In the wake of the recent string of teen suicides, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), drafted a letter to the church calling on its members to stand up against bullying. In the letter, she cited the October PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service.
The wave of publicity has passed regarding bullying and suicide, but the problem has not gone away. In this New Year, families and friends of those who died are feeling the loss deeply.
In my own community, two young people died last year by suicide as a result of bullying at school. These are two we know about – there may be others. Bullying involves a repeated pattern of aggressive, unwanted, negative actions and an imbalance of power. It can take place wherever people gather…. at school, church, or in the workplace.
Many whose deaths brought this issue to public attention were gay; bullied because of their sexual orientation until they thought life wasn’t worth living. Other young people are bullied because they don’t speak English well, they are from a minority or because they are smart. Sometimes it’s adults that get involved in their children’s issues and bully, anonymously via social media. Sometimes bullying is part of hazing.
Bullying is always wrong and followers of Christ should say so.
Christians who call ourselves Disciples of Christ are called to speak ‘love in truth and action” by standing up for all God’s children – especially those who attract the attention of bullies, whether they are gay or immigrants or just unpopular. Let’s be sure these children of God know they are not alone – that life is worth living.
US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan say the most promising anti-bullying approaches are those that “get entire communities involved. When principals, teachers, school nurses, pediatricians, social workers, faith leaders, law enforcement agents, and parents all have the information they need to recognize bullying and respond to it, bullies get a clear message that their behavior is unacceptable.” Disciples pastor, Glenn Wilkerson adds, “Most bullies ‘play the crowd,’ and if the crowd has the courage and compassion to say, ‘Stop that!’ ‘That’s not funny!’ ‘That’s cruel!’ we’ll put an end to the bulk of it.”
Unfortunately, according to a Public Religion Research Institute poll, two thirds of Americans believe that messages coming from churches contribute to the suicide of gay teens. We need to convey a different message. We are Disciples of Christ, of Jesus Christ. He welcomed children, ate with tax collectors and chatted with women – shocking in his time. But Jesus came to show that God loved the world (John 3:16) – the whole world.
We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness. Our mission is to be and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We extend God’s wholeness by reaching out in word and deed to the bully and the bullied alike, showing God’s love.
As Christian people, let’s be clear that bullying is not ok. In your community, let’s be sure people know that Disciples of Christ “love in truth and action.” Let’s not have families mourning the loss of promising young people to tragic death. Instead, let’s help all God’s children know they are loved and valued!
Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)