COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. Focus on the Family is leading a coalition of conservative groups in sponsoring a program once known as the Day of Truth, which 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.
Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family and head of TrueTolerance.organ online tool for parents who want to help ensure a balanced treatment of the issue of homosexuality in public schoolssaid the ministry is excited about shepherding the next phase for this student-led event.
"Focus has a long tradition of supporting those who want to express their faith-based viewpoints about homosexuality in a loving and respectful way," Cushman said. "The Day of Dialogue gives students a great way to do just that."
Launched five years ago by the Alliance Defense Fund, the Day of Truth was created as a way to counter the "Day of Silence," an annual event sponsored in public schools by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network or GLSEN, one of the nation's largest homosexual advocacy groups.
In their observance, students and faculty supporting GLSEN refuse to talk throughout the day as a way to symbolize discrimination against homosexuals.
"The Day of Dialogue is an excellent opportunity for students to respectfully present a different viewpoint than the Day of Silence," said David Cortman, senior counsel with the religious freedom law firm. "ADF always stands ready to offer pro-bono legal assistance to student participants who have their First Amendment rights violated."
Last year, ADF announced that it was transferring oversight of the Day of Truth to Exodus International, one the nation's largest Christian ministries for homosexuals and their families. It seemed a natural transition since Exodus had supported the ADF event from the start. The arrangement was short-lived, however, when Exodus announced in October it was returning administration back over to ADF saying it was in conflict with the main mission of the ministry.
"I believe that silence is a poor substitute for healthy and respectful cross-divide dialogue," Exodus President Alan Chambers, said in an Oct. 6 interview on CNN's Belief Blog. "When I was a student struggling silently with same-sex attraction and contemplating my options I was desperate for a compassionate voice and real answers. Silence may draw attention to the issue, but it doesn't offer help or support."
Each year Day of Truth was held immediately after the Day of Silence, involving nearly 20,000 students, including more than 6,000 high-school students taking the 2010 challenge to "Get the Conversation Started."
"Even though we have reached a fair number of students, we believe that due to the timing of the event, Day of Truth was always perceived in an adversarial manner, and became more about policy than people," Chambers said. "That is in conflict with the mission we have chosen to embrace as an organization. We want to continue to promote dialogue and to equip Christian kids to reach out with compassion, grace and truth. We don't need to practice this once a year, but rather every day."
In taking over and reshaping the event, set for April 18, Cushman echoed Chambers' concerns by saying she believes dialogue is more helpful than staying silent, which GLSEN's event encourages. That's why, she said, the program also encourages students to follow "the model Christ gave us … one of sacrificial love that lays down one's own life to rescue others" and to "stand against any form of bullying and harassment" in their schools.
"Silence is a media opportunity, but dialogue is a learning opportunity," she said. "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."
To help resource the teens, the program's new website poses several thought-provoking questions, including:
• "As a high school or college student, do you sometimes feel discouraged when controversial subjects like homosexuality are brought up in your schooland the conversation seems stifled, one-sided and doesn't allow free room for discussion?
• "Do you feel like your beliefsthe deepest truths of Christianityare being mischaracterized?
• "Wish your classmates could hear more of the storylike the truth about God's deep love for us and what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality?
• "Wouldn't it be nice if a deeper and freer conversation could happen?"
The time is now
Cushman said that nowmore than everChristians need not shy away from sharing a message of hope and redemption regarding one of the most important social issues of the day.
"Christ did not back away from sharing God's truth and light in the world, but neither did he hold back in demonstrating love toward others," Cushman said. "So, in contrast to the whole idea of silence, the Day of Dialogue encourages student-initiated conversations about the fact that God cares about our lives, our relationships and our sexuality.
"The good news is that Christian students can be a voice of hope in their schoolsand can make the difference in changing a culture of bullying in their school!"
For more information about the event, visit www.dayofdialogue.com.
Christian Examiner staff contributed to this report.