BULLYING: the word evokes memories in almost everyone who hears it.
“I remember the school bus,” says one young man, recalling his youth. “The cool kids sat at the back, the little kids at the front, and the rest of us sat in the middle, waiting in fear to find who would be victim of the day.”
“Our son quit boy’s club rather than put up with the teasing and harassment inflicted by bigger boys,” says a mother.
Daily a teacher mercilessly harangues a slow student in front of his peers until one day the child cries out, “Why don’t you just hit me?”
These true incidents happened in Christian settings.
Bullying—repeated oppression of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons—is unfortunately alive and well and doesn’t occur only on the playground. You’ll find it in a church, Christian school, and covenant family living near you. Perhaps even in your own home.
Bullying is not a rite of passage; it’s not a medicine that may be tough to swallow but will make you stronger in the end. The murders at Columbine have shown the extremities bullied children may resort to. Other victims keep the pain inside but may suffer from depression or resort to suicide.
Religious educator Ronald Cram, author of Bullying (Chalice Press, 2003) goes so far as to say bullying is a form of spiritual crisis. Because we are created in God’s image, we are made to live in relationship with others. “A Christian spirituality that is doxological brings the praise of God to all contexts where persons are in relations with others. . . . Bullying is the violation of life-giving interdependence.”
Repeated bullying distorts the image of God inside us and robs us of our identity. It is also a spiritual crisis for the bully, whose actions are really a twisted attempt to relate in some way to the victim. This pattern of relating to others through violence, established during a formative period in a child’s life, continues into adulthood unless it is stopped. Power plays become the norm in relationships. Bullies aren’t just children—they sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, and find their places on church councils as well.
Often repeated incidents of bullying become pivotal memories in children’s faith journeys. The results can be especially harmful when such behavior occurs at the hands of people who represent the body of Christ.
Based on his research, Cram believes that we cannot underestimate the damage caused by bullying. “Statistically, the future for bullies is grim,” says Cram. “For those who were bullied, the majority will have relational/psychological troubles as time goes by.”
Awareness of the problem is the first step toward establishing policies, holding each other accountable, encouraging reconciliation, and providing healing ministries.
Cram believes that empathy may be the most important key to combating the practices and effects of bullying. The young man who remembers the horror of school bus bullies recalls a time in his life when the pain turned inward and he wondered if life was worth living. He struggled with anger and bitterness. But his story, unlike many others, ended
happily. One day, he met one of his tormentors. “I remember you,” said the bully. “I was a jerk. I’m sorry.” Through God’s grace, the bully had learned to empathize with his victim.
“I realized people can and do change,” says the young man. “I was able to let it go.”
You Should Know . . .
- 29.9 percent of children grades 6-10 report moderate or frequent involvement in bullying: 13 percent as bullies, 10.6 percent as bullied, and 6.3 percent as both bully and bullied.
- Almost two-thirds of the 37 school shootings over the past 25 years were the result of children seeking vengeance who felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured. (Source: Bullying: A Spiritual Crisis by Ronald Hecker Cram, Chalice Press, 2003, pp. 49-50)
- Types of bullying: physical (hitting, punching, tripping, destroying
- property), verbal (threats, taunting, belittling), relational (isolating and excluding others, derogatory body language, intimidation, power plays).
- In one study, 70 percent of teachers but only 25 percent of students said adults “almost always” intervene to stop bullying. (Source: “Bullying at School,” published in Education Canada)
About the Author
Jessie Schut is a writer and church educator who worships at Covenant CRC in Edmonton, Alberta. She is a member of the Canadian Ecumenical Anti-Bullying Initiative, a project with the goals of raising awareness of and finding solutions to bullying in the church.