Bullying is an issue that is unfortunately all too common both in the workplace and in the community. As the writer states, the impact of bullying at the Uniting Church congregation was a devastating time for the person involved especially as no one was interested in helping – not the elders, the chairman of the church council, visiting ministers or the three presbytery ministers. Perhaps the Centre for Theology should put this on the curriculum to train church members to deal with this problem.
Fortunately, Worksafe Victoria has information on this topic and is there to help workers and volunteers when they are being bullied. They have a book entitled Workplace Violence and Bullying which is available from their office. They are also available to give advice to workers and volunteers from the WorkCover Advisory Service if further information is required (phone 96411555) Toll free 1800136089.
Keith Fagg’s letter (Crosslight, February) captures the feelings of anger, frustration and grief felt by many, myself included, in the wake of the Acacia College disaster and property divestments through Uniting our Future. I thank him for writing it.
However, I am concerned by his view that because the UCA has failed at this point its credibility “to speak on justice and ethics is now sadly in tatters”.
The Uniting Church, every council, every congregation, every member, is a part of the flawed and fallible community of Jesus’ disciples.
Even a glance at the Gospels shows that from the beginning our Lord was realistic about the human failings of his followers. What Jesus did, and what he does, is to forgive us and commission us just the same, as he did the doubtful disciples in Matthew 28:16-20. I do not believe that the Church or any part of it should feel inhibited by our human shortcomings when speaking out on issues of ethics and justice.
Imperfect as we are, we are commissioned by Jesus Christ to continue his mission. God still has much to show us, and we still have much to do in growing, learning, penitence and action.
But we always have hope because of the presence of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Regarding the mention of ‘evangelism’, and of ‘diversity’ in your February issue: Evangelism is essential if our church, and others too, are not to die; but it must be divorced from the bronze age concepts of God as ‘a bloke out there’ who sent His son to die, and of the Bible as the (infallible) Word of God – it becomes so when read critically, prayerfully and expectantly. It should be read alongside the Book of Nature which points to the self-giving harmony of the universe: our Earth is composed of stardust from dying stars (exploding super novae); the mission of all living things is to give life to others: etc.
There is one universe; therefore there is but one God, the ‘One-Who-Is’, who loves all people all the time, despite what we do.
She is the Spirit of Harmony who gave birth to the universe in an instantaneous out-pouring of power and presence, a masterpiece of cooperation on the part of all those bits which were to become the universe.
With ‘Chance’ as Her handmaid, and ‘Gender’ as her page, she encouraged life to evolve in all its diversity. In the course of time He infused a man, Jesus, with the Spirit of harmony, to focus our diverse yearnings towards the enhancement of other people’s lives.
Our God loves diversity; so, although there is but one God, we should respect those whose walk with Him differs from our own.
Neil G Cameron
I am extremely disappointed with the decision made by the Australian Government in January to immediately cut the overseas aid budget by $625 million.
This money was being used in life-giving and effective sustainable development projects that support the poorest and most marginalised people in the world.
In 2000, the Coalition Government quite rightly signed an International Agreement to provide our fair share of overseas aid which is just 70 cents in every $100, or 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income.
Sadly, we are now only giving 33 cents in every $100, a mere 0.33 per cent of Gross National Income. Australia is a wealthy nation that can afford to give much more generously.
Effective aid depends on predictability, constancy and trust, but cutting funding commitments to these projects to the poorest of the poor midway through the financial year flies in the face of promoting an effective Government Aid program.
As an Australian, I would like to see my government reflect its citizens’ values in its decisions and actions. I expect compassionate leadership that promotes and preserves the overseas aid budget not only because it is keeping Australia’s international commitment but also because it is the right thing to do.
Robert Van Zetten
I read the letter titled ‘The Impact of bullies’ and understand how clearly Name withheld is feeling, was feeling, and will be feeling.
Yes, just like Name states, your self-confidence and self-respect is shattered. I have been changed forever by my years of being bullied. Thanks to my gym buddies, who have helped me achieve personal goals, I am stronger physically. Thanks to my new church, my talents and abilities are being put to use, and the positive feedback is helping me regain my self-confidence.
Yes, Name, it does take a long time to recover. But you are much stronger than me already. Your letter states months of harassment, mine was years, and you have written a letter alerting the whole church to the fact that bullying and bullies exist in churches. I never did that.
I want to encourage you, you are not alone. I hear your cry! I am standing with you, and together that makes two. And God promised that where two gather, then He is our midst.
I know that throughout all my struggles, God was there. He heard my cry, and know that He hears your cry too.
Be strong, Your God is with you.
I believe that this letter asks each of us to examine who we are as a Christian community and I thank the person for speaking out.
It seems incongruous that bullying behaviour and harassment can occur in a church that worships a God of love. However it appears that the church is not devoid of some loud, strident voices who are willing to impose on others regardless of the hurt inflicted. For me, this real life experience described, confirms Richard Rohr’s statement that “there are some in the church who are not of God”.
Regardless of the circumstances of this particular case, the Church had/has a responsibility to care for the victim and it not only failed to do so, but it compounded the hurt by the manner in which it handled the matter.
I agree with the writer that church officials at all levels need training, and the regulations need to be implemented by all church councils in order to minimise these events in future.
I wonder how many councils have actually appointed a ‘Contact Person’ as required in the UC regulations. The Church needs to realise that many others are also hurt and that the perpetrators of this abuse are very destructive individuals in the life of a congregation.
As a Church I believe that we also fail the abusers by remaining silent when they should be made to accept responsibility for the hurt their words and actions have caused. To do nothing could be seen by them as validating their behaviour.
The situation described in this letter is totally unacceptable to all people, and therefore it is reasonable to ask what the UC intends to do now to hopefully eliminate abusive, bullying behaviour and harassment within congregations and it’s organisation.
I hope that it is not too late for those who caused the hurt and who might read your letter, to at least apologise and I pray that your letter raises awareness in the UC of the need for people to be considerate of each other and for the Church to act with compassion.
When we come to church to worship God and participate in the life of a congregation we have certain expectations. These include being treated with respect and, yes, even with love.
But the letter to the editor that raised the issue of bullying in last month’s issue of Crosslight, and letters of support this month, indicate that there is a problem with bad behaviour, including bullying behaviour. This needs to be addressed.
We know that bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Power imbalance issues can define a person’s behaviour as abusive. A person who uses their power to belittle or negate the value of another person is behaving in an unacceptable way and their behaviour needs to be stopped.
What can we do about it?
First and foremost, if you are on the receiving end of bad behaviour it is important to tell someone about it – don’t suffer in silence. Coming forward can be difficult for a whole range of reasons, but it is the first step toward holding the person accountable and stopping the behaviour.
From the letters it is clear that there is a need for support, and a need for the allegations to be believed and taken seriously rather than denied or ignored. Behaviour that harms others needs to be addressed. Early intervention prevents the situation from becoming worse. It is not at all helpful to ignore the problem and to hope it will go away by itself, or to be ‘nice’ and accommodate it. This gives permission for the behaviour to continue and escalate.
While it may seem to be more difficult to report the behaviour than to ‘live with it’, in reality it is much easier to resolve the issues at an earlier stage, before the damage increases.
The synod’s Occupational Health and Safety manual defines bullying as ‘repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards another person or group of people’ and harassment as ‘any form of behaviour which is perceived to be offensive, humiliating, demeaning, insulting or intimidating.’ The manual outlines a procedure for dealing with it which begins with telling the congregation’s Contact Person.
The process involves the church council and can lead to presbytery involvement. Further assistance is available by contacting the OH&S unit of the synod. Information is available in the manual and on the synod website about how to fill out an incident report form. There is also a synod policy on bullying in the employment context, and the People and Culture (formerly Human Resources) staff are able to offer assistance.
Support and counselling may be obtained from the Bethel Pastoral Centre.
The Culture of Safety Unit website has the synod’s policy on prevention of abuse, which congregations are invited to implement, along with the other Safe Church policies, as a preventative measure. Please see http://wwwvictas.uca.org.au/uca resources/culture-of-safety/.
The Assembly has passed new regulations which came into force on 1 January 2014 that deal with bullying by elders or church council members, and complaints about members. These regulations will be available on the Assembly website soon. Above all, as a church we are called to provide worshipping and pastoral communities that are free from abuse, and that provide safe environments for people to explore and express their faith in the Gospel.
Rev Lauren Mosso
Ethical Standards Officer
Culture of Safety