Bully by Conscience

Michigan has been working on enacting an anti-bullying law. Nice job, mitten folks.

But here’s the upsetting part: in the course of debate, Republicans added a clause that allows for sincerely held opinions based on religion and conscience to be expressed.

Here’s a concise explanation of this. (And, yes, I know that my source is “liberal.)

Now, all in all, I have to say that while I (obviously) don’t support bullying, and while my interpretation of Scripture on things tends to the more liberal, I think there might need to be some wiggle room in legislation like this to allow people to hold opinions, say, that their religion leads them to believe something is wrong. Opinion is different than bullying. And I think it’s acceptable for one to say that there are some things that are morally wrong, even when some of these things are not things we would be able to legislate against. (There were things Jesus thought were wrong. He was not a bully.) The trick is: one must learn how to hold opinions, and even express them, without doing so in a way that is harmful and hateful to other people. This is a life skill.

But, there’s a very very very fine line here, and an illustration from the suburb where I used to live and work causes me to worry about the editing of this law.

Last fall, students at a local high school called for a week to show support against bullying of gay and transgendered students.

3 students showed up one day wearing T-shirts that said: “Straight Pride” on the front. On the back, these shirts had the reference “Leviticus 20:13″. That passage does not just say something about homosexual acts being wrong, it actually calls for putting to death people who do them.

I’m not OK with that, particularly with the use of the scripture reference (and, quoted as one verse, and in such a way that there’s really no room for dialogue or study of the passage). I think it’s a subtle way to bully. But it sounds to me like this would be a permissible action under the addition to the Michigan law.

As a Christian, these issues around bullying, I believe, come down to this: Jesus was not a bully. (And don’t tell me that the table turning in the temple was a bullying thing.) As a society, we have trouble right now behaving civilly toward each other, and we need to learn how to walk a line between holding opinions and being hurtful and hateful to others.

Young people are still learning this distinction. Not because they are bad, or worse than previous generations. That’s just where they’re at developmentally, often into their early twenties (the human brain takes a little time to figure out impulse control, etc.).

And it looks as if we may need some help, as a society, dealing with bullying.

And, for that matter, learning how to express our opinions, and how to carry out a dialogue, without being hateful or hurtful. (Kind of, I suppose, like Jesus carried on a dialogue…)