“With nearly a million children educated in our schools (in the UK) we not only must demonstrate a profound commitment to stamp out such stereotyping and bullying; but we must also take action. We are therefore developing a programme for use in our schools, taking the best advice we can find anywhere, that specifically targets such bullying. More than that, we need also to ensure that what we do and say in this Synod, as we debate these issues, demonstrates above all the lavish love of God to all of us.” (Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Head of the Worldwide Anglican Communion – July 2013)
Children taunting or teasing other children is not new. I remember when I was at school myself the terms that were available to us then to put others down, diminshing them in the eyes of others. As perpetual newcomer to schools (I had seven all told, one of my siblings holds the record at ten…) and the children of an Anglican priest we were frequently the butt of the taunts. There are some I remember to this day.
Taunts about weight, taunts about height, taunts about skin colour, or braces, or glasses, or pimples; taunts about the house you live in or what your parents do for a living. Take your pick. I think most of us are familiar with them. It’s not new. No. But it’s not acceptable. The name-calling and the put-downs, the shove in the playground, the frustrated exclamation when your mate misses a goal he should have gotten – none of these things are acceptable.
Of particular concern in more recent years are those tags that arise based on gender or sexuality: slurs like “you’re such a girl!” or “you’re so gay!” These are attached to ideas of weakness, as if somehow being female or being homosexual makes you inherently less strong and therefore less worthy than someone who is the opposite – and what’s that? Male and heterosexual. These slurs are inappropriate on so many levels, but especially on this one; and what they end up doing is perpetuating the notion that there are heirarchies and that some are better/stronger/fitter/more worthwhile than others. They are easy, throw-away lines that lack tact, thought or in a good many cases, accuracy; but beware of the thing they mask. They show a hidden, though present intolerance of difference, because we can fear what is different or what we don’t understand.
On a related note, in May this year the Anglican Church in the UK released a document called “Valuing All God’s Children”. It is targetted at changing attitudes to specific forms of bullying in Anglican schools there, specifically homophobic bullying. I was heartened to see its publication. I was heartened also to hear our own Diocese of Brisbane Synod debate the issue of affirming the rights of all people this week, and condemning violence against anyone on the basis of gender, race, religion or orientation. You may not understand the story of those who are different from you, but taunting them, making them into a convenient joke, or worse, making them the subject of prejudice, discrimination or violence is unacceptable. Wake up! Bullying, fear, hatred and violence – these things betray our humanity, and they ultimately betray the God who loves us all.