October 6th, 2010
05:37 PM ET

Christian group pulls support for event challenging homosexuality

CNN's Dan Gilgoff filed this report:

A national Christian organization will stop sponsoring an annual event that encourages school students to "counter the promotion of homosexual behavior" because the event has become too divisive and confrontational, the group's president told CNN on Wednesday.

"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," said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, the group that sponsored the event this year.

Called the Day of Truth, the annual April event has been pushed by influential conservative Christian groups as a way to counter to the annual Day of Silence, an event promoted by gay rights advocates to highlight threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

The Day of Truth, held on the same day as the Day of Silence, "was established to counter the promotion of homosexual behavior and to express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective," according to a manual for this year's event published by Exodus International.

On the Day of Silence, students take a "a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools," according to a web site run by the event's sponsor, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

The Day of Silence began in 1996. The Day of Truth started in 2005 and attracted the participation of 6,000 students nationwide this year, Chambers said.

"I thank Exodus for making this very important step," said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard on Wednesday after hearing of Exodus' decision. "The Day of Truth was an effort to push a very specific set of opinions about homosexuality into schools in a way that was inappropriate and divisive."

On the Day of Truth, middle and high school students are encouraged to wear Day of Truth T-shirts and to distribute cards that say "It's time for an honest conversation about the biblical truth for sexuality," according to Exodus' manual for this year's event.

"I don't think it's necessary anymore," Chambers said of the event on Wednesday. "We want to help the church to be respectful of all its neighbors, to help those who want help and to be compassionate toward people who may hold a different worldview from us."

Chambers said that Exodus International - which promotes "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," according to its website - has not changed its position on homosexuality but has reevaluated how best to communicate its message.

An expert in evangelical responses to homosexuality says Exodus' decision is likely to be criticized by some conservatives.

"This is a very significant move, a very real break," said Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College. "Some will say that simply naming sexual orientation provides legitimacy for homosexuality."

At least one major Christian group, Focus on the Family, stood by the Day of Truth on Wednesday.

"Without question, Day of Truth is a loving and redemptive way students of faith can express their views positively in response to GLSEN's Day of Silence which only presents one point of view," Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family, said in a statement.

"In contrast to the whole idea of 'silence,' Day of Truth has encouraged students to exercise their free speech rights and have an open dialogue while respectfully listening to others," Cushman said.

The Day of Truth was started by the conservative group Alliance Defense Fund, Chambers said, but the group transferred primary responsibility for the event to Exodus this year.

Chambers said he contacted Alliance Defense Fund last week about his decision and that it's unclear whether that group will continue to sponsor the Day of Truth.

"As the organization leading the event, Exodus International is free to make decisions they deem best regarding the event," the Alliance Defense Fund said in a statement Wednesday.

"Contrary to comments by GLSEN falsely labeling the Day of Truth as 'inappropriate and divisive,' the event was always about the right of students to peacefully express their point of view on the subject of homosexual behavior," the statement said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Culture wars • Homosexuality • Schools

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