Sermon Illustrations on Bullying
What Is Bullying?
Bullying has been around as long as children have lived in groups. Often, adults minimize or ignore it, reasoning: “we all have to go through it—I did, and I’m ok” or even “it builds character.”
Over the past few decades, however, research has come out indicating that being bullied has enduring negative mental and physical health consequences that can last through adulthood. Especially when the victim of bullying has other stressors in their lives, bullying can increase the risk of suicide. Additionally, student academic performance often suffers, limiting a child’s future opportunities. Even the bullies themselves are at risk. Bullies are often on a trajectory toward a whole host of future problems including early sex, violence, drug abuse, and adult criminality, especially including intimate partner and child abuse.
What is bullying? Examples include threats, violence, spreading rumors, verbal attacks or insults, or purposefully excluding someone from a group. Essentially, bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior which involves one child using a real or perceived power imbalance (physical strength, embarrassing info, or popularity) to harm or control another child. We are all pretty familiar with its traditional manifestations: overt violence, threats, taunting, nasty gossip, and so forth, but we also have to be aware of its newer manifestation, cyberbullying.
Christian Persecution & The Real Power
What is the witness of the church in times of persecution? The historical record demonstrates that persecutions of Christians were regular and prolific in the first centuries of the church, especially in the second and third centuries as the church began to spread significantly.
In 215 AD, Scapula, the leader of the Roman province of Carthage (modern day Lybia), led a campaign to to stop the spread of the church. The historian Tertullian wrote a four-page letter to the Roman administration to stop the torture and execution of everyday church members. One of Tertullian’s points, was that there were thousands of Christians in that region of North Africa. Was Scapula going to kill all of them? Instead of fighting back with weapons, Tertuallian offers to lead a protest at the seat of justice in Carthage, the place of justice for the Roman Empire.
“What will you make of so many thousands, of such a multitude of men and women, persons of every sex and every age and every rank, when they present themselves before you?” he inquires.
Scholar John Dickson comments:
Tertullian’s boldness is striking. Ancient Christians were not timid. They did not adopt a posture of peaceful resistance through a kind of slave mentality of the bullied. Nor was their religion an opiate that dulled them to social realities here and now. In fact, reading the early sources, it is clear they actually felt like they were the victors!
They believed that true power to change the world lay not in politics, the judiciary, or the military but in the message of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Haters of Humanity?
Most of us are aware of various persecutions that took place during the first few centuries of the church’s existence. One particularly brutal local persecution took place during the reign of Nero, who was emperor from 37-68 AD. It began with a fire, which many believed Nero himself began in an attempt to lay hold of a piece of land. To dispel rumors of his own guilt, Nero blamed this young, seemingly fanatical religious group known as the Christians.
Their punishment was especially cruel. Those found guilty were convicted, not of starting a fire, but of “hating humanity,” and were punished by crucifixion, being torn by dogs, or being used as lights (by being burned to death) in Nero’s garden and the local circuses. Looking back, it’s hard not to see the true hater of humanity, whose gossip and lies were considered expedient, even if that meant innocent people would be put to death.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
I Would Take Half
The British romantic poet Lord Byron (George Gordon) grew up with the disability of clubfoot, which kept him from engaging in many of the activities and joys of childhood. He was nevertheless, a person of some courage. One day he happened to notice a childhood friend being beaten to a pulp by one of the school bullies.
Byron, completely unable to come to the boy’s aid physically, nevertheless found a way to support his friend. Byron confronted the bully and asked how many punches he planned on giving to his poor friend. “What’s it to you?” the bully roared. “Because, if you please,” Byron answered, I would take half.”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
The Quasimodo Complex
Two decades after I worked with the airmen, I read a fascinating article, “The Quasimodo Complex,” in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery, two physicians reported in 1967 on a landmark study of eleven thousand prison inmates who had committed murder, prostitution, rape, and other serious crimes. Medicine has long known that emotional conflict may produce physical illness. These doctors raised the possibility of the reverse syndrome. Physical deformity may lead to emotional distress that results in crime, according to the article, 20 percent of adults have surgically correctable facial deformities (protruding ears, misshapen noses, receding chins, acne scars, birthmarks, eye deformities). The researchers found that fully 60 percent of the eleven thousand offenders had such deformities.
The authors, who named the phenomenon after Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, raised disturbing questions. Had these criminals encountered rejection and bullying from school classmates because of their deformities? And could the cruelty of other children have bred in them a response of revenge hostility that later led to criminal acts?
Authors proposed a program of corrective plastic surgery for prison inmates. If society rejects some members because of physical appearance, they reasoned, perhaps altering that appearance will change how they are treated and thus how they behave. Whether a murderer on death row or a pilot in the RAF, a person forms a self-image based largely on what kind of image other people mirror back.
The report on Quasimodo prisoners reduces to statistics a truth that every burn victim and disabled person knows all too well. We humans give inordinate regard to the physical body, or shell, that we inhabit.
Taken from Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s name: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey Copyright (c) 2019 by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com