The Bible and Bullies

Standing up to bullies, keeping our composure in the face of aggression, finding the words and actions that let us be both principled and loving – these are our goals when faced with bullying.

By Caryl W. Krueger

Categories: Fear, Guidance, Joseph

Is bullying something new? Hardly! Although 65% of today's youngsters have experienced bullying, this unkind activity was commonplace in Bible times. In it's best light, it may have been considered a fair response to evil of some sort, but in it's worst light, it definitely took place. Rudeness, insisting on one's own way, coercing, ganging up on another, threatening – these are all forms of intimidation – that is, bullying.

A bully is one who uses his/her strength or power to hurt or frighten others. Sometimes a parent even uses this method to correct children, but that doesn't make it right, and it usually has both short and long-term disadvantages. Parents need to talk about bullies with their children – how not to be one and how to respond to them. This discussion can begin with the Bible. Immediately, the story of the intimidating Goliath comes to mind, but don't start there, save that one for later. Tell another Bible story. Don't divulge what subject you are introducing. Make it a guessing game. Read the story of Joseph and his brothers from Genesis 37: 3, 4, 13, 18, 23, 24, 28. Ask questions, such as: What caused the brothers to hate Joseph? Did the brothers understand what they were doing? Did any of the brothers think this was a bad idea? What were the final results? Could something like this happen in our community today?

Ask which words describe the brothers (like hateful, devious, mean, conniving, cruel). Do we ever act in these ways? From here, you are ready to talk about school-yard bullying, ganging up on other kids, being caught up by "the mob" complex. Then, you'll want to discuss better solutions to problem situations, which will vary according to circumstance and age. Can reasoning with the aggressor help? Are you courageous enough to speak up for the under-dog? Are there school or public officials who should be informed? Could prayer be a help?

Next, set up some play examples – again pertinent to the age of your children. For example, tell two young children that they are to pretend to play together with one truck. Tell one to grab the truck from the other. Then ask how each one feels. How could you play happily with one toy? What words could you use? Another example: have two older children plus a third child pretend that they are in school and that the third child has an electronic game the other two want. What could they do to bully him and get it? How could they organize other kids to join in the bullying? What is a better response? And, for a third example, how should you respond when you are in a group and a new student is can you include or exclude her/him? What if you see someone shoplift and he or she threatens you if you tell?

Now you may want to introduce the David and Goliath story from I Samuel 17. What method did the Philistines use? What would have been the conventional response? What was David's response? How did he arm himself? Why wasn't he bullied by Goliath? How does this relate to a playground bully?

And so your discussion should lead to better responses to bullying. Think of Bible lines the children know and make each one of these a "motto of the week":

  • Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
  • ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. (Luke 6:31)
  • Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Mark 12:30, 31)
  • Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:..... (Matthew 5:11, 12)
  • .....forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

Not responding to bullying is one answer. Jesus did not physically fight back against those who were cruel to him. In Luke 4, we learn about Jesus being disrespected in the synagogue. Read what happens next in verses 28-30. Imagine having a mob about to push you off a precipice!

But Jesus didn't argue further or strike out; he simply "went his way." This was because he was so confident in God's care for him that he could "disappear" from them. Point out that when evil of any variety tries to upset us, we can become invisible to the hater and know that we are indeed "hid with Christ."

Standing up to bullies, keeping our composure in the face of aggression, finding the words and actions that let us be both principled and loving – these are your aims. And the result? That safe environment for all children, as described in Zechariah 8: 5: ".....the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof."