Friday, April 20, 2012

Youth that sets us free

Kenneth Weishuhn

Looking for needles in a haystack called 1908 behind the microfilm reader Thursday, this item headed "Protest Against Pupils Dancing" caught my eye on the front page of The Chariton Patriot of January 16:

"Rev. Munn of the U.P. (United Presbyterian) church, and Rev. Evans of the M.E. (Methodist Episcopal) church, representing the ministerial association of Chariton, called upon Superintendent Johnson of the city schools Tuesday and entered a protest against the practice, by the high school pupils, of dancing at their class parties. The question was put to the class with the result that 24 voted in favor of dancing and only two against it. Prof. Johnson says that the question of dancing by the pupils is one that neither he, the other teachers nor the school board has any right to attempt to regulate. It is a matter for adjustment between the pupils on their parents."

Lordy, lordy, the things some preachers do worry about.

Demon rum also was a pastoral concern during 1908 and the drive for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution mandating prohibition, another popular topic in protestant pulpits.

The Rev. W.C. Barber, superintendent of the Iowa Anti Saloon League, was in town during the week of April 9, conducting "enthusiastic temperance meetings" at the United Presbyterian United Brethren and Christian churches.

"The addresses were urgent pleas for prohibition, and for support for the movement to again submit to the voters of Iowa the question of a prohibitory amendment to the state constiution," The Patriot reported.

It's been a hundred years, most Christians are allowed to dance now and prohibition didn't work out. We're still trying to impose piety via the constitution, however.

But these items remain as modest reminders of how infrequently the church gets things right and what a moral and spiritual morass it can be. The idea of the church as the "body of Christ" would be laughable, were it not for the fact individual Christians somehow, some of the time, drag it along kicking and screaming into the light.


I've been thinking a little about this in the context of that kid from Primghar, 14-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn, who hanged himself over the weekend, bullied to death they say. His funeral was Thursday morning.

Kyle Munson, who has led The Register's tardy and banal catch-up coverage of the death and its aftermath, declared Wednesday that family, friends and activists have "embraced" Weishuhn as the "latest tragic martyr in our national debate over school bullying."

Well ... Bullying certainly was a factor --- but it was a specific type of bullying, of the sort that's proved most deadly lately, directed at gay kids.

Although schools should, can and probably will do more about bullying, stuck again with mandates to deal with issues parents can't or won't, that kid's blood is on the hands of the church, and individual Christians, not generally those of school teachers and administrators. And of course that includes me.


It's been sad --- and sometimes entertaining --- in my lifetime to watch watch what's called the evangelical church move away from a traditional focus on personal piety and "saving" souls into the present when, it seems, uniting the faithful against the perceived "homosexual threat" is all that's keeping the leaky old ship afloat.

The effect of that spreads when politicians see how well the strategy apparently works and hitch up with the mother ship of faith to further their own agendas.

The result has been, for the most part, pure poison, of the sort that works its way into schools and the into the minds of some youngsters, actively planted or unintentionally, as well.

"Moderate," even "liberal," Christians fuel the fire with silence. I could name preachers scared voiceless by the fear that if they speak out they'll lose their jobs at worst or, at best, send some of the faithful scurrying with checkbooks in hand elsewhere. Church councils and congregations? The same.

We're all complicit, even old gay guys like me. My hide's pretty tough, but I work for a number of organizations that need broad support. And I attend church. Fearful that any ire directed at me also will be directed toward  what I work for and value, I bite my tongue --- too often. And become part of the problem.


I sometimes look at the reader comments appended to stories and noticed one yesterday from a guy who identified himself as "retired." Retired suggested that Weishuhn was responsible for his own death. "If this boy had stayed in the closet he'd still be alive," Retired wrote. "Maybe in 100 years ...."

A substantially younger commentator replied, "I don't think it will take 100 years. You and most of those like you are old and will be dead and gone within 25." Indeed.

It's a shame it has to come down to that --- not truth, but youth, that will set us free.

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