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Bullies can't win

The top official at the Home Office has resigned. His resignation statement on Saturday spoke of a bullying culture in the organisation allegedly propagated by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. Column inches devoted to this just about managed to push Coronavirus off some front pages this weekend.

In the same week, the Samaritans chose not to appoint their preferred candidate for the post of Chief Executive following the publication of reports of his reported bullying behaviour at the Alzheimer’s Society.

What are we to make of these events? What do they say to us about organisational culture, and is the church immune? The Methodist Church takes the possibility of bullying seriously with staff at Methodist Church House being required to attend a course about how best to spot and then address the issue.

It’s probably rare for any of us not to have had experience somewhere in our lives of feeling bullied at some level. It may have been a sharp word of criticism or a sustained pattern of being undermined or belittled. In some cases, perhaps at school, there was also the threat of or the actuality of physical violence. For some people whose church experience has included times when they have felt bullied, the shock and dismay is compounded by the fact that our gospel is one of love. ‘How can this happen?’ they rightly ask.

Online bullying is a new representation of this type of behaviour which has sadly been with us for generations.

Our safeguarding policy now makes explicit reference to bullying, which is often tied into the idea of spiritual abuse. It can be an abuse of power and authority in church life. Sometimes it can be necessary to assert authority, press firmly for changes, and demonstrate the proper application of the church’s discipline. But our skill and experience as safeguarders requires us to assess where a line may have been crossed.

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