October 26, 2013

The Rev. Rodney B. Weaver: ‘If you are a bully …’

— In recent years the issue of bullying in our public school system has come to the forefront. Children seeking an education have been the recipients of cruel, brutal outbursts. Stronger intimidating students have taken advantage of their peers. The form of bullying is not always physical, but mental and/or emotional. The invention of cellphones and computers has seen bullying in the cyberspace arena as well.

Bullying is not a modern day experience. It has been in existence for centuries, even in biblical times. A biblical example of bullying is how Goliath used his imposing size and stature to intimidate or bully shepherd boy David.  

The word “bully” is not found in the Bible. Instead the word “brutish,” a synonym, is mentioned. The Hebrew or Greek words “brute or brutish” translated mean stupid, foolish and irrational as cattle. From this we can surmise that those who bully act as cattle or other beasts incapable of rational thinking. This type of behavior is found in our society in children and adults.  

Unfortunately the aftermath of bullying can lead to persons having to engage in Christian counseling and secular mental health treatment. Conversely, it has also led to the drastic aftermath of suicide. Where the bullying of children is involved it is the parent’s responsibility before God to protect their children. They are to move them from students that may be dangerous. This responsibility does not fully lie with parents. As a community, we are obligated to diffuse situations and environments where bullies thrive.  

Bullying breeds hostile environments for all. Bullying makes it difficult for students to learn in an educational environment. Bullying leads to family violence in domestic relationships. Bullying leads to nations seeking to destroy other nations (i.e., Hitler’s behavior leading to the Holocaust).

As Christians, how is one, especially a child, to respond? All of us are not mentally equipped to handle the taunts of bullying. Fighting a bully is not always the right course of action. Striking back may agitate the situation and not end the bullying. Sometimes the bullied react so adversely that they take on the persona of the bully. Is turning the other cheek the thing to do? Should one pray that the bully be spiritually connected and change their ways? What should one do?

One must understand the motive of the bully. One must also understand that although the bully appears to be operating from a stance of strength, in actuality he/she is exposing their  weakness(es). They are acting from their weakness instead of their strength. Their weakness has damaged their personality and caused them to be overly aggressive instead of being assertive. The bully has a character flaw that the person cannot or desires not to control.

As Christians we cannot always avoid difficult bullying people. We cannot change them. But with God’s guidance we can better understand them and interact in a positive way to cope with them.

David slayed Goliath. David killed the bully Goliath. We desire not to kill the bully, but to respond to the bully with understanding, patience and courage.  

Bullies test our witness to God. Our desire is to engage the bully in non-confrontational interactions and positive affirmations. Doing so will convict that person and reveal their hidden inner beauty. This is a challenging and daunting task. But this is the Godly response. Therefore, if you are a bully this should be our Christian response.    

Rodney Weaver is the pastor of Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church.