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Q&A: Arizona minister talks about cyberbullying and the church

John McCranie

Bullying keeps making headlines, from a CNN report that half of high school students admit to bullying someone in the past year to an NPR story linking anti-gay bullying to recent suicides.
Last week, The Associated Press reported that some experts fear copycat suicides after a rash of high-profile bullying cases.
Over the weekend, the Gateway Church of Christ in Gilbert, Ariz., hosted a youth rally called “To Save A Life.” That congregation has a youth group of about 25 middle and high school students directed by Abe Vicente Jr., deacon of youth ministry.
The all-day event addressed the problem of cyberbullying and featured speakers such as Will Sullivan, a motivational speaker and personal coach to major athletes, and David Yee, youth minister for the Northwest Church of Christ in Glendale, Ariz. Nearly 100 people from 10 churches attended, joined by visitors from the community.
In an interview with The Christian Chronicle, Gateway minister John McCranie discussed the cyberbullying theme and the rationale behind it.
Bobby Ross: What is cyberbullying, and how big a problem is it?
John McCranie: One in three teens reports being cyberbullied or knowing someone who’d been cyberbullied. What is cyberbullying? Willfully and repeatedly harming others through computers, cell phones and social websites. Cyberbullies harass, threaten, humiliate or otherwise intimidate their peers. For example, youth can send hurtful text messages to others, spread rumors or post sensitive videos on such sites as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.
BR: Why is cyberbullying an issue that a church should be addressing? What role can congregations or church members play in addressing this problem?
JMc: Technology is part of life with our current generation. Technology has its advantages and disadvantages. Ways of how it is being used does impact relationships, life and a person’s soul. If it is used in a negative way, it affects a great deal of people, especially if the person’s sense of self-worth is diminished.
Our desire is to create a sense of awareness in the church of this major issue in order to be effective in dealing with and how to support and encourage church members (teen or adult) on how to cope with this type of behavior as a victim. In some cases, teens are not fully aware of their behaviors — that they are actually causing hurt to others whether it is via cyberbullying or direct emotional and verbal abuse.
Having a Christ-like sensitivity and empowering approach is essential to help bring healing. The church has a unique message in this: God is best at telling us how valued we are so when bullies seek to destroy our self-image we can turn to Him for affirmation on who we really are and thus dismiss their hateful comments. Secondly, The Bible makes powerful statements about how God expects us to treat our fellow human beings. These biblical imperatives have proven to change hearts toward being kind like Christ.
BR: A number of media reports in recent weeks have tried to draw a connection between Christian teachings on homosexuality and suicides of gay young people. How do you respond to those reports?
JMc: Great question. There is no disputing that some faith systems in America are hostile and even belligerent to those in the homosexual lifestyle. We grieve over this and feel compelled to compensate by showing authentic Christian love to victims of all types.
Recent media reports have over-focused on gay victims only. Unfortunately, this issue also occurs to Christian youth who are being bullied because of their faith. It is not an isolated issue limited to gays nor Christians. What is not reported is the believers who are emulating Jesus’ compassion to abused gays and other victims of this global issue.
BR: What else should Chronicle know about this subject?
JMc: Cyberbullying or any type of bullying is a growing reality. Christians need to have a sense of awareness of it and learn on various ways on how to address it proactively directly or indirectly within their home or community.
Your turn: What should be the Christian response to bullying? What steps, if any, are you and your home congregation taking to deal with this issue? Please refer to our comment policy before replying.

  • Feedback
    I was reading with interest until I got to this – “Recent media reports have over-focused on gay victims only. Unfortunately, this issue also occurs to Christian youth who are being bullied because of their faith.”
    I am completely unaware of anti-Christian bullying in American schools… to the point that I doubt it exists to any extent at all. I would like to read more about the anti-Christian bullying in any mainstream publication but I found NONE on a web search. The LDS bootstrapping claim of harassment after supporting Prop 8 are political discourse, not harassment of a susceptible individual.
    Rather, the author parrots the false meme that modern American Christians are under siege. This is a lie perpetuated by the radical right as a scare-mongering fund-raising tactic, and should be exposed as such.
    Marco Luxe
    November, 16 2010

    There have been adults who have attempted to bully me because of my faith. It happens. But as Jesus says, “leap for joy.” Luke 6:23.
    Bullying of anyone should not be tolerated. It’s not Jesus and it’s not his Gospel. We must teach our kids that it isn’t right and we should preach this from our pulpits. In the churches I belong to we do exactly that.
    Bob Valerius
    November, 16 2010

    Unfortunately, bullying is promoted in this country by adults, so no wonder our children participate. Several current commercials on TV are examples of bullying but I mention two: the Jack in the Box commercial where they are “just hazing” the new employee in a tank of pink goop (and they think this is very funny) and the commercial where “Big Foot” is teased to such a degree that he becomes enraged, but the participants laugh uproariously. We all need to stop bullying behavior wherever we see it.
    Peggy Huffman
    November, 17 2010

    I’m not sure if bullying is any more prevalent to day than when I was a kid. I think the difference is that there are different and more humiliating ways of bullying today. Texting is one such way. And I know instances of aggressive boys getting compromising pictures of girls (or even of guys) and using them to harrass and blackmail the victim. If they don’t comply, they send out the picture, to the complete humiliation of the victim.
    I think it needs to be addressed from the perspective of respect for other people, honoring others, etc., as taught in the Bible. wb
    Warren Baldwin
    November, 17 2010

    Yes bullying is a problem. Always has been and always will. This does not excuse the behavior, but the reality of sin and the treatment of people. Not sure that the issue is bullying as opposed to who we think is “in or out.” We like to define who is “in or out” by a certain criteria and bullying is a response to the “in or out” mentality. This is a sad reality but the truth. Often times they are reflecting the behavior of the culture that we as adults model. And yes we use a “in or out” mentality daily. We must continually die to the flesh and the things of the world and constantly strive to reflect the glory of Christ and the grace and truth give to mankind through the cross.
    Lantz Howard
    November, 18 2010

    Just because the mainstream media and journals have not reported on anti-Christian bullying in particular does not mean it does not exist. This is like saying the media does not report on the existance of God therefore He does not exist. You are obviously reading a Christian journal and therefore you must know this article will have a Christian perspective. If you don’t like the content don’t read it…plain and simple.
    November, 18 2010

    There was anti-Christian bullying even when I was in high school during the early 1970’s. It exists and will always exist. There will be students who party with drugs and drink who will always intimidate those who refuse because of their faith. The bullying has probably increased due to the further separation of public schools from Christian beliefs on subjects such as right to choose, homosexuality, participation in sex, evolution, etc. Today, additional sources of bullying exist such as teachers who laugh at the mention of someone believing the Bible as truth, who say you can’t find “yourself” if you are hindered by religion, etc. But, even Jesus encountered bullying.
    Bob West
    November, 18 2010

    Honestly, I think Christians perpetuate cyber-bullying. I work in web marketing, so it’s part of my job to research and observe the way people communicate and operate online, and I have seen an astonishing number of Christians behaving in decidedly UN-Christian ways to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
    In the autonomy of the Churches of Christ we see this happen quite often, as our lack of regulation lends many to believe they have the power to regulate others. It now seems to be happening often on the internet.
    Truly, adults have set the standard and paved the road for this behavior in teens. Good for this church to take a stand.
    Ann White
    November, 18 2010

    I have only come across it by accident on Facebook, but the extent and viciousness of cyber-bullying by some of our Christian college students that is inflicted upon other students who do not fit the predominant religious or social mold is both shocking and disheartening.
    It certainly does not bode well for the spiritual or emotional well-being of either the perpetrators or the victims, nor for the influence of our schools upon the world around us, and might be worth a follow-up article in itself.
    Steve Byrne
    November, 18 2010

    What about the bullying that happens in our own youth groups. The girls who have a pack mentality, the teens who exclude others and the preachers youth ministers and elders who dont seem to know what to do about or care for that matter
    November, 18 2010

    I agree with Larry. My 14 year old granddaughter is not one of “the group”. I have witnessed others that have hurt her feelings by not speaking to her, or completely ignoring her. This hurts me. I was raised in the church, and I see that we are losing her. I have 14 granchildren and 8 great grandchildren, and only 7 of the grandchildren even attend church. Clicks are driving sensitive children away.
    Norma Schmit
    November, 18 2010

    Great article and one that is current now as it was years ago. In a sense, bullying is often nothing more than gossip and the spreading of rumors, most of which are unfounded. Gossip has been a problem for a long, long time; Jesus even condemned it. As we have greater and greater means of communicating with one another, the problem grows exponentially. I believe that young folks, especially, have always been ones that talk about the ones that don’t quite fit in (Lantz Howard responded to this article about this, as well), although it is certainly not just a young folk issue; most of us fall into this trap from time to time. We call Jesus’ story about treating others as we would want to be treated the Golden Rule, and a recent author, Al Ritter called it the “100/0” principle. Both are saying that we need to strive to treat others the right way regardless of how they treat us and not to expect reciprocation even when we do the right thing.
    I have learned recently, in our congregation, of such situations as “cyber-bullying” or talking about others over the net. Therefore, I know that it is a problem. Thank you John McCranie and others who are bringing this problem to light so that we all are aware of it and are prepared to address the problem. As an overseer of our education and youth ministries, I plan to incorporate lessons concerning this subject. Thanks. In Christ.
    Glenn Landrum
    November, 18 2010

    Teenage bullying is an important issue, just as it was when I was a teen in the late 1950’s. I remember several bullies picking on me physically and emotionally. I have seen many teens drop out of their church because they weren’t included in “the group” or weren’t “in the know” about activities or group-thought. I have especially seen that when a single parent is involved. It’s difficult for adults to intervene, but we should try to help teens see how they are excluding others or hurting others.
    Gary Turner
    November, 19 2010

    As this whole subject is discussed from various viewpoints, several scriptures come to mind
    Romans 2:11 says God does not show favoritism
    I Timothy 5:21 teaches us to “do nothing out of favoritism”
    James admonishes Christians not to show favoritism (2:1)
    Ephesians 5:1 instructs us to be “imitators of God!”
    James also clearly teaches that showing favoritism “is sin” (2:9)
    Another issue that contributes heavily to favoritism is the common practice of “competition” among people. This, too, is sin.
    Why? Because in every competition there is a “winner” and a “loser.” Whether or not they are TOLD they are “Losers,” they FEEL “less than” or “not good enough.” This becomes a MAJOR deterrent when it comes to approaching God. All too often, man feels “not good enough”; thus, he continues to hurt.
    This is a subject very close to my soul–our 19-year-old grandson attempted suicide on August 22nd. He is still hospitalized with many more surgeries upcoming. “Bullying” and “Competition”–people showing favoritism and not offering support–are all part of the scenario which led up to his attempt.
    Certainly we are all challenged to examine our own lives to see where these “anti-Christ” attitudes exist within each of us.
    The Bible challenges us to “speak only those things that are upbuilding to the hearers.”
    May the Holy Spirit remind each of us of these truths every day
    Carole May
    December, 7 2010

    I have been bullied for over one year now. Rumors and lies follow me at church but I will not leave. I believe God put me there for a reason and despite everything, I love my church. I know who is behind the bullying and yes, it hurts. It is painful and leaves its own kind of scars, but I am strong. The bullying consists of sending out emails that are filthy…spoofing my address so that church members actually believe I did this. My friends are being targeted and I am being isolated. It is okay. I serve a God who sees and hears. I trust He will use this for good.
    July, 10 2011

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