The National Association For The Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) used to hang a shocking banner from its offices in downtown Manhattan: "Another Black Man Was Lynched Today."
We need a similar reminder, banners today that announce another kind of lynching that reads: "Another Child Committed Bullycide Today."
They do so today by hanging themselves in their bedroom closet, sometimes using their father's tie or an extension cord stolen from another part of their home. They do so because they no longer believe in hope or justice.
Right now, the city of Atlanta is reeling from the bullycide of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera, who hung himself in his room after he gave his mother a high-five in celebration of his good report card. Reports strongly suggest that Jaheem was the recipient of ongoing bullying that was both physical and verbal. Since Jaheem's suicide, other students' parents have come forward to describe even more alleged acts of violence at their school. Some parents said their children were also the victims of beatings with buckles and chokings. Some brave citizens have even protested outside of the school where Jaheem played, studied and was bullied.
Jaheem's suicide continues to reverberate nationally. It occurred within weeks after an 11-year-old boy in Massachusetts hanged himself after being bullied and taunted at school. A child just outside of Chicago, Iain Steele, suffered a similar fate this summer. He, too, took his own life (The Protectors Prayer Partners prays for bullied children throughout the world and the families of children who commit bullycide. To join the Protectors Prayer Partners, go to www.theprotectors.org).
There are many relevant questions that encircle such desperate acts of despair, cruelty and rage gone inward. But one that is not being asked, one that is the missing piece to the epidemic of bullying, is: Where were the Christian children who went to church, who saw what was happening to Jaheem and so many others, and why is there no report that they did anything to help them?
For some, the experience of bullying leads to one of two extremes: taking their own life and taking the life of others. Every school shooter in America has been male, and almost all of them were targets of ongoing bullying. They murdered others because their own worth and dignity as made in the image of God were being lynched and murdered within them, and hardly anyone came to their defense.
Sometimes the sound of a bullet ripping through a school's hallway is the language of the unheard, the unloved, the neglected, scorned and abused. Sometimes it is the plea of a young person at the end of his rope, of someone who can no longer bear the daily humiliation set around his neck like the millstone that it is.
Sometimes a school shooting, though never justified, is the language we hear when people of faith settle for low-level goodness, when they fail to acknowledge their God-given conscience and do the right thing and love those who are different and unlovely, the way our King of Kings and the Lord of Lords did on our behalf while we were still yet sinners.
School shootings are needless, destructive, wicked and evil. And so are the circumstances that have created almost all of them, conditions that lead so many to confusion, hatred, hopelessness and rage. As we condemn such horrible acts of violence, whether by bullycide or homicide, we must also condemn the horrible acts of violence that preceded them.
Every time we mourn another death due to bullying, we should also mourn how hundreds of thousands of children are beat up daily across our great country--and yet hardly anyone of faith, or at least a veneered claim to faith, confronts their own cowardice to defend them.
Abraham Lincoln wrote that unless a person's religion makes him treat an animal better, he wanted nothing to do with that man's religion. Likewise, unless our faith compels us to defend the dignity of a target of bullying, what good is our religion? Does the spirit of God really live within us? If so, where's the proof?
Almost every death due to bullying should be viewed, not as an isolated and mystifying experience, but as a time bomb with a very long and battered fuse, a fuse comprised of cruelty on behalf of bullies and cowardice on behalf of bystanders, most of whom claim to be Christian by doctrine but who cannot claim this exalted title by deed.
Too many times in our schools and in our very souls, the terror from a child gunmen or bullycide is the result of justice and dignity denied. We have the potential to change this cruel equation today. But church, do we possess the courage? We know it's wrong. We feel it's wrong. But we fail to act as if it is wrong. This deficiency is not due to a lack of faith or belief, but a lack of courage and strength. That deficiency is cowardice, a sin that God tells us on the same level as murder [Revelation 21:8].
Yet parallel to this dark and battered fuse is another truth: the capacity for courage, love, and righteousness on behalf of those who carry the name of Christ into the dark and depraved corners of this world, of our schools. This is the company of the courageous that Jesus praised, the heroic potential that exists within the walls of every school and soul who obey the commandments of God and honor his Holy Spirit.
Christian students, especially athletes who unknowingly control the moral thermostat in most every school, it's well past time to join the battle. As a coach for nearly 20 years, I know that athleticism is a gift in our culture that should be spent on others. Right now we may muster the courage needed on the playing field to win a game--but we are cowardice like the rest off the playing field. We watch movies like Braveheart and Remember The Titans and the latestStar Trek release, which give us the feeling of courage, but being a spectator to someone else's courage doesn't make us strong, good, or Christ-like. Right now, we are not athletes in courageous action. Statistically, when it comes to Christian athletes helping the weak and the timid (1 Thessalonians 5:14), we are missing in action.
The noble and righteous struggle to defend human dignity is long and pockmarked, yet historically it bends toward justice--when the righteous act. Think of the Hebrews under Pharaoh but with Moses, a cowardice man at first, but a lion of courage later. Think of Lincoln as he agonized to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, an act of political suicide but which placed him in a more hallowed pantheon of leaders. Think of John Wesley as his heart grew "strangely warm" toward England's most despised and dispossessed--helping an entire nation avoid class warfare and civil war. Think of Martin Luther King as he gave his life to lift his people out of segregation and abject poverty, and to heal the soul of an entire country--black, white and all colors in between.
Now think about what today's Christian is known for and what should be known for. Right now Christian men we are known for having gathered in large stadiums for a time, and that time has faded. Today we are known for pointing toward Heaven when we hit home runs and score touchdowns, a confusing gesture to many. Is this really what God had in mind? Which gesture brings God more recognition and glory: When we donate our strength to those in need and lift them up, or merely point up?
To learn more about how you can help bring God's love, justice and mercy to hundreds of thousands of children through our unique faith-based approach, go to The Protectors, www.theprotectors.org
Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous Faith, No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying.