In 2007, a 9th grader wore a pink polo shirt on the first day of school, and the bullying ensued. He was physically threatened and called a homosexual (probably not the bullies’ chosen verbiage) because he wore a pink shirt. Two older students had heard enough and decided to buy 50 pink shirts from a discount store for students to wear the next day. They contacted as many students as they could to provide a “sea of pink” the next day in an effort to stop bullying in its tracks. In addition to the 50 discounted shirts, literally hundreds of students showed up to provide a truly unique “sea of pink” to support victims and to stand up to bullies. There was never another comment about the pink polo.
This “sea of pink” envisioned by these two (17/18 yr. old) boys has sparked a movement, and yesterday was the 5th annual Pink Shirt Day, where more than 160,000 students and teachers across Canada will wear pink to demonstrate support and to shed light on the serious nature of bullying.
Fast forward to 2010, when another 18 yr old boy, Dharun Ravi, took a different road when he chose to use the webcam on his computer to view his gay roommate with another man, tweet about it, and invite others to view. As his trial gets underway, it is still unclear if there were any criminal actions involved; however, the intent to mock and bully (regardless of the reason) certainly appear to have been his motivation. Unlike the first story, nobody stood up to this bully. Instead of setting an example to follow, he followed the example that was set.
The truth is that bullying doesn’t stop when you turn 18 or 19. Some grow up and mature, but many more discover that institutions, politics or accepted beliefs can be used to mask their bullying as legitimate responses to minorities and outcast. Disparagingly, the church is often one of these institutions and Christian faith is often one of these belief systems manipulated to mask hate and bullying.
Ironically, it is the central figure of our Christian faith that is most notable for standing up against hate and discrimination. The shame of persecutors who marginalize and bully in the first century is consistently brought to light in our gospel accounts. Whether it be a Samaritan, a child, a sinner, a hated tax collector, a disabled beggar, an unclean disease ridden man or a woman, Jesus teaches through his actions of love that we are not to live with hate and superiority that has captivated the world. It is a constant in Jesus’ ministry.
This may be best exemplified by a woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11. As the story goes, the woman is brought before Jesus, having clearly sinned and broken a Jewish law that is punishable, according to the law, by death through stoning. Jesus calmly receives the crowd, asks “he who has not sinned” to throw the first stone, and tells her to be on her way and sin no more. She is at fault. The crowd has reason to hate. Punishment is written in the law books. Yet Jesus stands in opposition to hatred, even when it is masked by religious tradition.
I don’t know if the two boys with a vision for a “sea of pink” were Christian. I do know that they resemble Jesus better than many Christians. Our youth yesterday stood up against the oppressive powers and the passive bystander. Jesus taught us to learn from our children; however, we often fail to see their value in our society and expect little from them. In response they often live up to our expectations.