My mother used to give us kids two instructions:
- If there is a kid on the playground that nobody else is playing with -- you play with them.
- If there is a bully picking on other kids -- you be the one to stand up to him or her.
On Wednesday, I wore purple. I was speaking at North Park University, an evangelical Christian college, with Tim King, my colleague and a former student there. I was pleased to see them passing out purple ribbons and announcing why just before chapel.
So I joined thousands of others across the country who believe that bullying should never be tolerated at any time, at any place, or for any reason. I wore purple to commemorate "Spirit Day," in memory of the many young people who have taken their own lives as a result of harassment and bullying inflicted on them because they are gay. I wore purple because I am a follower of Christ.
A bully is a person who habitually intimidates, harasses, or commits violence against those who are smaller, weaker, or more vulnerable because of their "outsider" status. A bully stands in opposition to all of what Christ taught and lived. There is broad opposition within the Christian community to bullying, especially the sort that leads to the deaths we have seen as of late. This sort of harassment is indefensible. And the stories of young kids being so bullied that they take their own lives have been heartbreaking to hear.
But, to paraphrase Christ, if you oppose bullying, what reward will you get? Isn't everybody against it? If all you do is say that you shouldn't harass someone until they kill themselves, are you really doing more than others?
The fact that bullies target gay and lesbian people should mean that Christians give extra attention to protecting and standing up for them. The fact that any community or group of people is regularly the target of harassment and hate means Christians should be on the front line of defense against any who would attack.
But, most bullies don't know that they are bullies. A bully might think that his or her words don't matter that much or affect others that greatly. A bully might think that he or she is being funny or just kidding around. A bully might think that he or she is just saying what everyone is thinking or speaking out about what everyone thinks.
There is disagreement within the Christian community when it comes to issues of human sexuality. But, there should be a united front against all who would disrespect, disparage, or denigrate anyone created in the image of God.
I hope you will join me in prayer for the family and friends of every young person who has taken their own lives. I hope you will join me in a message of hope for any person who has been teased, harassed, or bullied by another because of his or her sexual orientation. More than that, no matter what your views of homosexuality are, I hope you will join with me in standing in the way between bullies and their victims.
At an evangelical Christian college in the Midwest, there was a lot of purple yesterday. And the airline security official who checked my boarding pass saw my purple ribbon and said, "I see you're wearing purple today, that's a good thing."
Last week, I was taking my boys to school and raised the issue of the bullying and gay teen suicides to see what they had heard about it. My 12-year-old Luke, of course, knew all about it; while 7-year-old Jack hadn't heard yet. But Jack spoke of a boy on the playground of his school who was sometimes a bully to others. Before I could say a word, Luke said to his little brother, "Now Jack, you need to talk to him. He will respect and listen to you because you are an athlete, a good student, and very popular. Kids who are strong need to be the ones who stand up for those who get bullied. Jack, part of our job is to make sure nobody gets bullied at our school. Understand?" Jack said, "Yes," and I could just feel his grandmother smiling.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. +Click here to get email updates from Jim Wallis.