The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination, passed a resolution to join the church at all levels in efforts to seek out, curb and work to prevent bullying in church, school and society. The resolution was brought to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly by 37 of its 65 synods. The resolution passed 932-23. The ELCA Churchwide Assembly is currently meeting in Orlando, Florida.
The idea began when many Lutherans, including those involved at Lutherans Concerned/North America, a Lutheran LGBT advocacy group, witnessed the media attention given to bullying over the course of the past year. They wanted the ELCA to be an active part of bullying prevention, knowing that often a theology of exclusion is what can fuel bullying behavior in the first place.
Lutherans Concerned/North America has created two resources. Where All Can Safely Live (pdf) is a guide to understanding bullying in our communities, how to talk about it, and how to prevent it. This anti-bullying curriculum is an introduction to what bullying is, how it functions, and why we as Christians are called to prevent it from happening in our communities. It was developed with the help of the staff at the Pacific Violence Prevention Institute, from the pioneering research on bullying by Dan Olweus, and materials created by the United States government.
Where Hands Will Reach (pdf) contains responses to bullying from ELCA pastors, parents, theologians, and others. It contains devotions, personal stories, and theological reflections on the problem of bullying and what some have done to help. Where Hands Will Reach is being distributed to those in attendance at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Orlando, these reflections offer an ongoing-testimony for the need to activate and organize the passion of God’s people for justice to transform the life of the church and society. Both resources are available on the resources page of Lutherans Concerned/North America.
The debate about the ELCA’s involvement in such bullying efforts featured several young people speaking of being attacked for physical attributes that can't be changed, of being vilified because of their sexual orientation, of not knowing what to do when friends are bullied, and of losing a friend to a violent attack. You can watch the debate here. (Choose Plenary Session 5. If you want to skip budget reports, etc. jump to 3:11:00).
Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America, said, "It was amazing to see so many young people at the microphones addressing this important issue from their particular contexts in youth groups, schools and neighborhoods. Bullying cuts through every demographic line, but victims from groups most oppressed in society at large are at particular risk."
The ELCA had previously made resources related to bullying available on its web site. And in the fall of 2010, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson posted his own "It Gets Better" video, with accompanying resources. However, this resolution will "encourage new partnerships among the churchwide organization, synods, congregations, campus and outdoor ministries, Lutheran School Associations, Lutherans Concerned/North America, Lutheran Social Services organizations, public schools, counseling centers, and other governmental organizations in order to support the prevention of bullying, harassment, and other related violence."
GLAAD applauds the work of the ELCA and of Lutherans Concerned/North America. Most of all, GLAAD thanks the young people at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly for sharing their stories in a way that will promotes understanding, increase acceptance, and advance equality.