Anti-Abortion Activist on Trial for "Wanted" Posters (Audio here)
As I listened to Flip's antics and considered his statements, I couldn't help but draw parallels between this mode of Christian witness and the words and actions of your average, devastating school or workplace bully. Bullying is all over the news media these days. There is a certain call to outrage that pervades media discussions of bullying. Communities, schools, and other groups are working diligently to offer tools and advice about how to curb bullying behavior and how to help those who have been victimized.
I strongly believe that the church should be a place where young people experience and learn the value of human life, the value of diversity, and the value of unconditional love. Theologically speaking, Christianity is fundamentally at odds with all sorts of bullying behaviors. At their root, bullying behaviors are a matter of division, judgment, and self-interest. At its root, Christianity is a matter of grace, compassion, love, and justice.
That being said, I am incredibly saddened by people like Flip Benham and others who skew the good news of God's grace into a message of "believe the good news and get your act together...or else." There is a large and distinct strain of Christian theology that utilizes evangelism techniques and language that walk a fine line between impassioned belief and flat-out evangelistic bullying.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made the following statement in a speech given earlier last spring:
We are very rightly suspicious of proselytism, of manipulative, bullying, insensitive approaches to people of other faith which treat them as if they knew nothing, as if we had nothing to learn and as if the tradition of their reflection and imagination were of no interest to us or God.How can Christianity be an effective, essential voice against bullying when there yet exists a strong tradition of bully-evangelism? How might a Christian church that utilizes evangelism-by-threat-of-eternal-damnation be unwittingly forming its youth to believe that threats and bullying are ultimately acceptable tools for getting your way, or that might-makes-right is an acceptable and faithful value by which to live? How is this sort of evangelistic focus unintentionally condoning threatening or bullying behaviors?
If we intend to believe that our faith communities can be places capable of curbing and condemning bullying behaviors, then we must ensure that our faith communities take a deeper look at our own faith practices and presumptions. In order to resist bullying with any shred of integrity, the demands and practices of our faith must be centered around the values of Jesus, and the good news that we preach must be, in fact, good news of God's unfailing compassion, grace, and love.