Bullying is using force to compel a person to do something against their will or to punish rather than correct. It does not aim for the good of the person. It aims to control or to harm.
Despite recent attention on bullying and developing strategies to address it – in schools and in the workplace – very little is being said about bullying in churches. But bullying in churches is very real. Attention to the dynamics of bullying will raise awareness of its prevalence in communal life and help guard against it.
1. The Abusive Use of Knowledge
Bullying cannot occur without the use of force or the exercise of power. In Christian circles such force or power is often expressed as knowledge. Those who are ‘right’ are those with influence within the church group.
Certain characteristics of our theological tradition feed this dynamic. Our faith is grounded in history; we believe on the basis of revelation and we experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These characteristics of our faith bring us certainty and confidence. How do we express our convictions? Usually with vigour!
The difficulty with possessing knowledge is not the knowledge itself but the way it is communicated to others. When knowledge is used to dominate people it is a form of bullying. The church bully is the one for whom the aphorism ‘knowledge is power’ is a working reality.
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