In the wake of a number of gay students’ suicides this fall, and a national conversation about bullying, Exodus International, a group dedicated to “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ,” announced that it would no longer sponsor The Day of Truth. An annual event that encourages students to “counter the promotion of homosexual behavior,” The Day of Truth has been organized as a counter-event to the much larger, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network-sponsored Day of Silence held every April.
But The Day of Truth is not going away. The James Dobson-founded Christian ministry Focus on the Family has stepped in to replace Exodus International as the event’s sponsor, and has re-branded and re-framed it The Day of Dialogue.
Since 1996, The National Day of Silence has brought “attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools,” according to GLSEN’s website. Participating students refrain from speaking for a day, and GLSEN says hundreds of thousands of students take part nationwide. Meanwhile, since 2005, The Day of Truth has promoted a particular kind of Christian perspective on homosexuality, and Exodus International says 6,000 students participated last April. This year, though, Exodus International appears to have had a change of heart.
“All the recent attention to bullying helped us realize that we need to equip kids to live out biblical tolerance and grace while treating their neighbors as they’d like to be treated, whether they agree with them or not,” Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, told CNN in October. Some statement, coming from a group that views homosexuality as outside of God’s will, and promotes a “message of liberation from homosexuality.”
Just weeks after Exodus International made its move, Focus on the Family announced that it was adopting the event.
“We’re trying to raise awareness that more than one side needs to be heard on the issue of homosexuality, and we’re helping to ensure Christian students have the chance to express their viewpoint,” Focus on the Family education analyst Candi Cushman said in a news release. The Alliance Defense Fund, which actually founded the event before handing control over to Exodus International, said it would also remain in a supporting role.
“The Day of Dialogue is an excellent opportunity for students to respectfully present a different viewpoint than the Day of Silence,” ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said. “ADF always stands ready to offer pro-bono legal assistance to student participants who have their First Amendment rights violated.”
A few months ago, TPM reported that Cushman said gay advocates “are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints” in schools. Now, Focus on the Family is sponsoring the counterpoint to one of the most high-profile anti-bullying initiatives in the country.
Gary Schneeberger, Vice President of Communications for Focus on the Family, told TPM that the group was looking forward to a “productive” event, but that “we’re still going to learn a little bit about how we’re going to do it.”
The Day of Dialogue’s very rudimentary new website does address bullying. “Any form of bullying and harassment of others is always wrong,” it reads. “Even when we disagree with others, we should always demonstrate the utmost compassion and respect for them.”
Schneeberger stressed that Focus on the Family has a “100% zero tolerance for bullying” over sexual orientation or anything else. He said The Day of Dialogue aims to “ensure that Christian students feel comfortable having the opportunity to bring their view of god’s design for sexuality.”
On the flip side, Schneeberger also said that Focus on the Family was aware that some might think the name change was shying away from an assertion of God’s “truth.”
“One of the things that’s interesting about the name change is there are some folks who would agree with our view of God’s design for sexuality who might think that we in some ways have backed away from or given wiggle room on God’s design on sexuality,” he said. “[But] to have a dialogue about an issue is not to abandon truth.”
Meanwhile, GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard told TPM that she thought Exodus International’s decision to abandon the event was “a very humane response to a very difficult time for everyone who cares about young people.” She argued that Focus on the Family was seizing the opportunity to “proselytize for a certain set of very specific Christian views.”
Byard rejected the idea that that the two events speak to each other.
“The Day of Silence is a day when people say that words like ‘faggot’ and ‘dyke’ hurt people,” she said, while The Day of Dialogue says “your sexuality is broken and you can be saved by faith in Jesus.”
“Mostly I think The Day of Truth has been a non-event,” she said.
The Day of Dialogue is scheduled for April 18, 2011, three days after The Day Of Silence.
(h/t Colorado Springs Gazette)
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com