During the month of September, five teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 took their own lives because they decided death was easier to bear than life. Raymond Chase, 19, Tyler Clementi, 18, Billy Lucas, 15, Seth Walsh and Asher Brown, both 13, all took control of their lives and determined the effort and agony were no longer worth it. What causes a human, during the infancy of his or her life, to jump from a bridge, hang himself or herself from a tree, or look down the barrel of a gun and pull the trigger?
The sad reality is that bullying is an age-old tactic used by people, organizations, and governments to destroy lives. It is one of the most effective methods in dehumanization available to the evil-hearted. While there are myriad cases of bullying that include physical and/or sexual abuse, the vast majority of incidences occur without any physical contact.
For the record, bullying, in any form, is abuse! And in many regards, the non-physical form is more damaging. The colloquial adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a bold lie!! In the Judeo-Christian tradition, speech has great power. Words are how the Universe came to be. For Christians specifically, it was the Word that became flesh. When bullying occurs in the form of words, it inflicts a wound that cannot receive the usual care associated with injury. If I incur a physical injury, I can partake in the common ritual of cleansing the wound, applying some sort of balm, and applying a dressing. This dressing serves as a protection, to decrease the likelihood of re-injury. It serves as a way for me to receive some attention in my distress. As others see my bandage, they inquire, they offer care. My wound is validated.
When bullying takes a verbal form, the target is left with no tangible or visible way to care for this wound. This is the type of bullying that comes from pulpits. When clergy stand and proclaim in the name of God that only one sexual orientation is holy, or more explicitly, say that one is possessed with a demon if they profess to be lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender, this is bullying. We, as clergy, are using our power to oppress, confuse, and abuse those for whom we have been charged with caring. When we stand and tell women to return to abusive homes, we are further crushing their God-likeness. When religious zealots stand in front of abortion clinics and yell epithets to women entering, in the name of God, the wounds inflicted are real and damaging. But these wounds don’t have the luxury of cleansing. They don’t get a band-aid to signal to others there has been a trauma and to be cautious. There is no manufactured balm that can be applied to kill off the remaining bacteria and initiate the healing process. How do these victims heal?
Bullying happens on the playground, at our jobs, on the sidewalks of abortion clinics, in our homes between spouses or parents and children, and unfortunately all too often, in our places of worship. It is only a matter of time before individuals like Raymond, Tyler, Billy, Seth, and Asher have to find a way to release the pain and express the torment. Not only can sticks and stones break our bones, but words can harm us in far more spiritual and practical ways. As people of faith, we must use our words in holy ways and speak ALOUD to stop this travesty.
-The Rev. Kimberly Banks-Brown, Minister of Advocacy for Faith Aloud