Justice or Bullying
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
We are at challenging point in the life of our country, in the experience of the church in America, and in many local communities, including mine here in Grand Haven, Michigan. It seems as though for the past several years we've been caught in an endless downward spiral of divisive rhetoric and polemic, increasingly unable to hear the perspective of those who disagree with us and increasingly willing to paint the opposition with a broad brush.
I want to be honest with you that I'm not sure at times how best to handle that reality.
I mean, I look around me and I see the erosion of women's rights, the continued marginalization of the LGBTQIA+ community, people who use the phrase “parents’ rights” as code for the attempts some parents to control the schooling of all other children, the conversion of the immigrant and refugee community into pawns that are moved around the country for political ends… I see all of this and it’s hard not to speak up, to try to say something against this kind of corruption and injustice.
And it's hard, it's so hard, not to appear strident when human rights seem to be at stake. I know don't always do a good job, but I hope you know I'm trying.
Earlier this week someone sent me a message in response to some of the criticisms I have publicly levied against current school board candidates in our own community who are trying to unseat our good and faithful incumbents. One member of the community told me that I'm a bully for the things I've said and the criticisms I have raised.
As much passion as I have for these questions of human rights and dignity, I don’t want to come off as a bully. And so, I thought about it. I thought about it really hard. And I thought this week I might try to parse some of the difference between disagreeing with passion and disagreeing as a bully.
At the basic textbook definition, a bully is someone who seeks to harm, intimidate, or otherwise coerce someone who is vulnerable (or someone who is perceived as vulnerable). And that is the first and key point I want to make right there. Bullies are those who seek to intimidate and coerce the vulnerable.
What is unfortunate is that some people in our society, people who are actually trying to intimidate vulnerable populations like queer kids or refugees, these people call those who disagree with them bullies. It is an excellent example of some kind of cognitive dissonance, of doing something bad but then turning and saying it’s really your opponent that is doing the bad thing.
To call out marginalization, to point out the harm of policies that are being advocated for in our schools and our country, to make it clear the ways that these policies and approaches will have a devastating impact upon vulnerable communities, this is not to be a bully.
To say it another way, for one person to stand up and tell a bully to stop punching a vulnerable person, to tell them they are doing damage, that is not bullying. You can tell it is not bullying because the person being called out is someone with power and the person being impacted and hurt is someone who is vulnerable.
The history of the Hebrew Scriptures is filled with the condemnation of false prophets who proclaimed everything was okay in society, despite rampant sin and corruption, despite the marginalization of those who did not have a voice. These were prophets who only sought to make the comfortable and powerful more content with the status quo, knowing that upsetting the status quo might threaten their own comfort.
Everything is not okay in our country right now. Everything is not okay in our communities. Everything is not okay in the church. And I know, I swear to you I know, there are times when I could phrase things more gently, when I could perhaps have more kindness and curiosity toward those who disagree with me. And I promise, I will try to do better with that.
But the people of God cannot be silent in the face of injustice. Christianity has a really bad history of supporting the status quo at the expense of vulnerable communities, of telling the bullies it will be okay while the vulnerable are being squeezed and pushed aside.
So, I will try harder with the words that I use, absolutely. But I will not be silent. I will not be silent at the ongoing attacks upon the vulnerable right now. And I hope you won’t be quiet either. Because it is when good people stay quiet that the real bullies win.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.