Vincent V. Marshburn

Vincent V. Marshburn

One of my favorite moments in a Marvel superhero film is when "scrawny" Steve Rogers, before he becomes "Captain America," is asked if he wants to go to Germany and kill Nazis, to which he responds: "I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies; I don't care where they’re from." Like this wholesome fictional paragon of virtue, I suspect we all have experienced some form of bullying in our lifetimes (as either the victim or, dare I say, the perpetrator).

Christians are called to be peacemakers, or at least, we are commended if we are able to act as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Interestingly, the Greek word for "peacemaker" in the commonly referenced passage typically identified as Jesus's sermon on the mount implies a kind of active effort to bring conflict to an end, and not, as some might infer, a passive refusal to engage sources of conflict.

I would even contend that this indicates that, as believers, true peacemakers do whatever is possible and reasonable to bring about peace when we observe conflict that inflicts persecution and suffering. Like Steve Rogers/Captain America, I do not look favorably on bullies.

I can assure you that I am probably one of the most non-confrontational individuals you would ever meet. However, I also do not enjoy observing people being harassed, tormented, or persecuted by others, as this clearly demonstrates a lack of regard for their well-being, and ultimately a lack of self-respect on the part of the bully. As much as we are counseled to love and pray for our enemies and to avoid acts of vengeance or retribution (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:19-20), we are also exhorted to seek justice and stand up for those who may be incapable of doing so themselves (Psalm 82:4, Isaiah 1:17, Micah 6:8, Luke 4:18-19).

In an episode of the "Star Trek: Voyager" television series, the crew of the titular starship are continually pursued and harassed by a group of aliens who covet the Federation technology and resources. Although Captain Kathryn Janeway is quite open to peaceful diplomatic relations, she does not believe it is prudent to allow the aliens to possess such products of science and mechanization that is beyond their ability to understand and wield responsibly.

When confronted by one of the alien commanders during an attempt to retrieve wrongfully acquired equipment, Janeway, resolutely and predictably protective of her ship and crew, stands her ground.

CULLUH: Our sensors show that you are trespassing on our vessel.

JANEWAY: As I've already informed you, we're attempting to retrieve the console that caused this explosion.

CULLUH: If you attempt to remove anything from our ship, it will be considered an act of war.

JANEWAY: You know, I'm really easy to get along with most of the time. But I don't like bullies, and I don't like threats, and I don't like you, Culluh. You can try and stop us from getting to the truth, but I promise you, if you do I will respond with all the unique technologies at my command. Janeway out.

Bullying has been around since, well, literally the beginning. The account of Cain and Abel demonstrates that it didn't take long for human beings to find ways to antagonize, belittle, oppress, and threaten each other, and this caustic conduct unfortunately continues even to this day. As we know, bullying can and does occur in so many ways other than physical abuse or violence. And now, with the aid of the Internet and an apparent abundance of idle time, people can verbally, psychologically, and emotionally bully and be bullied in such an "efficient" and somehow simultaneously personal yet distant manner.

Quite frankly, one of my concerns as a Christian is that it is evident that one of the dangers we face as believers, and as human beings in general, is the very real risk of becoming bullies ourselves as we interact with different people in various environments, including online. Historically, some might have identified the Church (or at least, the ecclesiastic, human-centric institution that emerged) during various eras as a kind of political-religious bully of sorts,

attempting to in some cases establish its perhaps questionable vision of the kingdom of God in rather forceful, unkind, and intransigent ways. In modern times, some might continue to perceive current organizational representations of the Church as somewhat similarly imperious or oppressive in their manner.

There are times when it can seem that we are justified in our own mind in trying to convey to (or impose on) others our own will, desires, or sense of "correctness" (political, social, religious, etc.), often while being demeaning and excessively emphatic or intense, resulting in needless provocation or offensiveness. These are the scenarios and occasions in which it would behoove us to really pay attention to the scriptural admonitions to exercise control over our "tongue" (Matthew 12:36, 1 Peter 3:10, James 1:19, James 3:2-12) -- or when it comes to online communication, our fingers. How much grief could be avoided if we were "quick to hear, slow to speak," or type as the case may be? I wonder how disappointed Jesus is when he observes bullying among or from the Church.

If there is a member of a congregation who is exhibiting the hostility, disdain, arrogance, and abusive nature of a bully, that person needs to be called into account. The body of Christ has no place for the malignancy of cruelty and tyranny. As many of us know from personal observation or experience, cancer must sometimes be treated aggressively. Certainly, the Church represents a remarkable amalgam of individuals with diverse backgrounds, understandings, opinions, and expressions of belief, worship, and service. Our common foundation of faith is what unifies us, and there is never a need to tolerate the disparagement, harassment, or maltreatment of anyone.

Let us make every effort to demonstrate the kind of peace and love among ourselves that causes those in the world to be inspired, impressed, and perplexed, as we are called to live in harmony and not be condescending (Romans 12:16), to not be judgmental towards each other (Romans 14:13), and to not be conceited and provoke each other (Galatians 5:26). The concept of a "Christian bully" should be an ultimate oxymoron.

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