Theresa Edwards‘ daughter just finished fourth grade and she learned an important lesson this year: Be careful when coming out as an atheist.
She told a close friend of hers that her family didn’t believe in God… and things took a dark turn after that. (It doesn’t help that they all live in Texas.)
First, the girl stopped talking to her. Then she wouldn’t leave her alone, and her taunts escalated. It came to a head that day before soccer practice when my daughter was unceremoniously outed to her entire class when the teacher stepped out. Now everyone knew what my daughter disclosed only cautiously to trusted friends. Even the cute boy with the accent.
What bothered my daughter the most was how trust could be weaponized. How could someone you like promise to keep a secret and then tell everyone? She was having nightmares about being burned alive. She just wanted to be left alone.
There were options available for the daughter. She could talk to her teacher. Her parents could get involved. But she wanted to take care of the matter herself as much as she could, so they all tried a different approach. If this bully put so much emphasis on the Bible, why not use the Bible to fix the problem?
My daughter knew that being atheist didn’t make her bad. But maybe this little girl genuinely didn’t. I found the verse I was looking for and read it to my daughter: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Instead of “resisting” her bully, maybe it was time to welcome her in. The next time my daughter’s bully caught up with her on the twirly-slide, the plan was to hear her out, ask her to stop and then invite her to play.
You can read how that turned out right here.
What gets to me is how this situation isn’t unusual for a lot of atheist parents. We have to talk to our children about how to deal with religious bullies. Those other kids may not understand how anyone could live without God — or maybe they think the atheists need to be harassed into belief (i.e. “saved”) — and that makes those interactions really difficult. After all, how could anyone be friends with someone they believe is inherently immoral or destined for Hell? If your children are outspoken, or you live in a conservative area, the situation may be even worse.
Edwards and her daughter handled their situation really well. But these encounters don’t always end the same way, and you can’t always count on the school stepping in to prevent faith-based bullying.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)