Children who use self-deprecating humour are more likely to be bullied, according to research reported today. Perhaps it was no surprise when the teenagers at Knaphill Methodist recently led some prayers in worship on the theme of justice that the word which kept recurring was ‘bullying’.
I read the article I’ve linked to above out of interest for my children. But as I read it, I thought about church experience. Preachers are told to identify with congregations and not to make themselves sound too superior. So – especially in a British cultural experience – it isn’t surprising if we use self-deprecating humour in sermons. I certainly have. However, one minister told me that it was the church where he most used that kind of humour as an attempt to make a bridge to the congregation that he was most despised. I have heard and read too many stories to believe this was an isolated case. Congregations bully leaders; leaders bully congregations.
So – is the advice wrong? Why does bullying exist in the church? And what should we do about it? We have our ‘safeguarding’ policies for the sake of children and vulnerable adults, but some people who do not fall into either of those categories can be targetted in some churches. When a minister is bullied, I have seen it ‘solved’ by moving the minister away. Nothing happens to the perpetrator. When congregations are bullied, there can also be a failure to acknowledge the issue. It’s like asking a school what it’s anti-bullying policy is, only to be told, ‘We don’t have a bullying problem.’
Sorry, but it’s not true. Houston, we have a problem.