What is our role, and responsibility, as Christians when we see others being bullied on our school campus?
What is it that stops us from standing up for others when we see cruelty happening in our hallways? Why is it so easy to walk on by like we didn’t see anything happen…or maybe even laugh along with the crowd?
The answers to these questions are crucial as bullying becomes more widespread through the Internet and mobile phones—and as more students, and maybe even ourselves, are forced to deal with traumatic issues at home, like split families and various kinds of abuse and addictions. Heartbreak at home makes students even more vulnerable and isolated when they encounter bullying and harassment at school.
Speak Up & Stand Up
One of the first and most important steps we can take as Christians is to open our eyes and acknowledge the problem around us—and speak up about the fact that it is wrong. Throughout history, passionate Christian people have led the charge in defeating social evils—standing up against things like slavery (think William Wilberforce), abortion and poverty.
Bullying should be no exception. We need to make strong statements, out loud, to our peers, that any form of bullying and harassment of others is always wrong, including making fun of others, speaking down to them and saying things that hurt people.
Christian students in particular should be bold in speaking up to oppose that kind of behaviour because it goes completely against the model Christ gave us and that is reflected in Bible verses like these: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:16-17.
These verses demonstrate the model Christ gave us of sacrificial love that lays down one’s own life to rescue others. Even when we disagree with others, we should always demonstrate the utmost compassion and respect for them.
What You Can Do
So what can Christian students do when they seeing bullying happening? By simply speaking out against it, your impact is far greater than you realise. In fact, there’s evidence showing that when students intervene in a bullying episode, the bullying can stop within 10 seconds. There’s also plenty of research showing that most students who watch a bullying episode—known as “bystanders”—actually feel uncomfortable with what they are seeing and know deep down inside that it is wrong. They simply lack the courage to protest it.
So by simply speaking up, you empower others and build a culture in your school that doesn’t tolerate bullying. When you encounter a bullying episode in your school, you can:
Keep a cool head and don’t escalate the situation by using more insults and acting aggressively toward the bully. Just speak up firmly, and in a matter-of-fact way let the bully know that they need to stop, that what they are doing is not cool, funny or OK.
You can say something short and to the point like, “Hey—cut it out. That’s not funny.” And then invite the victim to walk away with you. Bullies love an audience, so helping to eliminate the audience and the drama they’ve created is a powerful step.
You can use questions about another topic or use positive humour to distract the bully or take unwelcome attention away from the victim.
If the situation is out of control, do not get into a fight or physically endanger yourself. Find a school official or other authority figure to intervene as quickly as possible. It might help to let the bully know that a school official is on the way.
Counteract a culture of bullying with positive action: Include those who are left out or being victimised in your own social activities. Do things like invite them to sit at the lunch table with you or attend a student club or youth group meeting with you.
Rachel Scott, the first person killed in the Columbine High School shootings, left behind a legacy among her classmates, who remembered her pattern of standing up for others who were ridiculed or befriending those who were hurting. Her “chain reaction” theory inspired a nationwide bullying prevention program called Rachel’s Challenge.
“Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer,” Rachel wrote in a class essay before her life was taken. “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same.”
Courage in Christ
So why do we sometimes ignore the problem or fail to stand up for someone even when we know what is happening is wrong?
There could be many reasons—but probably one of the most common is the fact that, in our hearts, we are afraid of what other people think of us. And the simple truth is, we want to be liked by the majority of people. If the victim being bullied is perceived as unpopular, then maybe there’s a part of us that’s afraid other people will identify us with that victim, as part of the unpopular crowd.
But again, we can go back to Jesus Christ as our model. What gave him the courage to stand up to the crowd and speak truth—even when it was unpopular?
We get a hint of the answer in John 13, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples to demonstrate to them how they should love one another.
Right before Jesus does this, the Bible tells us something very important: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal … and began to wash His disciples’ feet.”
The point is, Jesus had an eternal perspective: He didn’t place His worth in the people around Him and what they thought. He knew the most important thing in His life was the love of His father, the eternal, personal God. He knew that God had a plan for His life and that He was going to eventually be with God—and that God wanted Him to love those around Him.
We can have that same confidence—and let that truth of God’s love empower us with the same kind of freedom to serve and minister to others. Pray for a daily recognition of who you are in Christ—and of how much God loves you. Once you begin to realise that God’s powerful and all-consuming love outweighs any of the pressures around you, you will find that you have more freedom to stand up for others than you ever have had before.
“Security comes from understanding what it means to be in Christ, and significance comes from understanding that the Christian walk is not me being somebody. It’s not me being famous. It’s not me being great. It’s Jesus being Himself in me,” wrote Darrell Scott, the father of the Rachel Scott (the first student killed in the Columbine shootings) in the book Rachel’s Tears.
“Too many people try to find security and significance in too many places. They look in relationships; they look in popularity. … But these are all detours and dead ends. Our true security and significance are found only in Christ, and I believe Rachel knew that.”