Christian Bullying

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The topic I am about to address may incite a lot of strong emotions and opinions.  The subject matter, though negative, nevertheless is something that is worth addressing.

Bullying is considered a serious offense in today’s public arenas.  Thanks to the tenacious lobbying efforts of its past victims, its danger is being recognized and addressed.

Bullying has been identified rightfully as a nefarious conduct in the secular arena.  The religious sector though is a different matter.

Bullying in the Christian sector has taken virtuous sounding names such as “authority”, “leadership”, “submission”, “obedience”, “spiritual guidance” and perverted those names to mean something different than their original design and definitions.  Insidious abuses of these words have spread their nocuous modus operandi to the devastation of their victims.

The religious sector often attaches a “spiritual” name to a personal action and/or personal belief system and think the name somehow makes the action and belief more acceptable.  They then use that personal belief to pressure others to adopt the same standards.

The belief and action may not be actually Scripturally-validated, but because the word chosen to describe the belief is from the Scriptures, the belief or action itself is accepted as being “Scriptural.”  Not enough time and research is dedicated to the actual Scriptural meanings and applications of these words to recognize the difference.

The secular sector has recognized many of the abuses of the above terms within the religious sector.  The result has been that words like “authority”, “submission”, “obedience” are by association often considered negative.

The secular sector has reacted.  Wedding vows often emit the word “submission.”  Parental authority and discipline is often challenged.  Even the word “no” has been considered too constricting and negative to use in response to a child’s wrong behavior.

The problem is not with the correct usages of these words.  The problem is with its abuses.

The perfidious nature of bullying is that it uses coercion, deception, and intimidation to control its victims.  The greater the bully, the greater is the arsenal of weapons it uses to manipulate.

The danger with all deception is its very nature.  Deception is often very subtle in its moves.  It often parallels the truth or is sometimes so close to the truth, that the difference is hardly distinguishable.  That is why the lie is so believable. 

Deception is often truth with some error added to it. 

Christian bullying produces a lot of the same negative results as any other type of bullying: intimidation, fear, guilt, judgmental attitude, pride, false sense of self-righteousness, attempts to prove self-worth or self-righteousness.  There is a spirit of striving and much effort on the part of the victims to attempt to prove themselves.  The motivation of their efforts is fear.

Bullying manifests itself in social pressure to adhere to someone else’ standards or to pressure someone else to adhere to your own personal standards.  It’s more about finding acceptance than it is about encouraging one another to grow in a personal relationship with God.  It’s an attitude that disrespects others.

The “victims” are condemned and live with guilt if they do not completely adhere to all beliefs within the system.

Note: this is to be separated from those who are overly sensitive to anything that speaks of “rights” and “wrongs” and therefore overly react and judge any rule or principal as “judgmental”.  This is speaking of attitudes that are smug in their condemnation of those who are “less.

There is a sense of our efforts equal our worth or our “spiritual” performance merits our standing before God.  In other words, “how we perform equals God’s love for us.” If we perform well, He loves us well.  If we perform poorly, God’s love for us is also affected.  This is not necessarily clearly stated in words but strongly implied.  Subtle.  Very subtle error that wreaks havoc!

Christian bullying uses a combination of man-made rules along with some Scriptural principles, thrown in for validation, in order to indoctrinate its victims.  Again subtle but insidious!

Practical applications of these errors can be seen in specific attitudes:

  • Men are viewed as superior to women.
  • Wives are thought of as not needing respect — only romance.  The “romance” is often bestowed with “favors” for the husband as the ultimate result.
  • If a wife challenges a husband’s decision, she is immediately viewed as “unsubmissive”.
  • Children and pregnancies are used as objects to control the wife.
  • Women are encouraged to be uneducated.
  • Children must obey every rule dictated by the parents without question.  (Children should be taught to not question everything.  The subtle difference here is that children are not allowed to have a divergent view from their parents.)
  • Different view-points are not tolerated within the home.
  • Pastors of these types of systems are viewed as the final authority.
  • Anyone who disagrees or does not fully comply with the system is subtlely discredited and dismissed.
  • Leaders within these movements are held up on a “pedestal”.  There is little or no accountability.  The leaders’ “accountability” are often family members and perhaps a few others who are intimidated or brainwashed into maintaining favorability.
  • An individual’s salvation is frequently questioned if all their beliefs don’t match up with the system’s beliefs (these beliefs are specifically unrelated to salvation itself).
  • “Spirituality” is judged by outward appearances: family size, dress standards, music standards, educational choices, etc…
  • Past sins are regularly held against the questioning individual and/or used to manipulate that individual.
  • Individuals within this system find their “faith” is more about struggling to achieve a feeling of “spirituality” then it is about growing in an intimate (personal knowledge/experience) with God.
  • Husbands can also be constantly criticized and belittled, if viewed as spiritually lacking.
  • Children are treated as inferior to adults.  (Their opinions are not treated as important as the parents’.  Children have much to learn from their parents.  The subtle difference here is the attitude.)
  • Discipline is enacted through “righteous” anger (can take forms of belittling, disciplining in anger, and a parent feeling personally offended).
  • The focus of discipline is on correcting wrongs rather than on discipling the child and restoring the relationship.
  • Adult children are treated as children, needing parental control.
  • Insecurity is familiar  to the “weaker” members.
  • Pride is considered confidence to the “stronger” members.
  • Those who are “higher up” in the chain of authority are deceptive when it comes to their own personal sins but require those under them to be completely transparent for “healing”.
  • It is felt as necessary to address any supposed or actual sins seen among others.
  • Those who are guilty of bullying feel it necessary to act as the “Holy Spirit” towards those they view as weaker Christians.
  • God’s judgement is emphasized over His grace.
  • God is related to as a vengeful God rather than a forgiving God.  The key is “related to”.
  • Salvation doctrine focuses more on God’s wrath and our depraved condition — rather than on teaching God’s love that offers salvation freely because we are in need of a Savior.  (More could be said on this.)

Many more examples could be given, but time will not lend itself to so lengthy a list.  Suffice it to say, the above examples are tragic situations!  They are harmful both to the victims and to the bullies.

There is a movement of people being awakened to the harmful nature of bullying within the religious sector.  There are still many though who are deceived within the systems where Christian bullying is present.

God, though desires healing for mankind.  The healing starts with His people.  He says,

2 Chronicles 7:14

New King James Version (NKJV)

14 if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

In order for Christians to positively impact our world, we must have that which is different from the world: truth!

It starts with having a proper understanding of God’s nature and our relationship before Him.

We first must recognize that He wants to heal our brokenness, to transform our darkness, to replace our emptiness with his life and love!

God is not the author of evilHe is a righteous God, who only wants what is best for us! 

The truth is always right for us.  At the time, it might be painful because it may mean releasing our hold on false traditions.  Traditions, though perhaps wrong, can give a sense of security.  The familiar, no matter how dangerous or duplicitous, often feels like the safest thing to do or place to be at the time.  Subtle manipulation.

God though asks us to allow His healing “light” of truth to shine into our dark places in order to not just expose them but to cleanse, repair, and transform them!  The exposing is not for condemnation; it is for our redemption. 

As long as we hold onto our “rags” of hurts, abuses, and times when we too have been the “abuser”, we cannot open our hands to receive the richness of His grace offered freely to us.

God brings us to repentance not for the purpose of leaving us condemned.  His purpose is to help us recognize that we need help so we seek and then receive it. 

A doctor may diagnose a patient with an illness and prescribe medication.  Unless the patient acknowledges the illness and his need for the medication and then seeks to obtain the medication, the patient will not benefit from the doctor’s diagnosis.  The purpose of the doctor’s diagnosis is to orchestrate all necessary avenues for the patient to receive proper help.

So, it is with God.  He reveals our natural state in its broken and flawed condition and then works to orchestrate all channels possible to encourage its absolute and comprehensive healing.

God’s love has never been about our worthiness.  It has always been about the fact that He is Love.  Love is “love” by its very Nature — not reliant upon the nature of its recipients.

The very nature of God’s Love and the fact that we were created to be His sons and daughters is what gives us meaning and purpose!  As a result of that love, we freely and lovingly seek a closer relationship with the One Who loves us so completely and unconditionally.

Silent Homage

The other weekend, I attended a funeral of a man who was a very dear father, husband, and friend to many.  Everyone who knew him respected him as a man who was wise, gentle, kind, and led his family with loving leadership.  As I followed the funeral procession for this godly man, my heart was touched by the tradition of allowing a funeral procession to pass while traffic waits.  I thought it was special to see the respectful acknowledgment that society gives to the ending of an earthly life.  It was a silent homage.  The internment was also respectful quietness, except for a short but nice “message.”

As I drove through the cemetery, I beheld the beauty.  Barren branches hung above brown grass of winter.  Shadows stretched from stately tombstones.  Clouds blew overhead.  Nearby, life moved along.  People went about their day, shopping, eating, playing, working…  Here, in the cemetery, I was one of the few who had not driven away yet, contemplating the stillness.

This earthly life of mine too shall end.  Transient.  Evanescent.  I paused.  Saw beauty even here at a cemetery.  Felt the sun’s warmth, as its rays broke through the clouds.  Eyes looked up, following rays.  Pondered that this life isn’t my final destination.  The season was winter, and the grass was brown.  The trees were barren.  Yet, unseen to the naked eye were stirrings of life beneath the hard soil.    Spring is coming, and with it will be new life.

The body of a godly man had entered a season of “rest”.  Yet, for such a Christian man, death is only the passageway from this earthly life to a fuller Heavenly life.  Here, we think we know life.  We breathe air, and it is life.  We touch the velvet petal of a flower, and there is life.  We hear the trickling of rain on the roof, and there is life.  We smell the pungent odor of wet soil, and there is life.  We taste the tangy nectar of a Clementine, and there is life.  We see life here.  Yet, what we see here, what we experience is perhaps more a shadow.  C.S. Lewis once called this the “Shadowlands”.  I am inclined to believe he was quite right in his analysis.

One of my favorite books, One Thousand Gifts, says the following: “All beauty is only reflection.  And whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down.  Do I have eyes to see it’s Him and not the thing?  Satan came in the scales that gleamed, a thing of beauty, and he lured the first woman and she was deceived.  Beauty, the disguise, can slide dangerous.  True, authentic Beauty requires of us, lays claim to us, and it is this, the knees bent, the body offered in obedience. …Do I have eyes to see His face in all things so I’m not merely dazzled by the trinket, glitzy bauble dangling for the ogling, till it flakes and breaks and I strain for more to lie prostrate before?”  The book says in just a few pages before, “How I want to see the weight of glory break my thick scales, the weight of glory smash the chains of desperate materialism, split the numbing shell of deadening entertainment, bust up the ice of catatonic hearts.  I want to see God, who pulls on the coat of my skin and doesn’t leave me alone in this withering body of mortality…”  And again, “What is this that I feel sitting here, coursing through me relentless, hot, ardent?  I have to see God beauty.  Because isn’t my internal circuitry wired to see out something worthy of worship?  Every moment I live, I live bowed to something.  And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down before something else .. nature is not God but God revealing the weight of Himself, all His glory, through the looking glass of nature. .. How we behold determines if we hold joy.  Behold glory and be held by God.  How we look determines how we live … if we live … Faith is in the gaze of the soul.  Faith is the seeing soul’s eyes upon a saving God … Faith is the seeing of eyes that find the gauze to heaven torn through; that slow to witness the silent weight, feel the gold glory bar heavy in palm…”  Still more, “The only place we have to come before we die is the place of seeing God.”  Pages before: “Dusk and all the arching dome and the field and the great-bellied moon, it all heaves, heavy with the glory.  I heave to breathe: The whole earth is full of His glory.  Sky, land, and sea, heavy and saturated with God.”

Perhaps, this explains more the connection between the “shadows” and the reality: “Isn’t this the crux of the gospel?  The good news that all those living in the land of the shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun.  That suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart — and mourning and dancing are movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty.  Can I believe the gospel, that God is patiently transfiguring all the notes of my life into the song of His Son? …Jesus, at the Last Supper, showed us to transfigure all things — take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into a joy that fulfills all emptiness. … All is grace only because all can transfigure.”  Another quote from the same source, “Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life … It is dark suffering’s umbilical cord that alone can untether new life.”

I have left the cemetery with its reminders of death and life.  I write upon another page of my own life.  Fingers still.  Thoughts quiet.  I ponder.  I worship before the Creator of Life.

Behavior Relating to Belief

I had a long discussion with Will yesterday regarding some behavior that was of grave concern to me and to God.  He was repentant towards the end of our discussion and then wanted to whisper in my ear something.  He whispered, “Mommy, do you know why I am bad every day?”  I asked him why that was.  He said, “Because I haven’t seen Jesus.  I don’t know that Jesus died on the cross.”  I was able to take that opportunity to give Will evidence that shows God does exist, to discuss faith (it’s a fabric of every area of our lives — even the atheist), and then to show him why not having a belief in God doesn’t change the truth of what is nor the consequences of our actions.  I gave him various examples, and he seemed to understand what I was saying.  We then ended our discussion in prayer.  There is a battle waging within his soul; it is crucial — one that will ultimately determine the direction of his life.  My daily prayers are that he will choose to believe and to follow a life that alone leads to peace, joy, love, and eternal life!