November 11th, 2010
09:12 AM ET

New Christian sponsor takes over event challenging homosexuality

CNN's Dan Gilgoff filed this report:

A major Christian group will take over an annual event that challenges homosexuality, weeks after the event's main Christian sponsor pulled support for the student-focused program, saying it had become too divisive and confrontational.

Focus on the Family, an influential evangelical organization, will begin sponsoring the event known as the Day of Truth but will change the name of the happening to the Day of Dialogue, the group is set to announce Thursday.

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

Exodus International, which had been the Day of Truth's primary sponsor this year, announced last month that it was pulling support for the event.

Focus on the Family said that the Day of Dialogue "will boast a new name while maintaining the same goal it's had since its 2005 inception: encouraging honest and respectful conversation among students about God's design for sexuality," in a press release that is scheduled to go out Thursday.

Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, provided CNN an advance copy of the press release and offered CNN an early look at the event's web site, which is scheduled to go live on Thursday.

"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," said Candi Cushman, a Focus on the Family education analyst, in the release. "What is freedom of speech, after all, but a guarantee of the right to have dialogue?"

Cushman criticized the Day of Silence, which is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

"Silence is a media op, but dialogue is a learning op," she said in the release. "That's why we're so proud of the more than 14,000 students who have taken advantage of this opportunity to learn and share."

The Day of Truth had traditionally been held on the same day as the Day of Silence, but Focus on the Family said that the 2011 Day of Dialogue is scheduled for April 18, three days after the Day of Silence.

On the Day of Silence, students take 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 Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

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, said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International.

"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 Chambers said last month in announcing that his group would no longer support the event.

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.

Focus on the Family's web site for the Day of Dialogue discourages participants from bullying other students.

"Any form of bullying and harassment of others is always wrong, including making fun of others, speaking down to them and saying things that hurt people," the site says. "Christian students in particular should be bold in speaking up to oppose that kind of behavior because it goes completely against the model Christ gave us."

"Any verbal and written expressions used by students participating in this event should be loving and compassionate - and never be expressed in a condemning or antagonistic way to others," the site continues. "Even when we disagree with others, we should always demonstrate the utmost compassion and respect for them."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Homosexuality

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