Bullying has made the headlines across our nation over the past few years. The news reports have brought us the tragic stories of teens who were bullied and then either took their own lives or retaliated against others. Schools have been confronted with the challenge of addressing the issues surrounding bullying. Parents have had to talk to their kids about the tough issues that can bring deep emotional scars for those who are bullied and those who witness it.
I am a mother who has talked to my children about how to respond to anyone who bullies them and how to respond to and stand with those being bullied. I hope my children never bully another person, and I hope they work to stop any bullying they witness. But what do I do when adults I am around bully others? How do I speak out when acquaintances, even those I worship with, become spiteful in their speech and online posts? I wrestle with that issue.
This post is addressed to my fellow Christians who may not even realize that they are doing what we ask our youth not to do. And this post is written to me that I may always remember to post only respectful, loving, encouraging, positive posts that will help “love people into the Kingdom” rather than alienate them from me.
Jesus was not a bully. He was not weak–he was a strong man who stood bravely for the truth that he proclaimed. He never backed down from truth and never gave in to the pressures of this world. But he never bullied anyone. He never called them names, joked about them behind their backs, gossiped about them on his journeys with disciples or drew cartoons of them in the dirt to make “his people” laugh at “others.” He never even separated the world into “his kind” and “others.” He disagreed with certain beliefs and practices. He broke certain traditions he disagreed with. But he never bullied anyone with unkind speech or actions.
I saw a post recently of a poster someone created using the image of popular cartoon character. The words had the character making fun of people on welfare, particularly food stamps. The post offended me deeply. I am not on food stamps, but I know some people who are. They are kind, loving people who do not deserve a post like that being aimed at them. So you may say, “Well, I am aiming that at the other people who abuse the system.”
Would Jesus have done that? No. He shared a meal with all people–he invited all people to his table. He would have listened. He would have loved. He walked with sinners–and I know that I, too, am a sinner. How can I ask him to love me if I can’t love another person who is also a sinner?
I find no record in Scripture of Jesus making fun of any group of people–even those he disagreed with. He loved. He loved the tax collector even before the tax collector admitted that he cheated people. He loved the woman at the well even before she changed her ways. That woman was despised by the very people Jesus worshipped with. She carried the labels that made her an outcast. Jesus loved her. Can you imagine Jesus laughing at a cartoon that was aimed at a woman with five previous husbands and was now living with someone out of wedlock? I can’t. He talked lovingly to her even though many others would have joked about her.
We are being bullies when we post jokes aimed at any individual or groups of people. We are doing what we ask teens not to. If a teen knew a classmate was on food stamps and had hung that cartoon I saw on the classmate’s locker, we would call that bullying. When we post it on social media as adults, we call it funny and say we are speaking up for our beliefs.
This post is not designed to bring up any political discussions about welfare programs or political programs to change them. If you turn it into that, you have missed the point. I am asking all of us to think about our words and actions carefully. Line them up with Jesus’ words and actions and see where we stand. I fall short most days. I admit that. That is why I pray and study Scripture and try to hold myself accountable. So I, therefore, am not judging any of you who read this and wonder if your posts would have also hurt me.
I am just asking that we work to stop the negativity and the hurtful words we so easily toss around on the Internet in the name of humor. Jesus was not a bully. Let’s not be as adults, either.