Did you know that in the state of Tennessee there is a law against bullying in schools?
It allows local school districts to develop policies to ensure that students are protected from physical harm, threats of physical harm, and actions that would create a hostile educational environment.
Current attempts to change this law are concerned about the rights of students to express religious opinions.
In other words, some people want to change this law so that it will be permissible for students to express their religious opinions, even if expressing those religious opinions creates a hostile educational environment for the student to whom they are being expressed.
For example, Muslim students, who pray five times daily, would be free to criticize Christian students about their lack of devotion to God because they do not pray with as much frequency.
Unitarian students could constantly pester Trinitarian students about their inability to adequately explain the Trinity.
Mormon students could demean Protestant students for their unwillingness to be baptized for their dead ancestors.
In short, what a student says to or about another student would be permitted as long as it was based on the speaker’s religious beliefs.
Of course, those seeking to amend the law are not primarily, if at all, concerned about the rights of Muslim, Unitarian or Mormon students.
They really want no law to prohibit a good Christian student from telling a homosexual student about his or her eternal destination or how God really feels about him or her.
The fact that the effort to change this law to allow students to use their religious beliefs to bully others is being led by the Family Action Council of Tennessee, which purports to hold up biblical values, makes the endeavor even more ironic.
If a group of Christians were going to get something from the Bible written into the laws of a state, why not something like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “Love one another as I have loved you”?
Why not something that reflects the core of Jesus’ teachings?
This effort to use religion to justify bullying is an example of a group trying to use its religion to maintain its notion of society rather than allowing its religion to inform and shape how it impacts culture.
There is quite enough hatred and intolerance in our world. Seeing adults trying to pass that hatred on to children is a sad sight, no matter how sophisticated and sanitized the effort might be.
I am reminded of the Anne Lamont quote, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
The God of the New Testament is not one of hate, not one that desires to be used to bully students into feeling left out, isolated and alone.
The God of the New Testament is one who took on flesh and came to dwell among us so that we would know that we are loved.
That same God promised to never leave us alone, but to always be with us. That God calls us into the world to love with the same radical love with which we ourselves have been loved.
When we find ourselves loving someone we never thought we could, then we may find ourselves approaching the love that Christ has for us.
When we discover ourselves loving someone we never had any reason to notice, then we may be getting close to the love Christ has for us. Christ’s love for us is unconditional, unwarranted, unearned, yet freely given.
We are called not just to receive it, but to share it.
Ed Sunday-Winters is pastor of Greensboro United Church of Christ in Greensboro, Vermont.