Bullies don’t always look like the chubby kid with the low self-esteem that tries to steal our lunch money.
Sometimes the bully looks like a grandmother with a southern drawl that says “bless your heart” in front of a lot of people to shame you for doing something she disagrees with.
Sometimes bullying looks like a pastor that ends an impassioned sentence with “Amen?” or “wouldn’t you agree?” to force you to comply.
Sometimes it’s the person at the farmers market that loudly questions you about whether you’re a Christian so that you can be marked and identified in front of other people.
Sometimes, it’s a pastor’s wife and her friends talking over another group that they disagree with, and covertly lobbing word grenades into the other group.
Sometimes when we disagree, a bully looks like the person that gas lights and subtly labels us or puts us in a category or tells us what we believe, then backs up and tries to pretend they weren’t doing it at all. “What do you mean….?”
Sometimes bullying is delivered by religious people holding others hostage to toxic doctrines like Eternal Conscious Torment or Eternal Judgment or Penal Substitutionary Atonement, not to mention “worm” theology and other subtle mixtures of shaming and shunning.
Sometimes bullies are the people quietly whispering in a crowd, little by little, sowing seeds of discredit about people and disguising it as “concern” or “worry.”
Sometimes bullies are religious people that make you feel small when you ask questions, because your questions scare them, and they respond by belittling your lack of faith or your immaturity or your understanding, when really it is their lack of courage to even consider the questions.
Sometimes bullies are threatened by ambitious people, said they spend most of their time discrediting them instead of supporting their ambitions. This happens a lot in groups of all kinds, including religion.
Bullying is popular in politics and religion, but can be justified if we think we are right and God is on our side, also known as “saving the country.”
I’m trying out a new phrase, “help me understand where you’re coming from.” I’m following it up with, “What I hear you saying is…”
You don’t have to try it, but I’m going to give it a shot. It’s probably not going to stop all the bullying, but at least I hope they will hear how they sound and maybe, as a whole, we will get better at communicating.
It can’t hurt to try.
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!