Davis's piece drew a protracted response from Martin Cothran on his blog - which used to speak truly, but now is clinging to the vestiges of western cultural domination.
Cothran makes final policy decisions and manages strategy for the Kentucky Family Foundation. According to their writings, the Family Foundation apparently believes in Mom and Dad, more Bible than Jesus, and hopes to “encourage, equip and empower educators according to Biblical principles” through its Christian Educators Association.
He opens with a little innuendo,
Merlene Davis of the Lexington Herald-Leader doesn't miss her chance to promote the movie, which was shown this weekend and sponsored by the Central Kentucky Council on Peace and Justice.Similarly, Cothran doesn't miss his chance to detract.
The film is about a boy named "Josh," an openly gay student at Lexington, Kentucky's Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School who committed suicide and a fellow student name "Hannah" who was his friend and who later died in a car accident. Josh is described as having a "flamboyant personality," which attracts the negativity of his peers. It's never stated outright, but you get the definite impression that Josh's death is to be laid at the feet of anyone who has a traditional view of human sexuality.A traditional view of sexuality? Really?
Is Cothran suggesting that the nail that sticks up will be hammered down; or should be; and somehow, that's OK? ...because it's majority rule? ...it's traditional? ...because the kid's asking for it by daring to be different? Shipman seems to be cast as having caused his own torment.
Hummm. I had the idea that Josh was repeatedly bullied by stronger kids acting in concert.
Now, let me quickly add that I have not seen the film. But my limited research reveals a very mixed picture of Shipman that is likely to defy the kind of easy (predetermined) conclusions we bloggers love.
Shipman's young middle school friends decried his school experience on the Josh Shipman Foundation MySpace page. It's pretty much what you'd expect.
Many of You Knew Him. But For Most of You Not In A Good Way. Most of You Picked On Him and Called Him Names. Most of You Called Him "Wierd" or "Fag". Joshua Shipman died Thursday night. He hung himself in his room and his father fount him...people called him a queer and a fag. Why do you care about his sexual life unless your involved in it? Seriously!
Middle school is no place to be too different.
In the 7th grade he would come to school everyday with bruises...He tried so hard everyday for people to like him. He would talk to you and you'd laugh. He'd smile at you and you'd look away. He'd claim you were a friend and you would deny him. It's really sad that it takes someone losing their life for people to get the hint.
...i knew josh during my 6th-7th grade year...i considered him a friend to me and i always tried to be there for him whenever he was teased...after he left winchester, i never saw or talked to him...but i always remembered who he was...i will never forget him...
...you was my friend since the 5th grade you was the first person to talk to me .. when i moved here to winchester.. you was always nice to me 7th grade before u moved away i told u bye .. and never saw u agian ... until i was told what u have done i dont blame u .. its everyone else u treated you the way they treated you.
But Shipman made it to high school, and following his suicide in November 2006, Raviya Ismail wrote in the H-L (no longer available at H-L but reprinted here):
Was it a fear of those who are too different that caused Shipman's pain and prompted these traditional kids to torment him - when they might have chosen, rather, to love their neighbor or at least leave him alone? Were they allowed (or encouraged) to bully the quirky student? Did Shipman, by virtue of being different, invite his tormentors - or was there something more?
Josh Shipman made an impression. From his tightly wound corsets to his dark clothing, he was both an enigma and an open book.
He'd strut the halls of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in his signature black boots and fluorescent pink hair. Goth and colorful, gay and Wiccan, open and reticent, Josh was a walking contradiction. But friends best remember him for the kisses and tight hugs he gave so freely. Those friends crowded into a funeral home recently to pay their respects to Josh, who committed suicide at home on Oct. 5, a week before his 16th birthday. Many dyed their hair pink and wore gay-pride ribbons in remembrance.
Shipman had every citizen's right to be whatever his creator made him. Shipman's father told H-L it was pretty clear that Josh was gay from the age of 4 or 5. That does not sound like a choice to me. It sounds more like a natural inclination.
Straightlaced is described as being about the acceptance of others regardless of their dress, sexual orientation or desire to wear a particular color. But Cothran's not buying any of it.
What, exactly, does "acceptance" mean here? Is this, like, some neutral kind of acceptance that just means I'm supposed to recognize and respect others as human beings despite the fact that I think their lifestyle is abnormal and in many cases self-destructive (and in some cases just silly)? Wait. Self-destructive?Cothran is a smart guy and I sure he understands Shipman's rights. But here he subordinates them in order to better assert his own. Then he gets mired in his defense of traditionalism. Cothran makes it sound like there is only one culture - his. One lifestyle - his. ...the traditional western civilization WASP heterosexual culture, one supposes. (Hey wait. That's my culture too.)
How could I say that? That's so insensitive and intolerant. Am I not ashamed of myself for saying this?
Well, actually, no. I know that in modern liberal secular society, which has constantly championing social policies that contribute to the disconnection of people from real cultures and real relationships, we are supposed to have compassion for people we don't know.
It ought not escape us that suicide has traditionally been considered a crime in that tradition. Ireland, for example, decriminalized suicide as late as 1993. (I never really understood what good it did for a secular government authority to criminalize the last act of a dead man. Is there money in it for someone somewhere? Does it make church leaders politically stronger somehow? I don't have a clue.)
But all of this assumes that Josh's suicide was a simple matter of bullying. As I learned a long time ago, people are very complex and there's almost always more going on than appears on the surface.
Ishmail reported other serious complicating factors - Shipman's self-mutilation problem, feeling rejected by his mother and battles with his dad. "Josh was diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder and an attachment disorder -- characterized by becoming overly close to people who expressed even a minor interest in him. Josh was medicated for some of these problems." In September 2005 Josh was placed in a group home in Louisville, which he ran away from; he eventually spent 10 months at the Barnabas Home in Annville getting treatment and counseling for his problems.
The living now speculate on what really caused Josh's life-ending decision. He left no note.
But Cothran knows. It was another of his regular strawmen who did it - the "modern liberal secular society" which is "constantly championing social policies" that allows folks to be different. That's the problem.
I think it is the modern liberal Christian society that contributes to Cothran's consternation. It seems to me that those who think Jesus trumps the Bible have a much clearer notion of what the Golden Rule means in practice. These mainstream Christians would make the Golden Rule the foundation of every school's disciplinary code. If the Family Foundation finds fault with Christ's teachings, Cothran will have to let us know.
Now, it matters not at all what Cothran (or I) believes, but any scholar ought to get his attributions straight. There is a long-standing (dare I say, fairly traditional) Christian impulse that is alive and well in America. These mainstream Christians don't think Jesus was kidding and might not appreciate Cothran misnaming their motivations for some perceived political gain. The entire social gospel movement is clearly not secular. Many Christians see it as obedient. Many are writing checks to Haitian relief today.
Behind all of this is an underlying attitude at the crux of traditional western civ thinking. It is superiority. Cothran is sure that, if he had known Shipman, he would have "felt very sorry" for him. And there's his notion of "an exercise in tolerance" which, as Washington understood, presupposes that one is superior and may tolerate his inferiors, or not, at his choosing. If that's not a secular view, I'm not sure what is. What lesson from Jesus have I missed that promotes intolerance and injustice?
I wonder if part of the issue involves how folks see human sexuality. Many heterosexuals, it seems to me, see sexuality as a dichotomy. You have "outdoor plumbing" - you're a man. Act like it. Indoor? Get in the kitchen. Fix me some meatloaf.
I wonder if it isn't more of a continuum, albeit bimodal.
The sooner we realize that someone will always defy our categories and yet still maintain their rights as citizens, the sooner America will approach the teaching of Jesus.
But maybe I have misjudged the Family Foundation's idea of what it means to follow Christ, or be a Christian.
Isn't it a secular impulse to use religion for one's own political purposes?
Now this is a lot of religion talk from a public school guy, so let me be clear about where I'm coming from. I am NOT arguing in favor of establishing Christianity as the basis for discipline in the public schools. But I am suggesting that the central principle of Christianity should undergird the disciplinary code in all American schools, including Jewish schools, Muslim schools....all.
No ancient law or prophesy could possibly be more "Christian" than the direct teachings of Jesus himself. Clearly "the Golden Rule" is central to Christianity. A public school disciplinary code that keeps the Golden Rule, keeps the faith.
But that's NOT why it should be the basis for student discipline in the schools.
The Golden Rule should be the basis for all student discipline because it is also central to all other major religions as well - and I've never heard an atheist or agnostic object to its principles either.
Because of its wide-spread acceptance among the world's religions, it does not establish religion the way that posting the Ten Commandments would. ...or requiring daily reading from the Qur'an would. ...or requiring transcendental meditation would. ...or teaching transubstantiation would. Those acts would be specific to a particular religion, and would therefore be unconstitutional.
Our schools, and our world, would be better if more of us followed the Golden Rule - and if it was enforced in the schools, just maybe, Josh Shipman would still be alive and getting the help he needed.