Written by Ann Hanson, Former UCC JWM Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice
The best known parable of Jesus, the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10: 29-37, is one that can be considered from many points of view. Didn’t the ‘man’ realize that the path from Jerusalem to Jericho was fraught with danger? Who were the ‘robbers’ and what motivated their destructive behavior? And the priest – what did he learn in seminary? Why didn’t the Levite, a worker in the temple, have care and compassion in his heart?
Bullying always involves three parties: a bully, a victim, and a witness or witnesses. We can see these figures in the biblical story. The bully has, of course, already done his work and has left the scene before we arrive to watch. The beaten man in the road is obviously the victim. In this story the focus is really the behavior of the witnesses.
The Good Samaritan demonstrates several positive traits when he cares for the beaten man. We want to plant these traits into our children’s hearts and minds---to help our children to absorb the truth of these words. The Good Samaritan stops; he cares for the man lying in the road. The story is an empowering lesson about our responsibility to care for each of our brothers and sisters. It is also a lesson that runs counter to what children may hear and see on the playground, in school, on TV or even at home.
In this story there are also important lessons about the inaction of those who pass by. The priest and Levite may be experiencing widely varying feelings when confronted with the man injured along the road. Perhaps one of them feels aversion. Maybe the other fears that a similar tragedy might happen to him if he remains to assist the man who has been beaten and robbed. Perhaps in the future one of these passers by will be haunted by knowing he did nothing to help.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan can be understood as a starting place to expose personal and societal forms of bullying. Is what we hear on the playground, in the halls of school, what we read on Facebook pages so different than what we see acted out by adults in abusive political statements or from the pulpit, statements of racism, sexism, homophobia?
Jesus asks the lawyer: “Which of the three, the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer answers: “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus says to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Bullying happens at school. It happens at church. It happens in all kinds of communities, in fact in every community.
Bullying is a form of abuse of power, when one young person or a peer group abuses a vulnerable young person over a period of time. Bullying happens among young women and young men, among boys and girls. It can be physical or emotional.
There is evidence that a community or a school or a church can take steps to create a culture of respect that reduces bullying significantly. As people of faith we are called to help our communities reduce bullying.
General Synod 27, July 2009, passes resolution to support LGBT students in public schools and their advocates. "Affirming Diversity/Multicultural Education in the Public Schools" seeks to create a progressive Christian witness in support of organizations that provide diversity education at school to build tolerance for all people, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and families, along with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, abilities, social classes and faiths. The resolution was sponsored by the Northern California, Nevada Conference, where UCC pastors who provide diversity education and public school districts that include information around gender identity and sexual orientation in their curricula have been harassed by organized protests and lawsuits.
Staff across several ministries of the United Church of Christ have gathered together resources on this page from a number of points of view. Just as the reduction of bullying must be a collaborative endeavor, this page is our effort to bring the perspectives of several portfolios on the UCC national staff.
Resources from the UCC
- Bullying Is a Form of Abuse: Help Stop Bullying! by Jan Resseger, UCC JWM Minister for Public Education and Witness
- Short resource for use in workshops: What Is Bullying?
- Bullying: A Theological Reflection , by Ann Hanson, UCC JWM Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice
- Using Language to Abuse, by Rev. Loey Powell, Minister and Co-Team Leader, Justice and Witness Ministries
Information from other Organizations
- May 2013: From the National Education Policy Center, here is a short research-based brief, Addressing School Environment and Safety for LGBT Students, on steps schools can take and should be encouraged to take by churches and other community groups to make school a more welcoming place for all students. The recommendations are clear and very practical.
- April 2013: At its annual meeting the American Educational Research Association released Prevention of Bullying in Schools, Colleges, and Universities: Research Report and Recommendations. This document is far more readable than it sounds. It includes eleven pithy information briefs on different issues around bullying and harassment, each brief well documented and each providing information followed by recommendations. Good table of contents makes this more accessible.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opened a new website in the spring of 2012: StopBullying.gov. In 2011 The U.S. Department of Education also released guidelines "affirming the principles that prevent unlawful discrimination against any student-initiated groups" at school. The Department issued this guidance specifically to support the right of students to form gay-straight alliances at their high schools. "Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student-initiated groups addressing LGBT issues can play an important role in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments."
- October, 2010: Here is new guidance for schools and legislatures to develop laws and policies that protect the rights of LGBT students: Safe at School: Addressing the School Environment and LGBT Safety through Policy and Legislation. This resource, from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice, the National Education Policy Center, and the Williams Institute of the University of California School of Law, makes recommendations about improving school climate, reforming curriculum and teaching practices; recommends policies regarding iimproved climate in school sports; and even presents a sample draft bill that can be adopted by any state legislature.
- National School Boards Association “Dealing with Legal Matters Surrounding Students’ Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” helps with issues like formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance, student rights around dress, curriculum and LGBT issues, issues around events like “Day of Silence,” rights around same-sex couples attending student events, and harassment of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The UCC Justice & Witness Ministries and 12 other organizations endorsed tihis resource.
- From the Safe Schools Coalition, guidance for schools and issues relating to LGBT Concerns.
- GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network GLSEN's website contains regularly updated materials on ways to stop bullying and harassment. Here are samples: Anti-Bullying Resources; Educators... Materials and Curricula for Educators; Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel; The Principal’s Perspective: School Safety, Bullying and Harassment; GLSEN's 2005 National School Climate Survey; From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America.
- PFLG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, has published Bringing the Message Home 2010, an excellent guide for legislative advocacy.
- Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, SIECUS: 2009 National School Climate Survey Reveals LGBY Youth Still Face Significant Harassment.
- National Education Association provides excellent resources for schools including a School Crisis Guide; NEA's Bully Free: It Starts With Me Campaign; and A Report on the Status of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People in Education: Stepping Out of the Closet, Into the Light. This in-depth report grew from NEA's National July 2008 Summit on GLBT Issues. Here is a taste: "This report is about young people.... about our students—gay, straight, male, female, queer, transgender—missing school, underachieving, or dropping out. It's about student-on-student cruelty, which in our schools we refer to as harassment and bullying. It's about their parents and guardians and the communities in which they live. It's also about educators reaching out to students who are in emotional and psychological distress. And it's about all of our colleagues, gay or straight, being able to do the best job they can do... We are acutely aware that the conflicts over issues involving sexual orientation and gender identity divide American society—as well as American schools, which are a microcosm of our society." (p. v) This guide includes tips for educators, links to additional resources, and an extensive bibliography.
- "The ABC's of School Bullying: Tips for Parents and Teachers" is an excellent short practical resource from NEA to help adults intervene to stop bullying. Search the NEA's site for additional excellent resources.
- The Learning First Alliance, an alliance of the large, national educational organizations has posted this guide to the resources on Bullying of all its the member organizations.
- United Methodist Board for Church and Society has posted an excellent resource guide for a discussion on abuse and bullying. Appropriate for use with adults and adolescents.
- From Education.com: Bullying at School and Online: Quick Facts for Parents.
- National Association of State Boards of Education: What Works—and Doesn't Work—in Bullying Prevention and Intervention is a short, practical guide describing effective and ineffective strategies for reducing bullying at school. Cyberbullying defines this web-based behavior and evaluates strategies schools and families can employ to eradicate it.
- Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance, the journal published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has made reduction of bullying a regular feature of coverage to support non-violent conflict resolution. An important resource here is, Cyberbullying: The Stakes Have Never Been Higher for Students—or Schools, Fall 2010 issue, explores syberbullying, defined as "the repreated use of technology to harass, humiliate or threaten." The article describes strategies that can be taught at school and practiced by adolescent including on-line safety skills and strategies for students to use to reject digital abuse in their own lives.
Books of Interest
- Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth and Their Allies by Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman.
- Coming Out Young and Faithful, from UCC LGBTQ advocates Leanne McCall Tigert and Timothy Brown, and published by the Pilgrim Press, is filled with stories and information, including ministry and advocacy resources. It will help individuals and faithful communities open doors of affirmation, love, and commitment to the needs of LGBT youths and young adults.
- After 25 years living in Los Angeles, J. Kelly Poorman returned to the small Pennsylvania town where he grew up. He helped his UCC congregation to become Open and Affirming and he has written a book and a play for adolescents. Check out his J. Kelly Poorman's website for more information about his books.
- Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History from Teaching Tolerance of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This film is the true story of a student bullied through middle and high school in Ashland, Wisconsin, a student who later sued successfully for federal protection of his right to be protected at school. The film's portrayal of bullying demonstrates what bullying is and what can be done about it. It is disturbing without being sensationalized. Very accurate portrayal of the target's suffering and the anguish of his family. The case is successful: a hopeful story of empowerment. Highly recommended for middle and high school use.
- It's Elementary is a wonderful film from Groundspark, formerly Women's Educational Media, that shows what happens when schools and teachers introduce the subject of homophobia in an age-appropriate way into elementary and middle schools. In every location and for every child from first through eighth grade, students know about this subject and have misinformation they have gleaned from peers and the media. The children experience a sense of relief to be allowed to discuss the fearful messages they have absorbed and to give up their fear as they separate myths and stereotypes from facts.
- That's A Family! also from Groundspark, lets children take viewers on a tour through their lives as they speak candidly about what it's like to grow up in a family with parents of different races or religions, divorced parents, a single parent, gay or lesbian parents, adoptive parents or grandparents as guardians.
- Oliver Button is a Star (now available for $5.00 from the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus) is the artistically stunning 56 minute video based on children's author-illustrator, Tomie dePaola's book, Oliver Button Is a Sissy. As dePaola himself reads the story to a group of children, it is musically dramatized by the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus—spliced with childhood home-movie footage and current interviews with dePaola himself, arctic explorer Ann Bancroft, dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones, and make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin. dePaola's own illustrations are animated and spliced into the film as well. This video celebrates the extraordinary gifts of four children who were teased, bullied, and harassed because their interests and behavior didn't conform to gender-defined expectations. We also learn about their parents and other adults who were their allies.
Prayer from the Hibbert Trust, in the UK, including the following words: "Bullies' words sting and slice through me. Bulllies' words twist into shapes that beat me and leave me like a trampled leaf... Help us to disentangle the knots of confusion and misunderstanding. To understand the hurts that others feel - that we have ignored. Help us to speak of what we feel. Help us to know when others need to speak so that then we can l listen."
A LItany for Safety in Our Schools, by Rev. Bill Johnson
"Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones... If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?" —Matthew 18: 10-13
For an adult—a parent, a youth pastor, a teacher—glimpsing bullying among children or adolescents can be a frightening experience. What is one to do? "Let children work it out for themselves," is a piece of frequent advice, because it is easier to look the other way. Deep down, however, most of us realize we are called as Christians to go in search of the one who has gone astray.
When a child is being bullied, all of the children involved have gone astray: the bully is systematically abusing another child; the victim, often isolated, is experiencing ongoing verbal or physical abuse; the witnesses, themselves children, face what may be their first real moral test—what to do when someone is being hurt and one feels too vulnerable to intervene.
Adults need to search for each of these sheep gone astray. Adults can also make changes in a youth group, a school, or a community to ensure safer pastures.
What is bullying?
Bullying occurs when one or more children or adolescents abuses another over a period of time and with some intensity. Bullying may be physical, verbal, or through imposing social isolation. The bullying relationship affirms the power needs of the abuser and takes advantage of the vulnerability of the victim, in a situation where lack of external support leaves the victim feeling isolated and exposed, and in which there are lasting consequences for the victim in damaged self concept. Bullies may work alone or in a group; the victim, however, is usually isolated. Witnesses are invariably involved and may feel paralyzed by their own sense of vulnerability to the bully. The resolution of an instance of bullying will invariably require intervention by adults.
Definitions According to the Experts
"I define bullying or victimization in the following general way: A student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other students." [Dan Olweus, Bullying at School (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993), p. 9.]
“Bullying among children is commonly defined as intentional, repeated hurtful acts, words, or other behavior, such as name-calling, threatening and/or shunning committed by one or more children against another. These negative acts are not intentionally provoked by the victims, and for such acts to be defined as bullying, an imbalance in real or perceived power must exist between the bully and the victim. Bullying may be physical, verbal, emotional or sexual in nature.” [“Preventing Bullying: A Manual for Schools and Communities,” US Department of Education: p. 1.]
Six factors define bullying:
- "Intent to harm—the perpetrator finds pleasure in the taunting and continues even when the victim’s distress is obvious.
- Intensity and duration—the teasing continues over a long period of time and the degree of taunting is damaging to the self-esteem of the victim.
- Power of the abuser—the abuser maintains power because of age, strength, size, and/or gender.
- Vulnerability of the victim—the victim is more sensitive to teasing, cannot adequately defend him or herself, and has physical or psychological qualities that make him or her more prone to vulnerability.
- Lack of support—the victim feels isolated and exposed. Often, the victim is afraid to report the abuse for fear of retaliation.
- Consequences—the damage to self-concept is long lasting, and the impact on the victim leads to behavior marked by either withdrawal or aggression."
[Suellen and Paula Fried, Bullies & Victims: Helping Your Child Through the Schoolyard Battlefield(New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1996), pp. 9-10.]
Just the Facts
- Victims are always vulnerable in some way. They are more anxious and insecure than other students. [Dan Olweus, Bullying at School(Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993), p. 32.]
- While there is a long-standing myth that bullies are insecure, in fact bullies are abusers. Bullies are typically aggressive toward adults as well as peers. Bullies are often impulsive; they demonstrate a need to dominate. They typically lack empathy and are often more willing to resolve conflict through violence. They are more likely than other children to be convicted of a crime in adulthood. [Dan Olweus, Bullying at School(Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 34-36.]
- The most common reason for bullying in middle and high school is physical appearance, perceived sexual orientation or gender expression, and showing perceived LGBT-related characteristics. [Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, The Principal's Perspective: School Safety, Bullying and Harassment: A Survey of Public School Principals, May 2008, p. 1.]
- Bullying occurs in all geographic regions and all types of schools.
- Boys and girls become bullies. Victims are both male and female. Methods of bulling may vary by gender.
- Most students report that when they are bullied, adults do not notice.
- Adults can stop bullying. A community can cease to accept uncritically that "boys will be boys," or that "girls are mean in fourth grade." Parents need to discuss bullying and help children develop strategies to deal with it.
- Cyber-bullying now occurs through cell phone texting, instant messaging, blogging and social networking sites. Children must be made aware that they should tell a responsible adult. One guidance counselor reports that she finds students' blogs on-line and alerts the parents: "I'll call and say, 'I would like Susy to show you her blog.'" ["E-Bully," Teaching Tolerance, Number 29, Spring 2006.]
- Anti-harassment policies in schools make a difference. Today 73 percent of teachers report that it is their obligation to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment for LGBT students, and 91 percent of teachers report that their school has a policy for reporting incidents of harassment. Still, 52 percent of teens report that they hear homophobic remarks from their peers at school. [Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America: A Survey of Students and Teachers, 2005, p. 7.] This is a significant improvement, however, since a 1993 study reported that 97 percent of students in public high schools reported regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers and 53 percent of students reported hearing homophobic comments made by school staff.["Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth: Report of the Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth," 1993.]
- If a school can institute a program that significantly reduces bullying, the bullying does not seem to be displaced to other settings. The culture of a school or a congregation or a community can affect the degree of bullying that is happening.
Written by Jan Resseger, former UCC JWM Minister for Public Education and Witness
"Looking at a student means seeing beyond that person as a learner and thinking of the development of the whole child. It means considering all aspects of a child's personality 'works in progress.' It means showing them love and gentle guidance and acceptance. My faith calls me to be the most positive part of the day for many children." —Whose Child Left Behind? Why?, "All Denominational Survey," Public School Educator, Illinois Conference
Many congregations establish formal partnerships with public schools in their communities. Such congregations respect religious liberty by focusing on service and honoring the First Amendment's protections. They provide mentoring, and tutoring. They promote literacy. They help children with music or reading or gardening or science projects. School staff and church partners get together for joint visioning. The limits are as wide as the imagination.
Justice & Witness Ministries Resources to Support School-Congregational Partnerships
- What Can Your Church Do Through Partnership to Support Children, Teachers, and Your Public Schools? This 2012 resource is packed with ideas and suggestions for your church's collaboration with your neighborhood school.
- Experiencing Public Schools, A Process of Immersion and Discernment is a short guide to help your congregation set up, carry out, and reflect on an immersion trip to one of your community's public schools.
- Whose Child Left Behind? Why? Report of the UCC Public Education Task Force's work between 2001 and 2005. Ends with ideas for a church that wishes to partner with a school. Study guide is published in the 2006 Message on Public Education .
Specific Models and Resources to Help Churches with Partnerships
National Education Association Priority Schools Campaign: NEA has launched a major campaign that includes outreach and materials to guide and support congregational-school partnership activities to help transform schools that struggle and are in School Improvement Grant status. Here is how NEA describes its Priority Schools Campaign: "Ours is a transformation that unites all stakeholders—students, administratorrs, policymakers, parents, communities—in a collaborative mission to fulfill the promise of public education." Here is a guide for community partners: What Community Members Can Do To Support Priority Schools.
The Children's Aid Society in New York City, with its National Technical Assistance Center for Community Schools (212) 569-2866), and extensive on-line resources, offers among the strongest models for full service Community Schools that may include multiple partners and services like health and dental clinics and Head Start programs. These are the lighted school houses, open from early morning into the evening and on weekends. While a congregation rarely serves as the lead partner in a Community School, if your city has a group of Community Schools, your church can explore joining the coalition under the coordination of the lead agency, which will provide extensive institutional support in terms of fund-raising and service management. Here is the story of a visit to a wonderfun Community School in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.
Faith For Change provides this overview of a new Graduation Ministry Toolkit. Faith for Change staff will come to your congregation free of charge to train volunteers for your congregation's graduation ministry.
One Church One School is a nationwide partnership initiative of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which encourages congregations in any denomination to join One Church One School. Check out the website for program information or contact Executive Director, Ms. Phedonia Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org, (773-651-00710).