When Bullying Becomes Spiritual Warfare
Conversations on bullying and its effects on the psychological health of our children have intensified in recent years. State legislatures have mandated procedures for investigating suspected acts of harassment or intimidation. Teachers now receive training on how to recognize bullying in schools.
Missing from these discussions, though, are the spiritual dynamics that belay the bullying experience. If Christian parents are to better serve as advocates for their children, they may consider bullying as both a psychological event and a form of spiritual warfare.
As secular institutions, public schools have policies to address bullying behaviors. These have emerged from a heightened awareness of the psychological damage caused by extreme bullying. Concerned parents should take advantage of available resources by partnering with school officials and working together to develop strategies for the physical and emotional safety of the targeted child. Apt guidance counselors can also help by supporting the child's self-esteem and connecting her with affirming peers.
As Christians, our faith provides a deeper perspective on the dynamics that undergird bullying; this perspective sees human behaviors as expressions of the mind, body and spirit. While most approaches to bullying focus on altering behaviors or personal choices, we see a third option involving the human soul. Lasting solutions to bullying are spiritually based; they require the offender to earnestly acknowledge wrongdoing, to feel remorse, and to alter former patterns of thinking and doing. They require repentance.
In Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word for repentance, metanoiō, means "to change the way you think." This understanding places inextricable ties among what we think, how we behave, and who we are becoming. This is why bullying is so pernicious. At its fullest expression, it represents one person's resolve to harm another by inducing emotional chaos and a persistent threat of harm.
Because of this, solutions to bullying must be ethically based as to set positive examples of what constitutes "being good." They must also carry weight by establishing behavioral boundaries and consequences to communicate that good is also powerful. At a time when belligerence is culturally glorified, it is not unusual for kindness to be interpreted as weakness and politeness as a lack of strength. Children who bully must see and be taught that there is gratification in giving and receiving empathy. In short, the value of good must be perceived and personally desired if any substantive change is to take place.
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