time: 5 minutes

Listen: Stephen O’Doherty on LGBTI students and the “What Would Jesus Do?” question

Part 5 of the 5-part Safe Schools Series 

Judging by the vast array of reactions among people of faith to the Safe Schools Program, it’s clear there’s no such thing as a ‘definitive Christian response’.

The old phrase “What would Jesus do?”, though, is one way to delve for a Christ-like attitude—and when posed with the question in relation to the needs of LGBTI students, many Christians are coming back to themes of kindness and compassion.

Stephen O’Doherty, in his role as CEO of Christian Schools Australia, believes understanding is crucial in a school’s approach to students who are gay or questioning their gender—despite his concerns about the Safe Schools Program.

Gender & Sexuality Not the Most Important Thing

“Sometimes the whole question about sexuality is misunderstood,” Mr O’Doherty said. “It’s just one of a number of issues that any of us deal with at any time. It’s probably true to say that the Christian community focuses on this issue to the exclusion of others that we should be focusing on.

“I’m not sure that sexuality is the most important thing about a person. I think where they stand before Christ is the most important thing. If a person elevates their sexuality, or some other behaviour, or some other aspect of their character, above their relationship with God—then to my mind, that’s getting things in the wrong order.”

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He believes a person’s heart towards God is far more important than behaviour or sexuality. “What Jesus would do, I think, would be just to ask them about their relationship with God: ‘How do you stand before God? How are you with your fellow man?’“

Concerned About Safe Schools Coalition, But “Jesus Loved the Diverse”

Gay couple walking down street

Mr O’Doherty believes the Safe Schools Program comes from a dangerous world view, and has said “there is no place for the original Safe Schools Coalition materials, which undermine the teaching of parents and churches and manipulate education for ideological purposes”.

Yet at the same time he wants schools to show love to LGBTI students, pointing out that that Jesus condemned the religious, pious, and legalistic people of His day, and championed those who were different to the status quo, or who were rejected by others.

“He elevated people who, in the eyes of the world, were unlovable, unlovely, the people with disabilities, the woman at the well who had multiple husbands, the unlovely of society, the outcasts,” he said.

“These were the ones that He first sought out. And why did He seek them out? Because he had pity on them? Absolutely not. He sought them out because, as children of God, they had dignity and worth, and He wanted them to understand how much He loved them, as God’s son, and how much God wanted them to know that they were loved.

“He wanted to restore their relationship with God the Father. This wasn’t an act of pity. This was an act of identification and compassion.”

A Call to the Church: Be With People in Their Difference

Lesbian young women holding hands

If Jesus were on earth today, He would befriend “the very people that often the Christian church condemns” says Mr O’Doherty.

“We should be like Him,” he said. “The church, too often – and not just the church, but the whole of society, by the way – but for the church to condemn people because of their difference is exactly the wrong thing to do. It’s exactly the thing that will prevent people from coming to know Jesus as their Saviour.

“It’s not the way of Christ to condemn difference as wrong. Christ reached out to the different. Christ identified with the different. Christ said, ‘I am with you in your difference.’”

“But the most important thing that we all need to know about is that, through Christ, we can be restored in our relationship to God.”

A Call For a Respectful Debate

While calling the church to compassion, Mr O’Doherty also raised the need for decorum in both the media and political debate.

“It’s not just the church that condemns difference,” he said. “In our society, it’s now become fashionable to condemn any Christian as being a bigot. Where did that come from?

“The self-same people who are demanding that the Christian church reach out compassionately and stop judging people who have different characteristics, whether they be sexuality, gender, or whatever else, those same people who stand up for the right of others to have equality are the very ones who are condemning Christians, believers, as bigots and homophobes.

“They stand condemned by their own language. They are being just as bigoted and Christophobic, to coin a phrase, as the Christians are being accused of being.”

“We need a mature discussion, not this finger-waving, arm-throwing, name-calling rubbish that goes on.”

He called for more mature conversation.

“We all need to find a way to relate to each other and have a mature discussion, not this finger-waving, arm-throwing, name-calling rubbish that goes on,” he said. “That doesn’t help anybody. And, in particular, it doesn’t help kids in schools.

“The child who is same-sex attracted in any school, who’s being bullied, who sees a gay activist going hammer and tong with some theologian on the television, how does that help them? That’s exactly the sort of behaviour that will lead them to question their own identity and will put them onto a downward spiral that may indeed end in self-harm.

“The way we conduct this debate is one of the most important things we can possibly do for these kids.”

Debate Sparks Mental Health Crisis Among LGBTI Students

Lesbian young couple

At least one welfare organisation, Drummond Street Services, has experienced a significantly increased demand for counselling and help after the recent calls for Safe Schools program to be scrapped.

“Young people are presenting in increasing numbers with anxiety, self-harming behaviours and thoughts of suicide,” CE Karen Field told Fairfax.

She said many LGBTIQ young people felt like they were being attacked personally because the program was created to support them.

Pastor Calls Christians to Respect Others

Melbourne pastor and blogger Rob Buckingham added his voice to the call for civility.

“On the issue of sexuality there are people who, because of religious or cultural reasons or just personal opinion, consider any sexual behaviour other than that between a man and woman in the covenant of marriage to be wrong. Others disagree,” he wrote.

“We all need to learn respect for other people’s opinions even if they are different to our own and, while we’re at it, let’s stop the name calling towards those with which we disagree!”

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