Remember the old “how many people does it take to change a lightbulb,” joke? In the Episcopal church, the answer is “one to change the bulb, 20 to complain that it’s always been dark on those stairs, and how dare you change that?”.
So, serious question: How many does it take to bully? The answer is at least three: The aggressor, the victim, and the bystander.
At Grace Church, the bully most often is someone in the congregation, typically in the altar guild or choir. In the past, the office staff were runners up for bad behavior. And Bob Malm can be counted on as a reliable source for several incidents of bullying every year.
But there’s another wrinkle, and that is that the largest group is made up of bystanders. Parishioners, vestry members, other clergy, all of whom take a pass on it when they see bullying. Much like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, they just keep right on going.
To a large extent, Bob Malm is responsible for that communal reaction. By being the priest who just keeps on walking, he shows others that they should do the same. And Bob really can’t stop, for to do so is to confront his own propensity for bullying.
When will this paradigm shift? Not until people in the parish take the issue of bullying seriously. Bullying is emotional violence. It is abuse. It is a violation of the baptismal covenant. It is wrong.
For a good article on the topic of the three parties to bullying, see the following article, written by our sisters and brothers in the UCC: