The United Methodist Church of Plano
Saturday, September 23, 2017

What does the church say about bullying?

Categories: Bishop's Column

“What’s new in the 2016 Book of Discipline?” you might ask. It’s always an adventure to begin to look through either deliberately in search of a specific paragraph or to accidentally come upon something that is indeed new.

Bullying is new in the 2016 Book of Discipline. It’s at the end of “The Nurturing Community” section of the Social Principles (page 119 if you’re interested). I kept flipping back and forth between the 2012 and the 2016 to make sure that it was indeed a new section; surely we’ve had a statement in the Social Principles against bullying in the past! But no, there it is and I quote in part:

Bullying is a growing problem in parts of the connection. It is a contributing factor in suicide and in the violence we see in some cultures today. We affirm the right of all people, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, race, religion, disability, age, physical appearance, sexual orientation and gender identity, to be free of unwanted aggressive behavior and harmful control tactics.

Bullying happens in all churches, communities, nations and world. Last year at the listening sessions, especially in certain areas, the clergy overwhelmingly responded that one of the hardest things for them in ministry was being bullied by parishioners. Clergy are vulnerable to bullying when people demean, ridicule, intimidate or humiliate the pastor usually in order to make the clergyperson change or do something that the member wants.

But then laity say that they have felt bullied from the pulpit if they have gone against the wishes of the pastor. Some clergy have forced their agenda on a congregation so as to overspend or take an action or promote a vision against the wishes of the congregation. Bullying can go both ways.

Bullying goes on in the larger church in terms of theological differences. If you don’t agree with me, I begin to call you names, cast aspersions against you, say all manner of evil against you, and vice versa. It’s a bullying world even in our church.

In many communities, people — especially young people — are bullied because they’re “different.” In a small town, for instance, everyone knows who is LGBTQ and often those persons are bullied by their peers, teachers and other persons of authority. But then, I also know people who have really reached out to those who are bullied and made the difference for them during a troubled childhood or adolescence. They stood in the gap between bully and bullied.

Since the presidential election, “bias-related incidents,” racial bullying or intimidation and hate speech/action have risen at an alarming rate across the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Some have included physical violence but many/ most have been verbal and attitudinal. It’s like Pandora’s box was opened, giving permission to say whatever one wants to strike out at another person who might be “different” from oneself.

Since the election, the most frequent bias-related bullying or hate speech/action occurred toward immigrants with the highest groups being Latino and Muslim; about 29% of those reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center. We need to pray for and support our Muslim neighbors and continue to welcome our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters.

Hateful bullying remarks have been made against women, immigrants, the disabled, and LGBTQ persons. While the national average for attempted suicide is 4.6%, 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at some time, often due to bullying. Transgender persons are our brothers and sisters, too. Our Social Principles don’t say we have to respect others because we understand and even accept someone who is different; we are called to respect and treat with dignity all people.

Bullying is a form of judgment against another that emboldens us to say or do something that is hurtful. The scriptures say, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give.” (Matthew 7:1, CEB). “Bullying is a form of public ridicule and so “if you say to (a) brother or sister, ‘you idiot,’ (you) will be in danger of being condemned… (Matthew 5:22, CEB.)” Frankly, I think there’s a bully in each of us that needs spiritual attention.

The day after the election, a friend of mine’s daughter who is developmentally disabled and a wonderful, beautiful, talented individual, shared with her mother that it hurt her deeply that the president-elect had said mean things against someone who was disabled. She decided to write him a letter to tell him how it felt to be made fun of. Will it make any difference? Who knows if the president-elect will ever see the letter but I do know it made a difference…it made a difference in my friend’s daughter’s self-esteem. Her letter reinforced her own assurance that she is a child of God, no matter what anyone says about her or how anyone treats her.

The bully wins—no matter who the bully is—if we just become victims or become “wound collectors” (as I heard someone call it recently). The bully is defeated—especially the bully in us — when we all remember and assure each other that we are the beloved children of God.

~Bishop Sally Dyck