A few weeks ago, Jamey Rodemeyer was found dead by his parents in their Buffalo, New York, home. But Rodemeyer's death was different. The 14-year-old was one of many young people who have committed suicide over bullying and taunting over sexuality. Last year, Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge in New York after a roommate secretly filmed him in a sexual encounter with another male student and posted it online. Asher Brown and Seth Walsh committed suicide after facing relentless taunting for being gay. And Sladjana Vidovic was one of five students from an Ohio high school to commit suicide in the course of a year.

The suicides of teenagers due to bullying, especially over homosexuality, have led to an outcry in the media, fueling many efforts to fight bullying on all fronts. Ellen Degeneres has taken up the fight; nearly every week, it seems, the comedian tackles the subject on her show. Her website has a page devoted to fighting bullying in schools, including everything from celebrity videos about bullying to messages about the importance of equality in the fight against bullying. A few weeks ago, in an interview with Chaz Bono, she compared the outcry over his participation in Dancing With the Stars to bullying that goes on in schools. Kids learn from their parents, Ellen said,

… until adults take responsibility for how we treat one another, until we see that we are doing the same thing we are asking kids not to do at school—politicians do it, adults do it—to say that he [Bono] is different and he is wrong and to make something of it, shame on us for doing that and being an example for kids.

After the suicides of Clementi, Brown, and Walsh, Degeneres posted a video in which she expressed grief and outrage that anyone would feel so alone that suicide seemed their only option. She said intolerance of homosexuality is the foundation for today's bullying: "There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting and we have to make it stop. We can't let intolerance and ignorance take another kid's life." She concluded that "things will get easier, peoples' minds will change, and you should be alive to see it."

Degeneres's comments give Christians much to think about. When any person commits suicide, it's a tragedy, one Christians especially should grieve, given the person's God-given dignity and irreplaceable presence in others' lives. Bullying, taunting, and physical or emotional abuse is not to be tolerated by believers who see it happening, regardless of who is being bullied. Nevertheless, Ellen's comments present some troubling assertions—namely, that bullying is simply any moral judgment about another person's behavior.

Article continues below

It's a fine line between bullying and tolerance, and Christians have made blunders on both sides. Some have seemed to put homosexuality into its own category of sinfulness, as if it takes a special kind of atonement to make clean. This has only added fuel to the pro-tolerance fire. In an effort to reverse these effects, some Christians have swung the pendulum too far, ignoring Scripture's prohibitions against homosexual behavior in favor of a widely embracing, culturally acceptable sexual ethic.

Christians must bridge the gap between bullying and the cry for tolerance. We cannot turn a blind eye to sinful behavior of any sort, whether it's homosexual behavior or hateful bullying. And we also must clearly define bullying, focusing on physical and verbal abuse rather than simple disagreement with another's actions.

After Clementi's death, Albert Mohler wrote an article lamenting that four young men had committed suicide in one month. He wrote, "Tyler joined Billy, Seth, and Asher as tragic evidence of the dangerous intersection of sexual confusion, hateful classmates, and the wide-open world of social media. These boys simply ran out of the emotional ability to face life, crushed by the burden of secrets and the bullying of their peers." What was once a fight in the hallway or a rumor passed in a classroom note has become an online epidemic. A girl who sends a text message to a boy at school can be an internet sensation by the end of the day. A young man who has a sexual encounter with another young man can be broadcast unbeknownst to him by a cruel college roommate. This is a problem and a tragedy, especially when it leads to death.

Yet the answer is not a ceasefire on all moral pronouncements in the public square. Degeneres's definition of bullying, like many in the LGBT community, assumes that if we simply normalize homosexuality, bullying over sexual orientation will cease. As Christians, it's more complicated than that. In order to be faithful to what God says, we must resist the notion that "tolerance" will solve the bullying problem. Living outside God's design for sexuality, no matter the specifics, has implications for this life and for eternity.

Christians should be the first to offer a healing hope for the victim of senseless bullying of any kind. As Mohler asked, "Was there no one to step between Tyler Clementi and that bridge? Was there no friend, classmate, or trusted adult who had the courage and compassion to reach into his life and offer hope?"

Article continues below

Yet as Christians, we must have the heart of Jesus, who was willing to do the unpopular in order to free them from eternal judgment for their sin. We must never resort to hateful tactics and unkind words to prove our point, simply mimicking the meanness that permeates our schools. When Christians offer a counter voice to the actions of their peers, maybe then will our bullied friends and neighbors see an alternative to the seeming only option of a desperate suicide.

Courtney Reissig is a pastor's wife and freelance writer/blogger. She has written for the Gospel Coalition's book review site, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She blogs regularly at In View of God's Mercy.