27 October 2020

Bullying

Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference

I wonder if you were bullied at school?  I was bullied terribly, particularly at middle school where the other girls would push me in the corridor, steal things from me, call me names, refuse to sit with me or work with me, and ostracise anyone else who tried to sit with me.   Why was I bullied?  Reflecting back there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason for it – possibly because I was insecure and lacked confidence, I was taller than most of my peers, I was left handed, wore glasses, was bright and worked hard and was rubbish at sports! 

Thankfully, God has done an amazing work in my life since becoming a Christian and although sometimes I struggle with self-doubt, I now know my worth and value to God, I know that I am loved, and God has given me the strength and confidence to do things I never dreamed possible.  I have also received healing from all the hang ups from the days of having every aspect of my looks, personality and ability criticized. 

Another result of these days of bullying is that it has given me a real passion to speak up for those who are bullied and ostracised for whatever reason.  Tragically, I have witnessed and experienced bullying within the church and this should never be the case.  If we love Jesus as we say we do, we should be treating each other with dignity and respect and no-one should be trying to harm, intimidate, ridicule or coerce someone else within God’s family.  In John 13:35 Jesus says, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.’  Do people see that love demonstrated in our relationships with one another?

I have known churches where a person with a so called ‘strong personality’ can be controlling and maybe sometimes don’t realise that their behaviour can be intimidating to others.  Sometimes their behaviour is excused or tolerated by the other leaders for fear of upsetting them or because there is a worry about who would do their job if they left.  They can also prevent people joining the church as visitors often sense the bad attitudes and vote with their feet.   Sometimes we in the church do the devil’s work for him!

But I have also seen what happens when a bully is challenged and when someone dares to stand up to their controlling behaviour.  I have seen some bullies when challenged, throw their toys out of the pram and leave, and others who have realised how their behaviour has affected others and have repented and allowed God to change their attitudes.  I have seen the way that the atmosphere in a church can change and become more relaxed, more welcoming and more Christ like when that stronghold is removed.

Of course there will be times of disagreement and debate within our churches and it is a healthy sign of life when we can share our different viewpoints in a safe and accepting environment.   Bullying is far more than having an argument however heated that may be.  Bullying is not when a person holds another person accountable or addresses misdemeanours, unloving or inappropriate behaviour.  It is behaviour that is continuous and repetitive and part of an overall pattern.  It begins to undermine the confidence of the person or people suffering and breeds fear and anxiety. 

I would encourage all of us to reflect on the way we treat our sisters and brothers within the church and examine our behaviour before God, inviting the Holy Spirit to show us any ways in which we have sought to harass, ridicule, undermine, threaten or control another person, to ask God’s forgiveness and his help to transform us to become more like Jesus so that our churches can be the demonstration of the sacrificial, selfless, love of God to our congregations and communities. 

I close with these powerful words from Romans 12 vs 9 – 18

‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’

The Methodist Church has produced a suite of resources for churches on working together positively. These can be accessed here.

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