By Jessica Brodie
More than a hundred United Methodists have submitted an anti-bullying resolution that will go before lay and clergy members of Annual Conference when they gather in Florence June 7-11.
The resolution signers, most of them part of Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina, call upon the UMC to oppose bullying in all its forms and create a safe space for children of God without regard to religion, race, ethnicity, culture, citizenship, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation and physical or mental ability. The resolution also calls upon United Methodists to respond to acts of bullying with acts of compassion and take a public stand against speeches of hate, exclusion, harassment and acts of intimidation and violence, which are, as they say, “filled with long-held prejudices against all persons.”
Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina is group of clergy and laity working to help The United Methodist Church become more open and inclusive to all people—including all sexual orientations and gender identities—to support the UMC motto “open hearts, open minds, open doors.”
The anti-bullying resolution maintains that bullying hurts people through physical and verbal harassment, intimidation, oppression and exclusion.
“The effects of bullying can halt the healthy development of all people socially, emotionally and spiritually,” the resolution states, citing a study by Iowa State University. “Bullying leads especially young people to isolation and depression, which prevents them from creating healthy friendships with their peers. This isolation can lead to participation in high-risk behaviors and suicide.”
In addition to opposing bullying, creating a safe space and taking a stand, the resolution also calls on United Methodist churches and people to “no longer be silent about the value of each and every life” and to “intentionally validate, support and empower persons being injured by bullying behavior in workplaces, in schools and in all environments.”
Dr. Barbara Borom, co-chair with Dr. Jim Lane of Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina, is a licensed professional counselor and has seen the effects bullying has on people.
“Bullying triggers hopelessness, depression, isolation,” said Borom, a member of Ashland UMC, Columbia. “It’s a cycle. How do we break it? We have to be an advocate for people.”
It's no longer just fists, she said. Words are just as harmful, and they follow people home, too, through Twitter, Facebook, email and more.
“It’s nonstop,” Borom said.
And sometimes, especially when the bullying is against a gay or lesbian person, people will even use Scripture to justify their bullying.
“I think people don’t realize how much weight their views and the church affect this; you’re hitting the very core of their being,” Borom said.
Sidney Gatch, a member of Lexington UMC, Lexington, has a niece who is a lesbian, and her heart aches to know some people use the Bible to wound, not help.
“Members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community would say most, if not all, of the bullying they suffer comes from church-going Christians who spout Scripture to justify their hurtful words and actions,” Gatch said (see her commentary, sidebar this page). “That, to me, is when I realized the church holds the key.”
Gatch said church should be a trusted place, where people feel they can seek refuge and support, but for gays and lesbians, “I hear some people say church is the last place they go (when bullied).”
But the resolution is not just about gays and lesbians who are bullied; the resolution addresses all forms of bullying, encouraging the church not to turn a blind eye but to be proactive defenders of the oppressed.
The statistics don’t lie, they say: so many times, bullying leads to depression and despair, which can quickly spiral downward.
According to StopBullying.gov, 28 percent of U.S. students in grades 6-12 experienced bullying. When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57 percent of the time. The most common types of bullying are verbal and social. Physical bullying happens less often, and cyber-bullying happens the least frequently. Generally, children who are bullied have one or more of the following risk factors: they are perceived as “different” from their peers, perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves, are depressed or anxious, are less popular than others and have few friends, or do not get along well with others. StopBullying.gov said research shows LGBT youth are at a heightened risk for being the target of bullying.
The full text of the resolution is online at www.reconcilingministriessc.org.
One mother's view on LGBT bullying: It’s our biblical responsibility
Sitting in a New York City airport terminal, I listened as my daughter told me through tears that her cousin had come out to her the night before as being a lesbian.
The two of them had been sharing a hotel room for the last few days, and I knew my niece was going to take the opportunity to tell my daughter what she had told me a few days earlier. The news was not a surprise to either of us, but what did surprise me was my daughter’s reaction. Why was she crying? She had numerous gay friends, including her best friend and roommate. She was a vocal advocate of gay rights and had attended numerous rallies and events in support of the LGBT community. Why was this particular news coming from her cousin so upsetting to her?
I quickly realized—when she sobbed, “If anyone does anything to hurt her, I’m going to punch them right in the face”—that she was not crying because she felt her cousin was somehow no longer the person she thought she was. She was crying because she knew her cousin, who she loved dearly, was going to inevitably suffer the bullying that comes with living as an openly gay person. She had seen so many of her friends endure this type of bullying time and time again, and it was not a question of “if” but a question of “when” her cousin would be bullied and hurt.
Nine out of ten gay teens have reported being bullied at school because of their sexual orientation. And, although there is no national data regarding suicide rates among the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transexual) population, largely because there is no agreed-upon percentage of the population that is LGBT, about 34,000 people in this country commit suicide each year, and it is widely agreed that approximately 30 percent of all completed suicides have been related to sexual identity crisis. Additionally, gay teens are four times as likely to attempt suicide as heterosexual teens and are eight times more likely to commit suicide when they experience a high level of rejection from their families at home.
When we think of a bully, we imagine mean-spirited and hate-filled people with ignorant views and a need to intimidate others, but members of the LGBT community would say most, if not all, of the bullying they suffer comes from church-going Christians who spout Scripture to justify their hurtful words and actions. They are subjected to cruel, merciless taunting and humiliation from people who truly believe their hurtful words are messages from God. These bullies don’t see themselves as bullies, but their words hit at the very core of another human being and rob another human being of his dignity and self-worth.
LGBT bullying needs to be recognized for what it is—a theological issue. Because it is, in fact, based in theology. LGBT bullying would be unimaginable absent the anti-gay religious messages that drive it. So, if it is a theological issue, then a theological answer is necessary to put an end to it. Basically, the church holds the key to ending this type of bullying that has caused so much pain in the lives of gay people and their families. And although it is understandable that our churches are afraid to take an active stance on the issue of LGBT bullying from within the church, the comfortable silence comes with a cost. Put in the simplest of terms, the longer we put this off, the more young people die.
Hebrews 13:3 tells us to remember those who are mistreated as if we ourselves were suffering. Imagine the devastating hurt that comes to gay people when they are told they are uniquely unworthy of love because the Bible dictates it to be so. How aware are we of the depth of pain our LGBT brothers and sisters have endured and our own contributions to that pain? And are we suffering that pain with them as if it were our own?
One of the best-known parables of Jesus is that of the Good Samaritan, and it can be invoked in the argument for action on the issue of the church and anti-gay bullying. In any instance of bullying, there are always three parties: the bully, the victim and the witness. This is certainly the case in this biblical story found in the Book of Luke. Obviously, the bullies are the robbers who have already left the scene, and the beaten man is the victim. But in this story, we are focused mainly on the witnesses. The story does not tell us what brought on the inaction of the Levite and the Priest. Perhaps they were feeling an aversion or disgust for the bleeding man. Or they may have been afraid a similar fate might befall them if they were to stop and assist him. They may have even felt some guilt for their inaction that is not revealed to us in the story.
But it is the Samaritan, the witness who took action to help the beaten man, who possesses the traits we want to teach our children. If not for the Samaritan in this story, the man would surely have died on the side of the road.
It is a lesson on the responsibility we have to care for all of our brothers and sisters who are victimized. Jesus asks the lawyer which of the three—the Samaritan, the Levite or the Priest—was a neighbor to the man, and the lawyer responds, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus says to him, “Go and do likewise.”
By Jessica Brodie