Did you ever encounter a bully? Have you ever sensed the taste of blood in your mouth after being punched or loss of wind after being kicked in the gut? Or perhaps you have felt the sting of a crowd pointing fingers at you as they surrounded you and laughed. Maybe bullying occurred as you were stared down with steely eyes and a flushed faced all the while being yelled at with threats. Bullying is not discriminatory; it is found in all types of people. A bully may be very large with strength of size or even extremely small with skills of unusual intimidation. Bullies seem to have something in common; they are either cowards deep down and try to cover their fears with excessiveness or else they are so lacking in self esteem and genuine conviction that the only way they can ever see themselves elevated is by putting someone else down.
Bullies are male and female, young and old, and are found on playgrounds and work sites, in locker rooms and board rooms, in employer-over-employee relationships and within family dynamics. A lot of bullies are strategically found in church.
Bullying in church is not just the individual who finds himself/herself on a board or committee and consistently flexes manipulative muscles or who may even realize personal impotence in other segments of life. Bullying can be characteristic of large segments of the church as a whole. It even has a name….triumphalism. It sounds sophisticated, but it is really only a corruption and an embarrassment to the way of Jesus.
Bullying in church (hereafter called triumphalism) is a deep-seated ideology that perpetrates an extreme self-righteousness. The person or group states what they consider to be truth in all things and refuses consideration of any other contrary idea. In their mind, their convictions are absolute. They seek to ensnare by use of biblical proof-texts and expose as heretical or immoral any and all who disagree. They are almost always positioned on the extreme right side of any part of the culture wars and see as the mission of the church the taking over and control of all culture. This is the group that is adamant about a “Christian America” and respects no tolerance for any other worldview. Indeed, their ultimate goal is the Christianizing of the whole world, according to their interpretation of Christianity, of course. Strangely, their thinking is grounded strongly in the second coming of Jesus and what is happening in modern day Israel. For this grouping of the church, there is no compromise. Their ideology tells them that they alone are on God’s side and, more importantly, that God is on their side and they will ultimately WIN!
This is a theology of glory. It has been around since the rule of Constantine and impacts the world profoundly in the present moment. Triumphalism is found all the way from the proclamation of the electronic soul molesters to the hissing of the older woman whose hand I called on her overt racism saying, “Jesus is on my side” and all kinds of religious bullying tactics in between.
The “cross of Jesus” gets a lot of play in the conversation and air time of triumphalism. And yet that cross, a core symbol of Christianity, reveals one who identified with the suffering and the weak and whose place in history seems to invite us to do the same. Somehow there seems to be a serious disconnect between the cross and a bully.