Having spent five years teaching in the public school system, I have many thoughts on bullying.
I’ve learned that what I consider a light tease towards a person I don’t know too well, but actually kinda like, may instead be salt in an unseen wound.
I’ve learned that what some call bullying may be only a blink-of-an-eye pattern that happens twice and strains the classic definitions, but should be resoundingly educated against regardless of what label it falls under.
I’ve learned that despite those definitions, some bullying does have the stronger individual on the receiving end. Nobody is impregnable.
I’ve learned that bullying doesn’t just come from one-parent kids on the wrong side of the tracks, but from children of popular and powerful families as well.
But most of all, I’ve learned that kindness is not just niceness. In this world where we get ten negative comments to every positive one, a kind word is water in the desert. Some people out there would give their next meal for one.
So when Rachel Held Evans last week took aim at the viral anti-bullying campaign #WalkUpNotOut, intended to replace school walkouts with acts of kindness towards unknown peers, you can imagine I rolled my eyes.
This tweet misses the point in so many ways that it could be a kicker for the Seahawks.
Evans’ voice is joined by the usual left-wing cacophony about how treating people well won’t end school shootings. That’s a classic example of a “straw man” – an argument nobody was making, erected in the hasty fear that it might crowd out their preferred solutions. It also forgets that plenty of people blame the shooter for his actions, not the victims. Now Rachel has this tweet out there, copied by itself into meme form, without the benefit of her later clarifications, looking like she dismisses outreach as “being nicer”. I doubt she actually does, but…hard lesson of social media there, Mrs. Evans.
I do agree that violence will never completely cease this side of the mirror dimly. We fight it, we pray against it, we make laws against it (and argue which ones to pass), we avoid it ourselves, and that’s all proper and urgent. Yet only heaven will bring order and peace.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing whatever is within our reach. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have as many hoses on this fire as possible. #WalkUpNotOut has the nice distinction of being something we can control, right here, right now.
Most of all, however, we should walk up to people because…it’s the Gospel.
It’s ironic, really – Evans is exactly the sort of Christian figure for whom “love on people because Jesus” is right in her wheelhouse. She of all people should know that the Gospel was the story of Jesus walking up to us, in so many different ways.
Jesus walked up to uneducated fisherman and gave them a stunning role in his story.
He walked up to hated tax collectors (Matthew and Zaccheus) and welcomed them into his circle.
He walked up to blind men crying out in the street and granted their request for new sight.
He walked up to an adulteress, lying in the street, abandoned by her accusers, and offered forgiveness.
He walked up to sinners kicked out of the synagogue and ate with them.
He walked up to the woman at the well and offered to replace her counterfeits with true water.
He walks up to us, not because we’re potential school shooters, but out of love.
And God took the initiative, loving us first, and gave us this Jesus to save us from our sin. The Gospel is not about how we could walk up to God, but how God walked up to us and refuses to walk out on us.
(That’s not a renunciation of school walkouts. That would be straining the metaphor. I’m not here to comment on that.)
I just hate to see #WalkUp trivialized. Personal relationships are the very conduit of the Gospel, the arteries through which God chooses to circulate it. “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Practically every popular Gospel presentation strategy in the modern church relies on personal relationships. My pastor includes some form of “go talk to that person” in practically every sermon. Can we, I dunno, try not diminishing to even the slightest degree the importance of loving on others?
Mental health is a monolithic challenge for our generation. To be sure, it is on the increase, and it is not easily delineated or overcome. But the point is to double down on as many solutions as possible, and we should not overestimate the impact of reaching out to the marginalized. Jesus didn’t envision a kingdom without it. He didn’t enable a Gospel without it. And he didn’t exemplify a life without it.
I’m glad you’ve tuned in today. If you found this post of value, please feel free to share it on social media.