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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Belief Bullies

A 9-year-old girl in Austin is being bullied by two girls at school. They are telling her that her religion is wrong. She's a Christian, a Lutheran Christian. She's not sure how to respond, nor is her mother, because the tormentors are Muslims. The mom said to me, "We didn't have to deal with this when I was a kid."  It's a new world. . . but not really.

In 1967, a Lutheran pastor in Minnesota got a phone call from an irate parent telling him that his 9-year-old daughter was picking on her daughter for being  Catholic. The incident stemmed from a conversation on the school bus in which the little Catholic girl (who was quite possibly the only Catholic child on the bus) explained to her Lutheran friends that she went to the One True Church because Jesus said to Peter that he was a rock and on this rock he would build his church. And so Peter became the first pope. This was met with a snort of derision by the preacher’s kid who told her, with the authority of a preacher, that she was wrong. 

A gaggle of little girls, separated by 40-plus years, all religiously well-trained and attuned, encountered the differences in their beliefs before they developed the social skills to tread on such delicate ground.  The situations aren't that different except for that fact that one is about denominational differences and the other is around religious differences. And then there is that terrorist thing. . . of course none of the children in the current incident had even been born when the events of 9-11 occurred.

How does a 9-year-old reconcile these kinds of issues? What should a parent do? I've been rolling this over in my mind since I heard about the incident. I think, if it were my child (after asking for details so that I'm sure she didn't provoke the incident, and mentally separating the words Muslim and terrorist) that I would respond with the one-size-fits-all answer: LOVE.

In matters of faith it is not possible to win an argument. People will judge your beliefs by how you act. So, if you are going to be a Christian, a Christ-follower, then you are required to love your neighbor. Not just your Christian neighbor, or American neighbor, but all your neighbors. Not merely tolerate them - LOVE THEM.
You have to respond in love even when you are bullied, reviled, mocked or persecuted. When they say you are wrong you have to say that you believe that God loves everyone and you want to love them and be their friends too. You might have to say it and live it for a long time.

These are the kinds of situations we dread as parents, but the times where we are most necessary to our children. This is why we have to continue to grow in faith and wisdom throughout our lives as well - because times change and what I learned in Sunday school as a child does not hold all the answers to all the questions I will encounter throughout life. This is why I float in my baptismal identity: because when times are hard, confusing, frustrating or frightening what I do is determined by who I am. This is how I am called to parent my child.

And yes, the obnoxious preacher's kid described above was me. Kathy B - if you ever stumble across this blog - please accept my deepest apologies. I know I apologized at the time, but I really didn't understand what I had done . . .


1 comment:

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"This is why we have to continue to grow in faith and wisdom throughout our lives as well - because times change and what I learned in Sunday school as a child does not hold all the answers to all the questions I will encounter throughout life. "

Poignant post, Julie. Tough subject -- your easy solution. Love.

Thanks for sharing this most personal piece of yourself.