My entire life I’ve been bullied. I have been bullied by all sorts of people. I’ve been bullied for a wide variety of things. I had bladder control issues well beyond the time I should have gotten them under control. I was overweight, not at all stylish, nerdy (If I were to list all of the things that would fit into this category I’d be here all day), and that kid who was so in love with his religion that he took it upon himself to make sure everyone else “Followed the Rules” too. The weird thing about being in love with religion is that it is a very abusive relationship. I was bullied by that religion, and I wasn’t the only one.
Let me tell you something about bullying. It isn’t just kids calling other kids names, it’s systemic oppression to control other people. Since people obtained sentience they’ve been doing it. Hell, societies are built on being better than others so they can be controlled. This systemic oppression within a community can most clearly be seen in the microcosm of the Christian church in America. A community that’s become so used to oppressing that they don’t even notice it anymore.
Bullying forces you to be different. It causes you to water down the you that you are so that you can fit into the mold of what someone else wants you to be. There is a huge difference between teaching and bullying to ensure the person fits the mold. The difference is a sense of agency. It may seem a simple thing to ensure that you don’t do when attempting to “disciple”. However, it has become commonplace within the church to bully. It is the path that produces the quickest results with the least amount of effort.
The late Peter Gomes was one of the greatest theologians of our time. I have long been a fan of his writing and his approach to all things religious. His approach has always been one to see where the Church can and has been problematic. There are a few quotes of his that I’d like to share before moving on:
It is interesting to me to note that those who most frequently call for fair play are those who are advantaged by the play as it currently is and that only when that position of privilege is endangered are they likely to benefit from the change required to “play by the rules.” What if the “rules” are inherently unfair or simply wrong, or a greater good is to be accomplished by changing them? When the gospel says, “The last will be first, and the first will be last,” despite the fact it is counterintuitive to our cultural presuppositions, it is invariably good news to those who are last, and at least problematic news to those who see themselves as first. — The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?
To some, the temporal triumph of the Christian community in the world is a sign of God’s favor and the essential righteousness of the Christian position. The irony of the matter, though, is that whenever the Christian community gains worldly power, it nearly always loses its capacity to be the critic of the power and influence it so readily brokers. — The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?
The Bible is not God, nor is it a substitute for God, and to treat it as if it were God or a surrogate of God is to treat it in the very way that it itself condemns over and over again. — The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart
One of my favorite pieces of Gomes’s was a talk he gave once where he talked about how the Bible had been used to justify all manner of evil. He talked about how the Nazis used the Bible to justify the Holocaust. He talked about how the Confederacy used the Bible to justify the continued ownership of other human beings and white supremacy. He then went on to talk about how the Bible was being used to justify hatred of the LGBTQ+ community. I was called the “devil” for wanting to introduce this work to the teens I taught. I ultimately was fired for standing up to those who would bully the LGBTQ+ teens out of the church.
Whether or not you are a Christian, there is an important thing that I think we all need to acknowledge. The Bible and the Cross have become not symbols of freedom, but a symbol of the oppression wrought on their behalf for close to two millennia. The Jesus of history became the Jesus of the Church a watered-down, tame, ineffectual leader who was fine with people following the rules as long as the rules went to serve those in power. Not so surprisingly, those who were threatened by Christianity, mainly those in power at the time, then turned and used it as a tool to control people, (see Constantine “the great”). When Christianity became the ruling power, within a generation or two it was used to oppress and subjugate (see the beginnings of Constantinople).
You can then fast forward threw the death and destruction again done in Jesus’s name. The Crusades, Christopher Columbus, the oppression and subjugation of the first people in the Americas, the battles between Catholics and Protestants, the colonization and expansion of the United States of America, The Civil War, World Wars 1 and 2, “the war on terror” and many other atrocities performed in the name of or justified by ‘Holy War’ doctrines by Christians. I wish this were the exhaustive list, but it isn’t even close. Christians, more often than not, will justify this bullying and oppression because the early church was oppressed and actively hunted. They say that society is currently oppressing them so that justifies their oppression of others (see ‘War on Christmas’, Fox News, and every argument against human rights.) It’s unusual when the oppressor claims to be the oppressed just so they can continue to oppress and subjugate. The fact still remains, though, that unless you are a straight white cis-gendered male who makes enough money you don’t fit the new Christian mold.
Now I know the knee-jerk reaction to this very well. I used to be one of the people who would do this. “But not ALL Christians!” That’s the thing about bullies though, isn’t it? Of course, it isn’t all (insert bully here)! Because if it were then there really would be a problem wouldn’t there? Then you’d have to take responsibility for the pain you’ve caused. But if it’s not all, then that means you must be one of the ‘good’ ones. There’s a saying that is making the rounds again it goes, “A few bad apples…” somehow people forget to finish the phrase. It goes “A few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch.” The few good apples who have been trying to make a difference in the Church are attempting alchemy in a sea of apple cider vinegar.
It may be a different refrain, but it’s the same three chords over and over again. A person who has grown up in the Church or even around Church people has, more often than not, experienced this bullying. There are a few generations now that were not able to be who they were because somebody somewhere in history decided that this book, which was supposed to relay truths for life and spirituality, said you shouldn’t do this or that. The sad truth is that the majority of these rules in the book, are DON’T HURT OTHER PEOPLE! That was the historical Jesus’s message, “Don’t hurt other people, and enjoy life.” Instead, it became, “Hurt other people, so we can enjoy the afterlife.”
The platitudes of Christianity then became synonymous with the pain that the church caused. “We’ll pray for you” isn’t a platitude of peace. It’s a weapon used to say, “We are going to talk behind your back until you change into the person we want you to be”. The most common platitude “Thoughts and prayers” is now “You know that really sucks, but I don’t care enough to do anything.” My least favorite, “Give it to God” is really “don’t bother me with your problems, they are bringing me down”. It is systemic oppression hid behind a veneer of smiling faces. It is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is the tool used to make you into what other people think you should be. It was never meant to be this, but it is what it became. I can’t stand these platitudes now because they only cause pain. I can only hear the weapons they were used as rather than the good intentions they are meant in.
I’m guilty of this as well. When I wasn’t listened to, when I was tired and couldn’t try anymore I resorted to leading through fear. I bullied. I used ‘hell’ as a manipulation tool to get people to do what I wanted. I was one of the bad apples, and sometimes I wasn’t. I’d like to say a lot of the time I wasn’t but with my Generalized Anxiety Disorder, all I can see is the pain I caused. It’s easy to cause pain. It’s easy to want to control a situation or people. It’s easy to resort to bullying to get your way. But since when is the easy way the right way?
I’ve been bullied, and I’ve been the bully. I learned though. It was a difficult learning process and I hurt more people in it. I learned how to be me. I learned that it was all I ever could be. I’m both a part of the problem and learning how to be part of the solution. It’s a long road finding out who you are if you’ve spent your entire life being told to be somebody else. But that you are the one you should have been all along. The authentic you is beautiful. It doesn’t matter if that you is Transgender, non-binary, cis-gendered, gay, straight, bi, queer, or whatever. As long as you are the you that is you that’s wonderful!
Now I know the arguments, but come on. Who is it hurting if someone is who they are? Often the way people bully others is a coping mechanism used to hide something they are afraid they will be bullied for. The Christian Church in America has become that mask used to hide who people are and to force others into this masked non-identity. When people hurt other people it is an effort to hide their insecurities about themselves. Yes, there are those rare instances where the true self of someone is not a good person in the slightest, but I have to assume that everyone wants at least to be a ‘good’ person.
All this to say I want you to be you. I want you to be authentically you, not what someone tells you to be. I don’t want any religion to dictate who you should be. I want you to find that out for yourself. The best people I’ve ever met in this life are the ones who were authentic and themselves. Be human, allow others to be human. Don’t let the bullies grind you down. Don’t be a bully. Be human.