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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Do You Bully Jesus?


Yesterday’s post was admittedly inflammatory. Yet I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit working through Paul intended that passage to be so. God is serious about sin, and He desires us to be as well. Our Savior is only as big as we recognize our need to be saved. Small sin, small savior. Usually one made in our image that we pull out in times of trouble, like he’s a good luck charm. That’s not a Savior; that’s an idol. A lucky rabbit’s foot, maybe.

Paul’s illustration of forcing Jesus to participate in sexual sin is shocking. It jars us to the core. It scars for life, as one friend told me this week when I shared the illustration with her. But how does that same principle play out in the sins that we as people find not quite so heinous? Humans are notorious for ranking sin, and usually the sins of others rank far worse than our own pet sin. But to God, they are all equally heinous. There are not big sins and smalls sins because they are all infinitely offensive to an infinitely holy God. It’s not that there are no big sins; it’s that there are no small ones.

“I don’t participate in any sort of active sexual sin,” you may say. Don’t think yourself in the clear. This principle of forcing Jesus into sin applies to ALL sin, not just sexual sin.

In addition to my counseling ministry, I teach at a local high school. And if you work with teens, you daily deal with the one recurring and constant torture: bullying. Whether it’s physical, verbal, psychological or technological, bullying and peer pressure are a daily part of the teen age experience. But it’s not just for teens. Once I had a student ask me in tears how old you had to be when girls would stop being so mean and just be nice to one another. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but when I reached the age that it happened, I would let her know. I’m 31 and I’m still waiting.

Bullies are generally defined as those who pick on or mess with other students. Those who force others to do things their way, who run the show, command attention, fear, and control. Nobody likes a bully, usually even the bully.

If we apply the principle found in 1 Corinthians 6, that because we are one with Christ in the Spirit, sin in the life of a believer forces Jesus to participate in acts against his will, then we can only conclude that every time we as believers sin, we bully Jesus. Think back to the day of His crucifixion. He knows bullying intimately. He was beaten, scorned, mocked. I can imagine that growing up wasn’t a piece of cake for him either. He never took part in bullying other students and was probably mocked as well. We know his brothers picked on him and claimed He was crazy right up to the moment He appeared to them after the resurrection. Jesus knew the pain and rejection of being bullied on this earth.

Jesus knows it today. He desires to be with us and we psychologically bully him by isolating and ignoring His call to our hearts for worship and fellowship. He wants no corrupt communication to proceed from our lips, but only words that will build up fellow believers, yet we force him to participate in venomous backbiting and gossip. Jesus desires to be healthy physically so He is able to do the will of the Father to best of His ability, yet we entrap him in physical cages of gluttony like a 6th grader stuck in a locker.

Understanding the heart of Christ helps us understand the brokenness He experiences over our sin. At the end of Luke 19 we see both his broken heart and his righteous anger over the hard heartedness of His people and the blatant sin that it caused. While looking over the city, He weeps for their short sightedness and coming destruction because of their refusal to repent and believe. Once He gets to the city, He righteously cleans out His Father’s house of prayer. Jesus loves his people fiercely; but He hates their sin severely.

So what do we take from this short series on the impact of sin?

1. God’s Word is for our good, the best and ideal from the only One who loves any of us perfectly, as we desire to be loved.

2. Refusing to trust Him and His love leads us to false loves and choices that cause us, at best to settle for less than what He has for us and, at worst, brings us horribly painful consequences.

3. Our sin breaks the heart of God. All sins. Every last one. His heart breaks because of His great love for us and his great hate for the sin that damages our lives and separates us from Him.

4. To solve this seemingly hopeless situation, He showed His great love for us in that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

The one who was bullied took the punishment for the bullies so that He might have relationship with them. Oh, what a Savior!