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Bullying and the Religious Right

Definition. ‘Bully: a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people. A blustering browbeating person; especially: one habitually cruel to others who are weaker.’

This writer has commented previously on the religious right’s bizarre interpretation of Christianity, one that its founder, revered by many as the Savior and Redeemer of the world, wouldn’t recognize. Just when one thinks that a no more peculiar interpretation of Christian beliefs and behavior than has already been displayed by this disreputable group is possible, the Michigan State Senate proves that, yes, the religious right knows no bounds in twisting Christianity to suit its bigoted purposes.

An article by Amy Sullivan in Time Magazine discusses Michigan’s long attempts to pass an anti-bullying law. Michigan is one of only three states that have not implemented such a law, despite the minority Democrats’ years-long efforts to do so. During this time, at least 10 Michigan students have committed suicide due to their victimization by bullies. It would seem to be a no-brainer that bullying has become so pervasive and dangerous that laws must be passed to deal with it.

Not so, says one Gary Glenn, the president of the American Family Association of Michigan. He looks at anti-bullying measures through the skewed lens of his own brand of prejudice. Anti-bully measures, he says, are ‘a Trojan horse for the homosexual agenda’ (whatever that is). With the Republicans controlling both the Michigan State Senate and House of Representatives, his bigoted mantra has gained dominant traction.

Finally, however, the State Senate passed an anti-bullying measure, one that the Democrats, who have fought long and hard for such a measure, unanimously voted against.  The legislation is significant more for what it doesn’t include, than what it does:

  • No requirement for schools to report bullying incidents
  • No provision for enforcement
  • No teacher training required
  • No accountability if administrators are aware of bullying, but do nothing to prevent it.

And, most significantly:

  • Protections for religiously-motivated bullying.

One can think of few oxymora starker than ‘religiously-motivated bullying.’

As Democrat Gretchen Whitmer said on the floor of the Senate, the law that the Michigan Senate passed, says that “bullying kids is okay if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it.”

This last provision is the most bizarre, and the one that once again twists Christianity into an unrecognizable shape.  No one who genuinely follows the example of Jesus Christ would ever bully anyone, under any circumstances at all.

Referring back to the definition of bullying at the start of this article, can anyone conceive of Jesus Christ as ‘blustering, quarrelsome or overbearing?’  Can anyone recount a circumstance when he was cruel? This writer is a Christian, well-versed in the scriptures and the life of Jesus Christ. He is at a complete loss to understand how ‘moral,’ ‘religious’ and ‘bullying’ are ever compatible.

There seems to be an idea that Christianity condemns homosexual behavior, and, therefore, gay people can be bullied. This is puzzling to this writer, as he strives to learn who has put the American Family Association, or any part of the so-called ‘religious right,’ in charge. It is his understanding, based on a careful and years-long study of scripture, that judgment is left to Jesus Christ. Certainly, any church can make its own rules, and require that its members adhere to them. But no one who calls him/herself Christian can ever justify bullying; it is anathema to anyone who follows Jesus Christ.

Let us look at one example of bullying from the Bible, and see how Jesus Christ handled the situation. In John, Chapter 8, is the story of a woman who had committed adultery, a capital offense at that time, and who is brought before Jesus Christ. The Scribes and Pharisees wanted to stone her, which was consistent with the Law of Moses. This seems to fit the bill as an example of bullying: overbearing people being cruel to someone who is weaker. Did Jesus Christ point out some appropriate stones with which to begin? Did he condemn her, call her insulting names, spit on her? Did he do anything whatsoever to frighten or intimidate her?

Let’s look at the account from the Bible (John 8, verses 4- 11):

4. They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6. This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

9. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?

10. She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

One can only imagine that if members of the religious right were present then, the woman would have suffered a horrible death, due to their ‘religious’ and ‘moral’ reasons for stoning her.

It is pointless to discuss Jesus Christ’s treatment of lepers, tax collectors and other who were, somehow, outside of society’s narrowly-defined norms. Anyone with the most rudimentary familiarity with the scriptures is aware of his unceasing kindness to almost everyone he encountered. There are only two exceptions in recorded scripture: hypocrites, and the moneychangers in the temple. To them, he was direct, forceful and condemning.

Might not this give pause to some members of the religious right? One can name any number of their members who, while spouting the Biblical phrases that make such good sound bites on the evening news, were lying to their wives while they sleep with their girlfriends. And what about those who grasp and clutch for every dollar they can get? One does not wish to judge, of course, but one can’t help wondering about how pleasing these behaviors are to the Master they purport to follow.

But this writer has once again relied on facts, so he is, in effect, preaching to the choir. For those who simply despise gay people (or African Americans, or Native Americans, or people with physical or mental handicaps, etc.), nothing in the Bible will change their behaviors. Even if an anti-bullying law may save the life of a vulnerable person who is not gay (yes, there are such people), it is not worth it; if the law may somehow, even inadvertently, protect a gay person, it should not be passed.

So this is what it has come to. The party that accuses the Democrats of class warfare has defined a sub-class of people, not worthy of the law’s protection. As goes Michigan, so goes the nation? One hopes not, but with President Obama’s approval ratings moving in the wrong direction, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, ascendant, the omens are not good.

Robert Fantina is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006

Exclusively in the New Print Issue of CounterPunch

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Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

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