‘The worth of souls is great in the sight of God’

Fiona picking apples at a farm on Long Island, New York, 22 September 2012.
A child of God: Each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God with unlimited potential.

There is nothing quite like being a parent that heightens your awareness of what goes on in the world. You particularly notice the bad stuff that happens, and you personalize it, hoping that nothing like that ever happens to your child and wishing that there were something you could do to prevent it—to be 100% certain that your child will never experience a physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional wound. The fact that those people you hear about on the news were once children just like your own suddenly becomes more real to you. You remember that many of those whose stories of sorrow and sadness make it into news reports had parents just like you who cared deeply about their child’s welfare and worried about his/her future, just as you do for your own child, and that everyone—victim and perpetrator alike—came into this world an innocent baby with limitless potential.

Perhaps nothing arouses these senses so acutely as the endless tales in the news in recent years of bullying. October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying is an important topic for us to discuss in church not only because each of us in this room will be touched by bullying at some point in our lives—either personally or through someone we know—but because our actions and attitudes toward others are at the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In discussing how we will be affected by bullying in our lives, we can divide ourselves into three audiences: one, those who bully; two, those who are bullied; and three, those who know someone who bullies or is bullied.

Those who bully

I will speak first about those who bully. Most of us in this room are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We became members of this Church through baptism. When each of us was baptized, we entered into a covenant with God: we promised God that from that time forth we would act a certain way. When the prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon described this covenant or promise, he primarily spoke of it in terms of how we act toward others:

And … now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18:8–10)

During his mortal ministry, Jesus Christ himself simply and beautifully summarized this covenant in these instructions:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34–35)

As members of the Church who have entered into the baptismal covenant, we, too, are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore this commandment to “love one another” as the Savior loves us very much applies to each of us.

Many of us in this room also hold the priesthood. Think about the significance of that. What is the priesthood? It is the power and authority of God delegated to man to act in his name. It is the authority under which we were baptized and the power that makes families eternal. The Aaronic Priesthood, which many of the young men in our branch hold, was restored in 1829 through John the Baptist (see Doctrine and Covenants 13)—the same John who baptized Jesus Christ. The Melchizedek Priesthood, which I hold, which our branch president holds, which many of the men in our branch hold, and which is the authority by which our prophet today, President Thomas S. Monson, receives revelation and guides our Church, was restored a few weeks later by Peter, James, and John, the apostles the Savior called to lead his Church anciently. It is an amazing power.

The prophet in our dispensation through which the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were restored, Joseph Smith, gave instructions on using the priesthood—instructions which are applicable to each of us, priesthood holder or not, no matter the situation we find ourselves in:

Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile…. (Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–42)

The Prophet states “by sad experience.” The experience of the early members of this Church was one of continual persecution—lies, namecalling, discrimination, and, often, outright violence. In short, “persecution” is bullying on a massive scale. Joseph Smith and the early Latter-day Saints knew what it felt like to be bullied, and the Prophet was unequivocal in his instruction that such behavior had no place among Latter-day Saints or in how we treat others.

In short, we who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who hold the sacred priesthood of God, and who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ should never, ever engage in bullying or any behavior like it. Period.

Those who are bullied

Now I turn to those of us who may find ourselves on the receiving end of the bully’s abuses. When you say the word “bullying,” for many people the first image that comes to mind is of something that happens among young people, at school, or at the playground, or on the street. All of which is, unfortunately, part of the reality of bullying. But it is not and should not be a “normal” part of growing up, and it should not be dismissed as “just something kids do.” And it does not just occur among young people. It can occur at any age, and we may encounter it in any number of places, particularly the workplace.

To those of you of any age who suffer bullying or intimidation of any sort in any location, I know that words are insufficient to assuage the sorrow and heartbreak you feel. But please know this: you are not alone. One of the great blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is a fuller understanding of the true breadth of our Savior’s atoning sacrifice. We know that not only did he suffer for our sins, but he also has endured every pain and every affliction—physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional—that we will suffer in this life. As Isaiah wrote:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3–5; Mosiah 14:3–5)

I testify to you that our Savior knows your pain and that you can always rely on him. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, you, too, can be healed. Remember also that you have a church family to turn to for support. This is a family bound together by the baptismal covenants I described earlier, covenants which enshrine love and brotherly kindness (see 2 Peter 1:7; Doctrine and Covenants 4:6, 107:30) as the ruling principles of our lives as Church members.

So, what to do when confronted by a bully? First, remember that the bully is wrong: his or her actions are wrong, and what he or she may be saying to you or about you is wrong. You are a child of God, and as such you have limitless potential both in this life and eternally. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith we are reminded to “remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10).  That includes your soul, too. You are of inestimable worth to God and to others, even if those around you don’t acknowledge it. Your life has a purpose!

Second, confidently walk away and get a teacher, administrator, church leader, or other adult or authority figure and ask him or her to intervene. Most schools and other facilities you will find yourself in have strict rules against bullying. In fact, here in New York not only is bullying against school rules, it is against the law. Teachers and other authority figures have both a moral and legal obligation to act and to intervene if necessary.

If you are being bullied in the workplace, discuss the situation with your supervisor and firmly request a specific course of action. Certain types of bullying and harassment—particularly sexual harassment—in the workplace are not just wrong but also against the law. Bullying in the form of discrimination based on your “race, national origin, color, sex, age, disability, or religion” is a violation of federal civil rights law. Bullying or intimidation based on your weight or sexual orientation is also prohibited by New York state law. For your sake and for the company’s sake, your employer will want to immediately stop any bullying in the workplace. Look at your paycheck: after hours; overtime; health, retirement, and other benefits; Medicare and social security; and federal, state, and local income taxes, there is no place for bullying. Bullying, harassment, and discrimination should never be a part of your job. If your supervisor is the one doing the bullying, then go to his or her supervisor. If you are a member of a union, there is probably a union representative in your workplace who can help you access assistance and resources available to union members in responding to and ending bullying. If these methods of recourse fail you, turn to the appropriate regulatory agency in the local, state, or federal government and file a complaint. State and federal laws require that immediate action be taken if discrimination or sexual harassment is occurring.

Now, you may fear getting your bully in trouble. However, remember that bullies often have multiple victims. There are possibly others who are being bullied or harassed by this same person, so by protecting yourself you are likely protecting others.

Third, let me return to a scripture that I mentioned a few moments ago, the one about the worth of souls being great in the sight of God. The verses after that state:

For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.

And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.

And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth! (Doctrine and Covenants 18:11–13)

As I mentioned earlier, the Atonement of Jesus Christ can heal the pain and sorrow of those who are bullied. But here’s the remarkable thing: that same Atonement that is open to you is also available to those who bully you, on condition of their repentance. The worth of their souls is great in the sight of God, too. God’s love for you is infinite enough that it extends to them, too. They may be—and likely are—suffering from a broken home, mental or physical problems, or lack of self-confidence that you can’t see and they unfortunately are responding by bullying and intimidating others. The Lord instructs us:

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds. (Doctrine and Covenants 64:9–11)

The Savior set the example for us when on the cross he asked, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Do not allow yourself to remain your bully’s victim by harboring a grudge or other hard feelings. Do not allow your bully to have power over you to change you in such a way! Your healing will be complete when you forgive those who have bullied you.

Helping others

Warning signs that may indicate that a child is being bullied or is bullying others. hese are not complete lists, and not everyone who bullies or is bullied exhibits warning signs. But if you suspect someone is being bullied, try to help.
Warning signs that may indicate that a child is being bullied or is bullying others. These are not complete lists, and not everyone who bullies or is bullied exhibits warning signs. But if you suspect someone is being bullied, try to help.

All of us know someone who is being, or has been, or will be bullied. We may also know someone who bullies. Be aware that many bullying victims suffer in silence, unwilling to speak of their suffering even to parents, close friends, or others. Because of this, it’s important to look out for signs that a child, classmate, or colleague is being bullied, harassed, intimidated, or discriminated against. Lists of signs to look for in both the bullied and those who bully is to the right. These are not complete lists, and not everyone who bullies or is bullied exhibits warning signs. But if you suspect someone is being bullied, try to help.

How do you help? If you are in school and you see someone being bullied, go get a teacher or other adult immediately and ask him or her to intervene. If you are able, you can help someone being bullied to get away, but do not fight the bully yourself, physically or verbally. If you fight, you risk getting injured yourself or getting in trouble. Do not give a bully an audience—don’t stand staring, laughing, or supporting such behavior. Set an example yourself. It can be hard, especially if you’re the only one doing it. But standing up against bullying needs to start somewhere, and it might as well start with you.

Adults, how can you help? If you see a child or a colleague or loved one who is being bullied, there are a number of things you can do to help.

  • You can listen. Give advice as appropriate, but remember that sometimes people just need someone to listen and care, not to respond or give advice.
  • Assure them that the bullying is not their fault. Do not blame the victim for being bullied. Even if he or she somehow provoked the bullying, no one deserves to be bullied.
  • Do not tell a child to physically fight back against the kid who is bullying. It could get the child hurt, suspended, or expelled.
  • Parents should resist the urge to contact the other parents involved. It may make matters worse. School or other officials can act as mediators between parents.

Also be aware of the need to support bystanders who witness bullying behavior. The government reports that even youth who merely witness bullying—but do not engage in it themselves and are not victims—can suffer consequences, including missing or skipping school; increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs; and increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

There is a lot more guidance out there beyond what I’ve noted. I would encourage you to take a look at the website of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center at pacer.org/bullying. (The PACER Center is an organization that supports children with disabilities.) I would also encourage you to look at stopbullying.gov, produced by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and where I got a lot of the advice I’ve mentioned here.

In the end, what both bullies and the bullied need is to more fully feel God’s love for them. And with that I turn to the words of Mormon, recorded by his son Moroni in the closing chapters of the Book of Mormon. These words echo those of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians in the Eastern Hemisphere:

… charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. (Moroni 7:45–48)

I testify that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God made in his image. He loves us each unconditionally and infinitely, so much so that he sent his Only Begotten Son to live and die for each of us (see John 3:16). None of us is beyond the reach of his love.

But the primary way we will feel His love is through others. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are commanded to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and to “[l]et [our] light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) We are commanded to share his love throughout the world.

During the Savior’s mortal ministry, his disciples were asked why he associated with sinners. Christ responded, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12 [9:10–13]; see also Mark 2:14–17, Luke 5:27–32). While all are in need of our Father in Heaven’s love, there are those among us who are the sick of whom the Savior spoke, who are in particular need of his love and our love. I invite us all to reach out to them and to stand on the front lines in the battle against bullying. All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and kindness—as the children of God that they are—and we who are Christ’s disciples should lead the way.

This is based upon the text I prepared for a talk I gave in the sacrament meeting of the Bushwick 1st Branch on 28 October 2012. That was the weekend before Hurricane Sandy hit. A member of the stake high council—whose name I will allow to be lost to the annals of history—was also supposed to speak that day. However, he ended up canceling at the last minute, so we needed to fill up the time in sacrament meeting. The branch presidency asked me to invite a few people to speak, and we ended up filling up the time better than we had expected, which left me with only about 5 minutes to give a much-abridged version of this talk.

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