Upsala mapI have two vivid bullying memories from my youth half a century ago.

I attended a small, mid-Minnesota K-12 public school, and the first memory is a positive one.  In early elementary school, the class always formed a line in the hallway before moving anywhere (being line leader was a great honor).  One day as the line was assembling, a high schooler who happened to be passing through the hall picked on one of my classmates—don’t remember who or why, but what I do remember was a senior, an athlete, upbraiding the one who did the taunting.  In effect, the hero said, “if you want to pick on someone, start with me,” and of course, that was the end of it.

The second memory is one that makes me cringe, because I was the bully ringleader.  In fourth grade, we had put together an exhibit of frontier days in Minnesota (it was the year of the Mn centennial) that included household items from the mid-nineteenth century.  The gist of our bullying one day was to tease a girl from a poor family by suggesting that they still used these implements of a bygone era.  Silly, yes.  Trivial, no or I wouldn’t still feel guilty about it fifty years later.

Bullying among our youth, especially towards those perceived to be gay, has received a lot of attention recently, especially here in Minnesota where one large school district experienced a handful of teen suicides in which prior bullying may have been a factor.

In prior posts, I have repeated the haunting question of retired presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Herb Chilstrom, “what will you say to your sons and daughters, sisters and brothers and others in your churches when they tell you they are homosexual?”, and I have posed the further question whether one’s church is part of the problem or part of the solution.  Clearly, the ELCA as a church body seeks to be part of the solution.

Of the sixty-five regional Synods of the ELCA, thirty-seven have passed a nearly identical anti-bullying resolution onto the Churchwide Assembly (CWA11) for consideration.  CWA11 opens on Monday, the 15th of August, and I’ll be there as a voting member.

Here is pertinent language from these memorials (the full text is here—click on memorials committee report):

WHEREAS … research indicates children with disabilities or special needs are at a higher risk of being bullied than others (Rigby, K., 2002, New Perspective on Bullying. London. Jessica Kingsley Publications); and it has concluded, “Bullying around issues of sexual orientation, non-conforming gender behaviors, and dress was the most common form of bullying, second only to issues of appearance (e.g., body size and disability)” …

WHEREAS, in the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (2009), this church declares, “Likewise, it [the ELCA] will attend to the particular needs of children and the families of those with actual or perceived differences in sexual orientation or gender identity because they are especially vulnerable to verbal, physical, emotional, spiritual,
psychological, and sexual abuse;” …

WHEREAS, the voice of the church addressing the intersection of race, economic status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, psychological, and physical ability is a powerful witness …

Here then are the series of action items taken from the Alaska resolution simply because theirs is first alphabetically.

RESOLVED, that the Alaska Synod encourage new partnerships among our congregations, the synods, the churchwide organization, outdoor ministries, campus ministries, Lutheran School Associations, Lutherans Concerned/North America, Lutheran Social Services organizations, public schools, counseling centers, and other governmental organizations in order to support and offer preventative programs addressing bullying, harassment, and other related violence, especially with
higher risk populations; and be it further

RESOLVED, that these partnerships be encouraged to create or join with existing preventative programs which:

a. utilize positive, inclusive, empowering and developmentally appropriate materials,
b. raise participant’s awareness about the issue, c. focus on prevention,
d. seek to change bystander behavior into ally behavior, e. create partnerships between youth and adults; and be it further

RESOLVED, that these partnerships seek funding for these efforts from a combination of existing funds and new funding sources not otherwise accessible individually such as foundation grants, synod and other Lutheran organizational grants (e.g., Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Wheat Ridge Ministries, Women of the ELCA), private and governmental funding sources; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Alaska Synod memorialize the 2011 Churchwide Assembly to encourage, support, and publicize new partnerships in ministry that emerge in this church addressing the prevention of bullying, harassment, and related forms of violence, especially with higher risk populations.

The Memorials Committee issued a favorable recommendation including the following language (emphasis added):

Thirty-seven synods have presented similar memorials on the topic of “preventing bullying, harassment, and related violence.” These memorials ask the Churchwide Assembly to take action to expand the ministries of this church that address the problems of bullying, harassment, and related violence. The majority of the memorials cite two social statements in support of this request: (1) Our Calling in Education (2007), which affirms that opposition to bullying and other forms of harassment are components of truly safe schools, conducive to effective teaching and learning; and, (2) Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (2009), which notes that children with actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity differences and their families are frequent targets of abusive behavior. The citations from the two social statements of this church rightly identify concerns within these statements that this church
should aggressively address bullying and related forms of abuse

Lutherans Concerned North America sponsored and promoted these resolutions at the Synod level and will be advocating for them at CWA11.