A Christian response to bullying

Michael Jensen (Rector of St Mark’s Darling Point, Sydney) has written this helpful piece about bullying and what a Christian response should include. I have published it with his permission:

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That people are bullied, victimised, and even assaulted because of their sexuality in contemporary Australia is completely unacceptable.

For me, this is a simple corollary of the teaching of Jesus Christ. And as a Christian, and particularly as a Christian minister, I am compelled to stand against those who would advocate or participate in such treatment of GLBTIQ people, or anyone else for that matter.

It has to begin at school. The school playground can be a tough and even brutal place.

I had a great experience at the private boys’ school I went to. I was tall for my age, played sport, I was white, I didn’t have anything foreign on my sandwiches, and I wasn’t gay.

But even then, I do remember episodes when my mettle was tested by the crowd. I was teased for being a minister’s son, or for having ideas beyond my station, or for having pimples – ‘Pizza Face!’ being the taunt.

This was nothing. I brushed it off, because I had all the advantages.

The bullying was noisiest for the Asians, who of course couldn’t pretend they weren’t who they were. Their difference was obvious, and they were teased because they inspired envy – many of them took the top spots on the merit list each year.

But there was one boy, smaller than the others, who was always at sea. From the beginning of Year 7, he was singled out as the ‘poofter’. It was determined that he was gay, and that too great an interest in him or too deep a friendship with him, would render one’s own sexuality suspect.

I don’t recall the victimizing of him ever becoming physical (though of course he might tell a different story). But I can only imagine that school was as isolating and lonely for him as it was exciting and encouraging for me – and I shudder at the imbalance of it.
Recently I met his father at a reunion. Without betraying confidences, all I can say is that my classmate’s life has not turned out well.

Later when I became a teacher, I often heard students call each ‘gay’ as a term of abuse. To be gay was, in teen-speak, to be despised. I knew that there were students who would identify as gay, or who were at least questioning their orientation. The menace to them of this language was obvious. And it seemed obvious that this language, and the attitude that generated it, needed to be challenged. It was simply unchristian.

The Christian faith has bequeathed to our culture a great gift: the teaching that we are all made in the image of God. That concept permeates even apparently secular documents like the US Declaration of Independence. It coaches us to see humanity in the face of the other. It was this conviction that held good against the social Darwinians of the late nineteenth century, who would rather have placed people of different races on the lesser rungs of the human ladder.

Add to that the experience of Jesus Christ: rejected by his own, abandoned by his friends, convicted by a corrupt and lazy government, tortured, tormented, and killed. At the heart of the Christian faith is the sign of the cross, which calls us to remember what we human beings are capable of as well as to recall what God offers us.

How could a person who worships a victim of bullying turn away from those who are being victimized and bullied?

Bronwyn Chin’s letter

In light of the vitriol being aimed toward Michael Jensen’s book, You: An Introduction, and its reference to a letter penned by Bronwyn Chin, I thought it helpful to publish Bronwyn’s letter in full (which I’ve taken from the AFES website). That way, people can read for themselves.

In Australia we rarely talk about death, other than a few words of praise for the deceased person and a few wishful words such as, ‘we’ll see you again’ or ‘they are now with the angels’. In the face of death Bronwyn writes about the awfulness of her condition and of the hope that Jesus promises. For Christians these words can bring great comfort, and to non Christians they are a challenge; what is your answer to sickness and death?

 

Article written by Bronwyn Chin: June 2012 for the ‘Equal But Different’ journal

I thank God for the gift of Cancer!

I don’t like being in pain and I don’t like having terminal pancreatic cancer. I would like to grow old with my husband and see my kids grow up. But God appears to have a better plan. I know that he is faithful. His plans are the best and do not revolve around me. Acts 13:36 says: “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation he fell asleep …”. When God has done what he wants through me, I will die in his perfect timing.

Why has God given me cancer? Maybe it is to make me repent of my wrongs and turn to Jesus – it has certainly done this. Maybe it is to make me talk more to my friends and family about Jesus – it has certainly done this. Maybe it is for reasons way beyond my understanding – it is certainly at least this. All I know is that God has given me this gift of cancer to use for his glory. We pray daily for the cancer to miraculously go away. But if God chooses to say no, we can trust him nonetheless.

It is still hard to really grasp that I am only here for a very little while. But as the bible teaches:

“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” 1 Peter 1:24

When I was suddenly diagnosed in Dec 2009, it was a total shock. I had no idea that I was sick. My life at that time involved being a busy wife, a mother of four active children (aged 9,12,14,15), and a part time General Practitioner.

Widespread pancreatic cancer has a very bad reputation and my oncologist originally gave me a prognosis of 3 to 6 months to live. However God has had other ideas and my cancer has partially responded to chemotherapy. For the last two and a half years I have received chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery, and lived with ill health, knowing I have a time bomb inside. My family have become experts at coping with me regularly vomiting, and being bed bound at times from the different treatments.

As the cancer keeps spreading throughout my body I am very aware that Jesus is my Lord and Saviour in whom I can depend, and that all other ground is sinking sand.

I am so grateful to God for everything. I am thankful for who God is, his majesty, his splendour, and his promises. I am thankful for my family, friends and life.

I am so thankful to God for the resurrection of Jesus which means I will have victory over death and don’t need to fear pain or the dying process. It is such a comfort to read:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

‘The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

As I get sicker and spend a lot of time lying down in pain, I sometimes wonder what use I am to God and what he wants me to do … now. I miss being able to do things. I actually miss physically being able to tidy up! And I miss the joy of serving my husband and kids more.

What is hard is coping with chronic pain and deteriorating health while still navigating the physical and emotional challenges involved with 4 children and a busy husband.

Another challenge is “not knowing”. It is impossible to plan. Last year I had 5 hospital admissions. I have no idea what condition I will be in 6 weeks, let alone whether I will even be alive.

However, I am just so thankful for God’s guidance in the bible. The bible is so clear about what God wants me to do now, even as I get sicker.

‘Be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’ 1 Thessalonians 5:16

God is so clear. This is what God wants me to do now. Thank him. As I write, I have just returned from a visit to my oncologist. He is urging us not to receive any more chemotherapy (or other treatment) out of compassion because (in his view) it only has a 10% chance of treating the cancer and will greatly erode the quality of life that I currently enjoy. It is hard to stop and have no treatment. It feels like giving up. But I still know I can thank God.

Leaving my husband and 4 gorgeous children grieves me greatly (and makes me cry every time I think about it, even as I write now). However, I know God will take care of them. Please pray that each of them will continue to trust God into eternity.

So I thank God for this gift of cancer because he is good and he is using it for his purposes. The plans of the Lord are perfect even if I don’t know the reasons for everything. All I know is that soon I will be with the Lord forever because Jesus alone has saved me through his death and resurrection.

I hope to see you all there!

‘be prepared to die for God’: Misleading headline of the year award

In my opinion, The Australian newspaper has resorted to the worse kind of sensationalised journalism in the piece, ‘Be prepared to die for God’, kids told in state school classes (October 17th).

It is worth mentioning that the story pursued by The Australian was discussed in the media several months ago, and the issues raised were then adequately dealt with by the NSW Government and the providers of SRE.

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And by issues, it should be noted that there was no fire (perhaps a really small candle), just a lot of smoke being blown north by a group of angry Victorians (FIRIS). Unfortunately, while reasonable minds did address the expressed concerns, FIRIS have continued to blow smoke into NSW. Having scorched Victoria of rational and gracious discourse, I guess they need a new land to conquer. But my question here is, why did The Australian choose to regurgitate a non-story from months ago?

Following the dreadful murder of Curtis Cheng by schoolboy Farhad Jabar, the media has been right to report issues relating to the radicalisation of young Muslims. These are genuine concerns for Australia, but sadly there are Australians who are distastefully seizing upon this issue and using it to try and remove Christian teaching and presence from schools in NSW (disappointingly, the Victorian Government has already succumbed to this obtuse fear mongering). And it seems as though The Australian correspondent, Natasha Bita, has jumped onto this bandwagon. Look at the headline, ‘be prepared to die for God’, kids told in state school classes. Obviously, these Christians are training young children to commit murder in our streets and schools. There must be hate filled speeches and promises of virgins in heaven for any willing martyrs! But of course, the headline is misleading, and the article itself falls flat in its attempt to make SRE appear dangerous, “harmful” and “damaging”.

All of the extreme ideas cited by Natasha Bita, are of course nothing of the sort. Michael Jensen’s book, You: An Introduction, is designed to start a conversation. It certainly holds a view of God who is holy and love, and of a world that is simultaneously amazing and broken, joy giving and painful, but all this fit perfectly within orthodox Christianity. Yes, it uses the word sin to explain what has gone wrong in the world, but only a fool would argue that there is no evil in the world. In fact, the concept of sin is one of the most self-evident ideas of the Bible.

And far from being dangerous, read further and you’ll find that is no inciting to anger and hate, but there is much encouragement to love and respect, and to think deeply about life and biggest questions of the cosmos.

And in response to the criticism given to a letter that was written by Bronwyn Chin, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2013, is it not appropriate to share stories of hope in the midst of suffering, or should our teenage children only have access to stories where the narrative is hopeless and meaning allusive?

It is pretty shabby that The Australian decided to run this piece. Not just Christians, but Australians in general understand that aligning Christianity with Islamic extremism is absurd and bordering on slander.

It is fine to not like SRE, and it is also fine to not like the fact that it remains in NSW State schools, and it is fine to argue for its removal, but it is not fine to harness public fears about real issues and to suggest that SRE is somehow akin to or might lead to the kinds of evil ISIS are perpetrating around the globe.

Finally, it is important for readers to understand these two basic points that Natasha Bita fails to mention in her article:

1. Along with John Dickson’s book, ‘A Sneaking Suspicion’, You: An Introduction, was temporarily banned from NSW schools earlier in the year, but they were quickly re-introduced once the Education Minister was made aware of the situation and no issue found with them.

2. These SRE classes are not compulsory. No parent is forced to have their children attend the classes. These classes are for families who want their children participating, and clearly there are significant numbers of families who do want these classes.

Are Sydney Anglicans really so dangerous? FIRIS believe so, but really? No one is forced to believe the views they present or to even attend the classes, and yet these are ideas that have profoundly aided our nation for two centuries, and even if we disagree with them, is it not valuable for our children to have the opportunity to at least read and engage with these ideas for themselves?