Thinking Anew – God is always on the side of those being bullied
As followers of Jesus, there is a clear, narrow path for us to take. We must side with the bullied ones, whether this be on a private or a corporate or a global scale. Photograph: Getty Images
It is anti-bullying week and I have been taking some school assemblies – something I always find challenging! But there can be no-one reading this who has not experienced bullying; be that as a recipient, a perpetrator, or a bystander.
Bullying seems to be an intrinsic part of our collective human nature so I suppose we will never be able to eradicate it. There is more awareness of its toxic impact than there used to be. Every school is now obliged to have an anti-bullying policy.
If behaviour is to be considered bullying, four factors need to be in place: it must be hurtful, intentional, repetitive, and it needs to involve an imbalance of power. I find this a helpful little checklist. Or, as younger children can learn: “Bullying is hurting someone who can’t defend themselves, on purpose, again and again.”
Children can be fruitfully taught that bullying harms us all, deeply; be that the person who is doing the bullying, the person who is being bullied, or the rest of us who witness what is going on. It is empowering for a child who is seeing someone else being bullied to know how they can play their part in challenging the harm. After speaking to a trusted adult, the child can be coached to reach out in friendship to the person being bullied, to say something to them, to include them in their group, to stand with them – literally – maybe waiting with them at a bus-stop. Being bullied isolates a person. Being their ally communicates that they are not, after all, alone. It’s not their fault. They are worth connecting with.
God is always on the side of those being bullied. The Hebrew prophets proclaimed this, over and over, and Jesus demonstrated this intentionally throughout his ministry on earth. Untiringly he showed the oppressed, ignored and abused that they were the most important ones to him, and to his heavenly father. On occasion he spoke truth to power, but usually he was standing on the margins with those who had no sense of entitlement at all.
I am puzzled. Since God always sides with the powerless, I find it so strange that the church (and indeed our world) seem to focus far more enthusiastically upon the perpetrator, the guilty one, than upon the victim, the shamed one. Our liturgy reflects this: we confess our sins to God and receive forgiveness in Christ before we can truly enter into God’s presence. Where is the entry-point in our liturgy for the sinned-against one? I don’t mean to suggest here that people who are sinned against don’t themselves need forgiveness in other ways. Rather I worry about the order in which these things are presented.
Our criminal justice system further reflects this: there is a sense that if a guilty person is suitably punished, then justice has been done. Yet again the victim – the person most affected – is sidelined. I am not suggesting here that a person who bullies is not themselves precious to God. Bullying is sometimes in itself a scream of loneliness.
In all this, as followers of Jesus, there is a clear, narrow path for us to take. We must side with the bullied ones, whether this be on a private or a corporate or a global scale. They are God’s first priority so they must be ours. At some times and in some places the church has trodden this path most wonderfully, truly bringing light to dark places. At other times, dreadfully, the church itself has become the bully. When this happens, this has nothing to do with God. Bullying seeps into everywhere. There is no innocent place, other than in Christ himself.
Advent is on the horizon once more. Scattered as we are these days, we are well placed to be scanning that horizon for signs of hope, for reasons to lift our heads; if not for ourselves, for others. Our own hope is in Christ alone, and our task, together, is to stand in solidarity with “the very least of these”, whatever that may cost us.