The Conflict

I Hate Bullying

Written by Marlin Vis

Here’s a definition of bullying given out by the United States Government: Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Individuals who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
  • Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Every time I go to Israel and Palestine I experience bullying. It happened at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. Our group of 26 waited in line to go down into the cave that tradition claims to be the birthplace of Jesus. Never mind that it is tradition and tradition alone, still for many of us it is the place where we touch the mystery of the God becoming flesh. We waited a long time. As we did, I became aware that the Greek Orthodox priest in charge was letting other groups go down ahead of those who had been waiting a long time. Of course, I wondered why. So I approached him and asked: “Do you speak English?”

“A little.”

“May I ask a question?”

“Of course.”

“Why are you letting some groups go on ahead of those of us waiting?”

“Do you want your group to get in the cave?”

“Of course.”

“Then get back in line. It is not your business.” Turning his head away, along with a dismissive wave of his hand, was all he needed.

So I did. I got back in line, because the folks with me wanted to experience the place of Jesus’ birth. I felt powerless, because I was. He had all the power. I had none. He knew it. I knew it. And there you have it. Bullying 101, and by a priest. Happens all the time in the land of the Holy One.

Happened again on the Temple Mount, the place where Solomon and Herod’s temples stood. It is also home to the Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque, sacred to Muslims. We were walking around the outside edge. I stopped with the group at a place that directly would have faced the entrance to the Women’s Court and beyond to the Holy of Holies. Behind us was a group of Jewish settlers and dignitaries, we discovered later. As it happened one from our group sat next to one from this group of settlers and dignitaries on the plane ride home. He was equal to the Chief of Staff to our President. They were being escorted by a large group of soldiers in full combat gear. We were stopped for less than a minute when they came up upon us. The soldier in front said: “You have to move.”

I said, “In just a minute, we just got here.”

“You need to move.”

“We’ll move in just one minute, I’m almost done.”


He startled us all. I turned to him and slowly shaking my head I held out my hands in a gesture of disbelief. My Palestinian Christian guide was urging me to move on. The soldier lifted up a camera and took my picture. Then with a cold stare, he said, “Welcome.” He didn’t mean it. We moved. I didn’t want to. I didn’t think we should. But I also knew that I could not win. He had all the power in the world. He could force me to leave, and he would. He could make sure I never entered the country again, and he would.

Bullying. I hate it! Hate it! Hate it! Don’t you?

Every single day, Palestinians are bullied, and pretty much by everyone in power, because pretty much everyone else has the power, but them. The priests ought to know better, but the truth is they are no better than anyone else with power. They abuse their power to batter those they are charged to serve. It’s a scandal. Of course not all priests do this, but too many, far too many do. They still do their services in Greek or Latin, for crying out loud. That too is a form of bullying. I hate it!

And the soldiers are the worst, by far. They have all the power, and over everyone, except fellow Jews. I know they get tired of having to deal with crowds of tourists, and Palestinians who hate them. And they do hate them, make no mistake. I was remarking on the bus that the folks in Jerusalem, Palestinians and Jews, do live together, and every single day. We had just driven through an area called Wadi Joz where there are all these car repair shops, and we saw Orthodox Jews who were having their cars repaired by Palestinian mechanics. And I said, “See they live together.” And our Palestinian Christian Guide said, “Yeah, but we hate each other!”

So, I get it. I get the soldiers mind set. It’s the way to keep control. It works. Give an inch and they’ll take a mile. I get it. I’m an American and we are the biggest bully in the world. Our President prides himself on being a bully. Winning is all that matters to him, and therefore, to us, as well, and one of the easiest way to win is to use your power to get wins.

But at what cost, I wonder? What do we lose when we win through the abuse of power? We lose that which is the best part of us, the part that is made in the image of God. We lose our soul. It reminds me of the scene in the Godfather movies series, when Michael Corleone has just ordered the murder of his feeble-minded older brother, Fredo. Michael, played so powerfully by Al Pacino, sits all alone in an armchair in his lake home. Legs crossed, he stars the empty haunting stare of a man who has won every battle, and yet lost the person he was made to be, the one we saw in the opening scenes, the returning soldier who wanted to make the world a better place.

I’m sorry, it’s not worth it, this winning, winning, winning. We are losing!

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  • Reply
    Duane VandenBrink
    October 17, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Marlin, Thanks for sharing your heart. I have missed your writings. Your deep experience gives your reflections added weight.


  • Reply
    Frances Griffi
    October 18, 2017 at 2:24 am

    I am beginning to think that our country will never again be at one with each other. Everyone cannot always win, sometime we may have to acknowledge that someone other than self is correct. I am not sure when that is going to happen here. I am still concerned about the inequities in Israel, but my more immediate concerns are what lies ahead for us.

  • Reply
    Marilyn Paarlberg
    October 18, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Marlin, thank you for this, and for the ways that you have modeled anti-bullying in the church and the world. Maybe you remember my own experience at the Church of the Nativity last February on our interfaith trip, when I attempted to receive the Eucharist. The priest’s blistering refusal was redeemed by Rev. Abby Norton-Levering and two other co-travelers (one of whom is Muslim), who simply said, “We’re here.” Sharing the bread with them – “This is the Body of Christ, broken for you” – in that crowded nave filled with a cacophony of voices and languages was a sacred antithesis to religious bullying, and reminded me of my own calling, as you put it, to be the person I was made to be.

  • Reply
    October 19, 2017 at 12:02 am

    Thanks, Marlin. We too, miss you thoughtFUL words and messages. Loads of love from Dave and I.

  • Reply
    Lori Stump
    October 29, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    Hi Marlin,
    We attended Fellowship Church this morning without knowing you would be there, and I’m so glad we did! You were a powerful speaker, as usual. I have missed you! You baptized our son when you were at Beechwood. It’s always good to hear you speak.

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