There seems to be a lot said in the media today about bullies and bullying. Bullying is not a new issue, but social media websites and instant communication through technology has brought the issue to the forefront of people’s thoughts. Bullying is a sinful practice and one that ought to be taught against and abhorred by Christians. One thing to remember about bullying that is often forgot, is that bullying is not an adolescent or even pre-adolescent problem only. Children bully because of a sin nature that plagues every human, but they are taught to perfect their bullying through the adults that surround them. In the church as well as in the world, bullying takes many forms, but one aspect of adult bullying in the church that has often been ignored is spiritual bullying. Spiritual bullying can be perpetrated by those in leadership and it often is, but it is also a problem among those within a congregation.
Bullies are often not confronted and when they are, it is usually not done well. They are often confronted through violent means (if not physical then verbal) which may cause the bully to leave the victim alone but really does not change the heart or long-term behavior of the bully. This leads many to say “Once a bully, always a bully.” And no doubt, this appears to be the truth. Spiritual bullies in the church are not much different. Sadly, they are not confronted well by God’s people either. Like bullies on the playground, this is usually because they aggravate other Christians to the point of frustration and then the victim’s response is to punch them in the nose (this is metaphor…but sometimes literal even in the church) or teach them a lesson they will never forget. This too will not change the heart of the spiritual bully, but will lead them to retreat into self-justification and feelings of vindication.
There are a few weapons of spiritual bullies, but the most effective by far is fear. Spiritual bullies want people to be afraid. They want people to be afraid of crossing them, be afraid of making a wrong choice, or be afraid of facing some kind of punitive judgment. And so spiritual bullies will (while taking the high ground of superior “spirituality”) use ultimatums, manipulate others to agree with them… or else, conflate minor or secondary matters to first priority (the minor matter is obviously something that the bully wants) or threaten with exposing the victims faults. All this is for the purpose of causing those around them to feel fear. It is not that they are necessarily wanting them to feel threat of physical or emotional attack but to cause those around them to “see their point of view.” To “agree with me for your own good.” If they can cause those around them to be afraid of not doing what the bully wants or at least making the victim walk on egg shells around them, in the long run, they feel they win. They will do this enough to cause others to give up and just give them what they want. And so fear wins the day, instead of faith.
But what do bullies want. At the heart of bullies, both spiritually and culturally, is a selfishness intent on personal comfort or validation. It might seem unusual, but it becomes obvious to many that bullies are more insecure than those whom they bully. Of course, no self-respecting spiritual bully would ever admit that he is insecure and seeking his comfort because he is uncomfortable with his God relationship and others relationships with him. But whether he admits it or not, insecurity is his chief problem; and insecurity is a nicer way of saying faithless.
The Bible does address bullies. First, we must realize that bullies need the Gospel. Only the true Gospel of Divine grace and mercy will deliver them. The testimony of the Apostle Paul comes to mind. He was a bully of bullies, a spiritual bully bar none. It took the intervention of a sovereign God with his grace to rescue Paul from his spiritual bullying and make him to be the greatest edifier of the church in all of history. How do we deal with bullies? We minister God’s grace and pray for God to do to them what he did with Paul.
But often the spiritual bully in the church is a professing Christian, and it is possible that he is a true believer who is living a life of disobedience walking in his former lifestyle. Either way, he needs grace and so we must minister grace. “When he (Jesus) was reviled, he reviled not again. When he suffered, he threatened not but committed himself to him who judges righteously” (I Peter 2:23).” If your enemy is hungry give him bread to eat, if he is thirsty give him water to drink, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire upon his head and Jehovah shall reward you” (Proverbs 25:21). Ministering grace to spiritual bullies does not mean that there is no confrontation concerning their sinful behaviors; there must be appropriate confrontation (“If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God”) but that confrontation must be with the purpose and in the manner of ministering grace to the individual.
If we as Christians who were the enemies of God but are now made saints by the justification of Christ’s sacrifice cannot minister grace to those who are our enemies, what are we then saying about the power of the Grace of God. Dealing with spiritual bullies is no easy matter, but God has given us grace so that we might minister grace to all men.