Bullying and the Sixth Commandment


As an educator, I spend quite a bit of time discussing the issue of bullying. We form task forces, attend conferences, write books, produce documentaries and movies, inform parents, spear head movements… all in an attempt to teach students to be kind to one another.

Bullying has become the topic du jour as more and more tragic incidences of teen suicides are traced back to constant harassment from classmates. Bullying was a term rarely discussed when I was in middle and high school. When it was, we were generally told that there would always be mean people in our lives so we better learn now how to deal with it. Why the constant attention now to bullying? Are kids today meaner than they were 15-20 years ago?

I don’t believe kids are meaner. I remember some of the things done to classmates when I was in school, and it doesn’t get much meaner than some of those things. What I believe has changed is the fact that, due to social media, kids today never escape the harassment. Once upon a time, bullies found you on the bus or the playground or in the hallway by your locker, and if you could just get home or to your next class, you’d be safe for a while. Now, kids carry their bullies around with them in their pockets. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a host of other social media sites allow teens to fashion lynch mobs to psychologically hang one another without ever leaving their bedrooms. While I may have had the possibility of one mean girl calling me and maybe being subjected to a secret third party in a 3-way call, teens today can experience virtual mob attacks on their Facebook walls and Tumblr comments.

One movement in particular has caught attention in Christian circles because it focuses on the bullying of one particular segment of the population. Tomorrow is the Day of Silence, “a student-led national event that brings attention to the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in schools.” On the Think Christian site, Neil de Koning writes a passionate post explaining why he believes Christians should participate in the Day of Silence.

Regardless of who bullying is targeting, we all know it is wrong. While there is no verse in the Bible that explicitly states, “Thou shalt not bully,” God has plenty to say about how we treat other people. And the crazy thing is that, unlike people, God really doesn’t discriminate. He commands that all people be treated the same; friends or enemies, believers or not, male or female, “Jew or Greek.” All people bear the Imago Dei (image of God), and all are to be treated with the same sacrificial love and respect that we all crave for ourselves. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3),” he didn’t place any stipulations on the instructions.

I particularly appreciated the following observation by Neil in the above mentioned article:
It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse. In my reading of Scripture and leaning on Christian tradition, particularly the Heidelberg Catechism, the “No” does not turn to “Yes” when certain subgroups of our community are named.

What does the Heidelberg Catechism contribute to the conversation on bullying? Some interesting and challenging instructions.

Question: What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?

Answer: I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor – not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture and certainly not by actual deeds –and I am not to be party to this in others.

Question: Is it enough then that we do not murder our neighbor in any such way?

Answer: No. By condemning envy, hatred and anger, God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can and to do good even to our enemies.

I’ll leave you with this final excerpt from Neil’s post and hope that you will read the entire post and spend some time reflecting on what it means to love with grace and truth, showing the kindness of God that leads us to repentance to a world that is desperately tired of bullying.

Our neighbor is not just the people like us whom we like. She or he is the one we come across in the course of our daily activities. This certainly includes the ones we pass in the hallways of our schools and pass on the sidewalks and buses on the way to school. And the behaviors that the catechism finds offensive include the daily schoolyard practice of belittling, the common practice of offense gestures, the ordinary practice of demeaning texting that creates a culture threatening for gay and lesbian teens.

It even includes thoughts. If there is any way our thoughts say “you are not my neighbor” or say “you are not worth my kindness or my time,” the catechism would say you are guilty of breaking the law of God.
“It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse.”

I find it interesting that it adds, “I am not to be party to this in others.” Being a silent bystander is unacceptable. This is good news from our tradition and church to those who are often victims of bullying and abuse. Every church, school and parent can powerfully encourage teens to become a vocal neighbor when they see a person being bullied. It is simply a matter of being a good neighbor.

So, ask yourself, who have you failed to see as your neighbor, and how can you begin praying and moving towards a Christlike approach to all people?

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