Reply to Giles Fraser: The Effects of Bullying Cut Both Ways

I think the Canon has really stepped into it on this one.  In his editorial re the defeat of women bishops at the recent Church of England synod, he tells the following tale:

There was this lad at school who got bullied all the time. When he wasn’t being bullied he was being ignored. He was thin, quiet and spotty. It says something that I cannot even remember his name. But at some point he got picked up by the Christian Union. They made him feel like he belonged and gave him a club to be a part of. And from then on, he began to wear the slightly superior look of someone who thinks he knows something that other people don’t know. Being an outsider became a badge of pride. He was now a Christian. And, in a way, the more ridiculous and unpopular the things he believed the better.

For his beliefs became a sort of barrier against the cruelty of the world. So the more people said his views were stupid, the more he felt the need for the protection they afforded him. His six impossible things before breakfast were a Maginot line against a world of hurt. Which is why he could never give them up or subject them to any sort of critical scrutiny.

Actually, I have made this person up. But I am trying to paint a picture of the mentality of conservative evangelicals, the people who have recently scuppered the female bishop legislation, without invoking the standard caricature of these modern-day puritans as life-denying fun-sponges obsessed with being right and with other people not having sex. Not that this latter image is all that far from the truth. The problem is that from Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson all they way through to Blackadder (and that brilliant episode where his rich puritan relatives come round to fulminate against fornication and inadvertently chomp on a penis-shaped turnip), this has become an overused trope that describes someone who seems to have stepped out of the Tardis from another century. The thing is, they are alive and well in the 21st century.

Another take on this is here, but as someone who knows a thing or two about being on the wrong end of bullying, I think he’s said more than he meant to here.

Giles Fraser is a well-known advocate of the full inclusion of the LGBT community in the life of the church, in his case the Church of England.  And let’s be honest, LGBT people have been bullied, which is why they’re at the forefront of anti-bullying campaigns on this side of the Atlantic.  (My objection to these is the implication that LGBT people are the only ones to be bullied, which is patently false.)

That being the case, let’s rewrite the first two paragraphs as follows:

There was this lad at school who got bullied all the time. When he wasn’t being bullied he was being ignored. He was thin, quiet and spotty. It says something that I cannot even remember his name. But at some point he got picked up by GLSEN. They made him feel like he belonged and gave him a club to be a part of. And from then on, he began to wear the slightly superior look of someone who thinks he knows something that other people don’t know. Being an outsider became a badge of pride. He was now an outed LGBT person. And, in a way, the more ridiculous and unpopular the things he believed the better.

Fraser is trying to caricature the way Evangelicals “carry their attitudes”.  But if that’s a result of bullying, then so is the way many LGBT people carry their attitudes.  And anyone who has missed the self-righteous, censorious rhetoric coming from that direction lately isn’t paying attention.

And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, while you pay no attention at all to the beam in your own? How can you say to your brother ‘Brother, let me take out the straw in your eye,’ while you yourself do not see the beam in your own? Hypocrite! Take out the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly how to take out the straw in your brother’s. There is no such thing as a good tree bearing worthless fruit, or, on the other hand, a worthless tree bearing good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. People do not gather figs off thorn bushes, nor pick a bunch of grapes off a bramble. A good man, from the good stores of his heart, brings out what is good; while a bad man, from his bad stores, brings out what is bad. For what fills a man’s heart will rise to his lips. (Luke 6:41-45 TCNT)

Leave a Reply