The worst bullying I suffered was in junior high school in a town I can’t name for legal reasons but it wasn’t the only bullying I have suffered in my lifetime. I can say that for the most part, I wasn’t bullied in high school. Sure, I had the odd occurrence but I know that others got it a lot worse. I never had to walk the halls of my high school in fear of getting hit or stuffed into a locker. Somehow, I managed to blend it with the scenery.
When I say high school, I mean it literally. I didn’t have any problems actually in school. However, I did experience some bullying in a place where most people wouldn’t expect bullying to occur, my church youth group. The myth is that church people are all gentle souls and that bullying is against the will of God so people who go to church should feel safe. The reality is that not all of the youth who go to church do so because they want to be a good Christian. Some are only there because they have parents who make them go. Therefore, there were some kids in the youth group who didn’t want to adhere to what was considered Christian living.
Of course there was me whose Asperger’s traits always made a ideal target for bullies. As a teenager, I was an extremely strong born again Christian; always read my bible daily, prayed constantly and paid attention in Sunday School and church. Because I was so devout in my life style, I drew the attention of the first group, one boy in particular. At first, it was non physical low level stuff. He always wanted to complain about everything I did. We were on the church basketball team together and being the mid seventies, we both wore headbands for one particular game. Even though mine matched the team’s colours of red and white, he decided to deride me over it, forgetting that his was green and made him look like a Christmas tree. Then he started complaining about the fact that I rode my bike to Sunday evening services. To this day, I can’t figure out what it had to do with him so I conclude that he just wanted to get on my case over it. I wish I had thought of the response then that I thought of later: “I don’t think the Lord cares how I get to church, neither should you.”
It was a few months later where the low level stuff turned into threats of violence. He began to threaten he was going to punch me in the mouth for anything I said or even for looking at him. Then one evening, before a basketball game, he was bouncing a ball down the steps of the church and I happened to be behind him. The ball accidentally hit my foot and bounced away from him. He threatened to punch me in the mouth. When he got the ball back, he bounced it again but it hit the edge of the step and bounced away from him. He blamed me and punched me in the stomach. This time I hit him back and we had a punch up inside the church. Due to it being in a church, it was broken up pretty quickly but I went off feeling upset for having a fight in the Lord’s house when I should have praised myself for standing up to him. I’ll go into that more in the next post.
He left me alone pretty much for a year but things started again when the youth group went on a retreat. Again, low level stuff at first like tipping my suitcase on the bed. Then at meal times, he demanded I didn’t sit near him because he said I chewed with my mouth open. (Maybe I did, but I think he was going back to his old habit of complaining about me.) Only this time, it wasn’t just him, his sister also joined in along with some of their friends. It all came to a head on the way home from the retreat when many on the bus thought it would be a good idea to throw the nerf football at me repeatedly. Okay, it didn’t hurt but the fact I was singled out and having to endure a constant bombardment did.
I think the worse thing about all of this was that others in the youth group who were supposed to be good Christians seem to find the bullying amusing. Often times, they seemed to encourage him and even side with him against me. After the retreat, I wanted to leave that church for another down the road but my mother wouldn’t allow it. I did find excuses to avoid going to youth group meetings for many months after that and only went back when the bully stopped coming to church full stop.
The sad thing is that church is the one place where you wouldn’t expect bullying to happen. Even in “He Was Weird,” the church provides a haven for Mark from the bullying he encounters and the week at the bible camp is his one moment of glory. It’s too bad that even in a supposedly divine setting, bullying is still possible.
Next post: Asperger’s and Religion