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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Myth of the Mean Girl: Living without Masks


I recently had a couple of conversations with a man about relationships between women. In one conversation he talked about his young daughter and her best friend and their love/hate relationship with one another, and in the other he mentioned the ever complex friendships between his wife and her friends. In both conversations he eventually ended his observations with a hopeless sounding statement of, “But you know, girls will be girls.”

He was talking about women hurting one another other with words and actions, about spending unhealthy amounts of time together until we blow up at one another, about betrayal and competition and unforgiveness. He’s bought into the myth of the Mean Girl. Our culture is built upon the idea that women are “Bridezillas” and “Real Housewives”, that we are “Gossip Girls” and “16 and Pregnant”, or that we are participants on “The Bachelor”, competing with one another for the attention and affection of a man. Young girls today watch tv and are taught to treat one another as competition at best and mortal enemies at worst. Girls believe this is how women are to behave, and so that is how they behave.

I used to believe the myth, too. Even in the church, all I had really seen was gossipy competition and hurt feelings, with excuses ranging from hormones to home life, but never hearing that there was another option for how women could behave.

But then I spent some time in a little town called Wake Forest (my parents kindly refer to it as the “seminary bubble”), surrounded by people who, for the most part, were genuinely pursuing Christ and desperately seeking to serve Him and be conformed to His image. There, I found a group of women who were more interested in pleasing God than pleasing one another, who were seeking Christ more than a husband, and who desired to learn from one another more than they desired to prove they were better than everyone else.

Does that mean we were without drama? Of course not! I distinctly remember one tear-filled confrontation between myself and two friends that ended in my throwing a pencil at one of them. I cried on a professor when she compared me to another student and I defiantly declared that I was NOT that person and then intentionally completed a project the way I wanted to, just to drive the point home. We had hopeless crushes on indecisive men and sometimes responded to the corresponding broken hearts with a frustrated “I told you so”. I was jealous when I friend was chosen for a position over me, and had many snarky conversations about “those girls”; the cute, and therefore shallow, ones that we were convinced were not “serious students” like us because they only came to seminary to land a husband. Sometimes, girls will be girls.

But there was a distinct difference in that time of life compared to previous times, and I have tried to carry it with me since I left that precious circle of friends. The difference is that, when we walked in the flesh and hurt one another’s feelings, we didn’t just move on with life, piling offense upon offense. We faced the moment and faced it together. We sought the wisdom of Scripture, we confessed our sins and shortcomings, we asked for forgiveness, we prayed together. Then we worked to walk together in the Spirit. We studied the Word together. We confronted weaknesses in our friends’ lives before they became strongholds of sin. We opened ourselves up to humble and transparent examination and offered the same to one another.We lived for a season without masks, and it was life changing. No one had it all together, and no one expected anyone else to have it all together. In fact, we called you out on it if you started acting like you did!

In short, we lived lives of discipleship together. We desired to be more like Christ and we expected our friends to help us along in that journey, not hold us back from our goal. The Christian walk is the only race in which every person who crosses the finish line is a “winner” and in turn, makes every other finisher that much more victorious. We are “more than conquerors” because we are not competing against our fellow runners; we’re all on the same team!

So will girls be girls? Yes, as long as we believe the lie of the world that we are competition for one another and as long as we hold one another back, pursuing goals of our flesh and our pride, devouring one another with our words and deeds. But if we will commit to humble discipleship, to encouraging one another, if we will transparently walk alongside one another and bear one another’s burdens as teammates and not enemies, then the type of girls we become will be more like Christ and not like the world.

Women don’t have to “be girls”. We can be like Jesus.

How have you fought to overcome the “myth of the mean girls”? How does your circle of friends lift one another up instead of tearing one another down? Can women walk in the Spirit together, in grace and Truth, or will girls be girls?