I have always despised bullies. Ever since I was a young boy I could see them clearly; on the playground and in the hallways and on the street corners – the way they terrorized people while being themselves internally terrified.

Even as they brutalized the other kids with words and fists, I heard the shaking of their voices and noticed their quivering hands, and I knew how petrified they were. I almost pitied them. Almost.

I watched them prey upon those who were vulnerable or alone or different — not because these people posed any true threat to them, but because the violence provided a moment of escape from the voice in their heads that told them they were worthless and unloved and endangered. They could only find value if they had a space to own and impose their will on people within: a classroom, an alleyway, a neighborhood. They needed a domain to define themselves by.

Some of these grammar school bullies grew up. They eventually had words of love spoken into their ears or they tapped into their inherent humanity or they found a sense of worth outside of wounding other people. Some weren’t so lucky.

Many of the bullies have simply grown taller and older, but have stayed scared children — and instead of finding compassion for the world around them, they remain trapped in contempt for the vulnerable and the alone and the different. Only they are no longer satisfied with a classroom or an alleyway or a neighborhood to defend from the monsters in their heads — they need an entire country.

They’ve traded in their clenched fists for AR-15s, their hallway words for social media diatribes, their street corner gang of thugs for partisan news networks, their side street turf to southern borders, their petulant ringleader for a malignant President.

They are as emotionally stunted and grievously wounded as ever, only now they can damage people far more expeditiously from Senate seats and megachurch pulpits than they ever could in front of lockers or beneath bleachers. This country is being helmed by a staggeringly insecure man-child, and he is leading an angry procession of all the other similarly broken perpetual children, who need to hurt and exclude others the way normal people need oxygen — and this simply can’t be tolerated.

The adults left here need to call out the terrified caucasian terrorists everywhere they show themselves; to shine light into the dark places they thrive in; to answer their brazen white power hand signs with strident multi-colored middle fingers that let them know they don’t get to terrorize people any longer.

In our churches, in our local politics, at our workplaces, in our schools, on social media
in our neighborhoods, in our family gatherings — we need to speak loudly in opposition. America cannot be given over to the bullies or defined by their vitriol or governed by their bigotry. We can’t surrender ourselves to those who wield religion and legislation as weapons, against human beings whose sole offense to them is being Muslim or black or migrant or gay or transgender or female — and living in the neighborhood these people have decided they own.

They don’t. America will not be a bully neighborhood any longer.

John Pavlovitz

The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com

John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.