Refusing to be a Christianized Bully

I’ve been pondering lately the amount of bullying I see go on in the name of Christ.

Wikipedia suggests: “Bullying is an act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. Bullying is characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.”

This is the kicker when it comes to “Christianized” bullying …. Good Christian people would never say they are trying to intentionally hurt the other person. None-the-less, aggressive, passive-aggressive, manipulative behaviour that seeks to gain power over another person happens all the time in the name of Christ.

And I’m afraid that at an individual level and at a systemic level, we Christians delude ourselves to the ways that we act like bullies. We justify our bullying in evangelistic language. Afterall, we can’t “love people into hell” you know. We fail to be willing to look at the ways our own needs and our own fears drive our ‘persuasive’ engagement with others.

But I think Philippians 2 can provide a wake-up call. In it we see a picture of Jesus that is the anti-thesis of a bully. The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus ‘made himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant’ and that he ‘humbled himself’. In this picture of Jesus we see someone who was always invitational – who did not force himself into people’s lives. In fact, we see in John 6 that after his teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, many disciples left him. Jesus teaches that people can only come to him if the Father enables them and then asks the disciples if they want to leave too. Peter answers and says, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life.”

In Peter’s response we glimpse the kind of understanding that Jesus had engendered in his disciples. They were not afraid to go, they didn’t feel shamed to stay….. they had experienced that which was life-giving in their relationship with Jesus – and that is what caused them to want to remain connected with the spirit and life they encountered in Christ.

Would our friends who do not embrace a relationship with Christ, say the same of us, his followers? Would our friends who do know Christ, but who hold different beliefs and values than we do, say the same of us? Would they feel the freedom to experience that which they experience to be life-giving (ie. not our definition of life-giving)? And would it be that life-giving experience that causes them to want to remain, stay connected, take the next steps?

The question for followers of Jesus: Do we trust that it really is God the Father who draws people to himself?

“It is the Spirit who gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life…… That is what I meant when I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father brings them to me.” (John 6:63, 65)

If we believe this, truly believe it – ought it not free us up to be much more invitational, much more loving, much more relaxed with others?

One of the things that triggered my thinking about this post was a recent interview I gave for Gay Christian Network radio. At one point in the interview, I said something like, “It’s not like we’re calling people to repentance – unless they’re involved in destructive behaviours or something like that.”

And it’s the kind of statement that reminds me of the complexity of speaking to multiple audiences. Given that my primary audience was members of GCN, my intent with that statement was to express our deeply held value to be non-coercive in people’s lives. I wanted to embody the kind of humility that says, “I’m not going to arrogantly presume that I am right, you are wrong, and you better change and become like me.”

But if I am side B, that is, holding to a more traditional interpretation of Scripture on the appropriateness of homosexual behaviour, then surely I should be calling people to repentance shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I be trying to convince people that they are wrong, need to rethink and change to become like me in accordance with my interpretation of Scripture?

If more conservative folks heard this interview on GCN, this could be a trigger ….. “Ah-ha…. We knew it. We knew Wendy Gritter has slid down the slippery slope of compromise! She isn’t even calling people to repentance.”

But is that kind of black & white call to repentance my job, in my context, in the relationships that I invest in and nurture through this blog, facebook, my neighbourhood etc.? Is that really what God is asking me to do?

Or is God asking me to walk in humility, loving and serving, and seeking to embody the character of Jesus, the One who made himself nothing and took the role of servant? What if God is simply asking me to keep my eyes open to the ways he is already at work in another’s life – way ahead of me? And is, perhaps, my ‘job’ so-to-speak, to be alert to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to ask a question at the right time, to offer a point to ponder, to listen together to what God is up to?

Christianity, as an institutionalized religion, has a horrific history of violence, coercion, and addiction to power. We have been frightful bullies. And in the ways the Christian community often calls for gay people to ‘repent’ that same bullying spirit rears its ugly head.

And I will do everything I know to do, to live and relate in a manner that is subversive to this oppressive legacy.

Afterall, ‘people can’t come to Jesus unless the Father brings them to him’. I don’t have to be a bully on his behalf. In fact, his Spirit within me pleads for me to act in the ‘opposite spirit’ – the spirit of gentleness, of invitation, of humility, of welcome. My simple prayer is that in such a spirit of service and friendship, those who cross my path would encounter the life-giving Christ.