If you are like me, you have had way more than your fair share of bullies in your life. As a kid, when being consoled after another bully encounter, I was often told that it wouldn't always be this way. That when I became an adult, the bullying would stop. Well, anyone who has lived life can attest, there are plenty of bullies in adult life too. You can find these malformed individuals in the workplace, neighborhood, family, and sadly, often in the Church.
A Religious Bully?
A bully is someone who feels they need to force what s/he believes and wants on others without regard nor respect for their beliefs or views. Bullies will take advantage of others emotionally, spiritually, often financially, and sometimes physically. Along the same lines, religious bullies are those folks who want to argue endlessly, to impose their beliefs on others. They will divide the Body of Christ with their inflated opinions and evil threats, condemning anyone who will not take their often narrow point of view. Those who do not succumb to their undermining ways are quickly branded with labels like "not saved", "not orthodox ", "heretic", "false teacher", or "false prophet.”
Jesus and Paul had to deal with religious bullies of their day. Jesus and his crew were often labeled as blasphemers and heretics because they challenged and turned the popular interpretation (world-view) of the scriptures upside down. Jesus had a way of knocking over the sacred cows of the day, and the religious bullies of the day responded nastily clamoring to protect their power. Not intimidated, Jesus would say to his bullies.”
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much achild of hell as you are. - Mt 23:13-15
As difficult as it is dealing with bullies, we must avoid the temptation to respond in kind. My dear friend says you can wrestle a pig in the mud, but you're gonna lose, your gonna get dirty because the pig is better at it than you! Do not sell yourself out by descending to the level of the bully who is trying to draw you into a confrontation. Try to avoid responding to their taunts and aggression with insults and aggression of your own. Do not return evil with evil.
A few thoughts on dealing with religious bullies:
Break the Lies
- Our value as a person, our being loved by God is not based on our ability to meet others expectations of us (or our theology)
- It is not our job to fix or convince anyone of anything. We can share what we believe, why we believe it and feel no compulsion to win or convince anyone. Let's leave the work of changing hearts to God!
- the unwinnable scenario. Used in the fictional series of Star Trek as a test of how cadets will respond in a no-win situation. The key for us in no-win scenarios is to respond in the opposite Spirit with love and grace.
The Power of “No”
- as scary as it may be, sometimes we must confront the bully with a firm “No”, a clear “Stop it”. We need to communicate in a clear way that we will not tolerate their abuse.
Can’t fix Stupid
- This may sound harsh, but it conveys truth. Many religious bullies don’t know what they don’t know and are so firm in their point of view they just can’t accept there could be another possible way of seeing something. Religious bullies are often invested emotionally/psychologically in being right and winning. When this is conflated with”thus saith the Lord” it makes for an especially dark kind of ignorance.
Don’t entertain trolls
- Trolls is an internet term for bullies whose sole purpose is to engage in social media threads to wreak havoc. They enjoy the attention they get by causing dissension. They don’t feel bad about what they say and do and confronting them only feeds their unhealthy behavior.
Have a few faithful, forgiving friends
- Not everyone with an opinion has earned the right to speak into your life. Not everyone has earned the privilege to help you consider your blind spots. It is good to have a couple of life-long, faithful friends that can walk with you and support you, and challenge you without feeling like they must “fix you."