Last week I posted an article called: My Wrestle with the Modern Church This article was extremely hard for me to post as I was very unsure how it would be recieved. What I didn’t expect was how much it resonated with you. Many of you expressed thanks to me for articulating what you have been feeling for a while and offered great advice, encouragement and support. Thank you for this.
However, I was also inundated with story after story of trauma and hurt. I have been deeply saddened at the grief people have faced at the hands of the Church and Church leaders and it is devastating to know that many of you have been so badly treated.
I believe that you can tell a good leader by the way that those who follow him/her are flourishing and I keep hearing Brene Browns’ quote echoing in my head regarding the Church: ‘If we are not a place of healing we are a place of hurting’. The Church is meant to be a place of safety, equality, acceptance, love, inclusion and healing. It should be a place to flourish and grow. It should be a place of peace, gentleness and goodness.
I believe that everyone of us is capable of abuse and that it is not always premeditated. Sometimes we abuse others because of pain that we carry ourselves, because of immaturity, and because of the need for control. Sometimes people get walked over, ignored or crushed because leaders are ‘just trying to get the job done’, or they themselves are not healthy and are burning people because they are exhausted and time poor. It is no excuse.
Abuse is any behaviour or action that is used to scare, harm, threaten, control or intimidate another person. It can come in different forms; physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, or spiritual.
From the stories that you have shared to me personally, on Word Press and on Face Book, I would suggest that many of you have suffered abuse at the hands of spiritual leaders. We all hate the word abuse and usually recoil from it. We don’t like to talk about it. It is reserved for especially evil people. Yet are all capable of abuse and in its most common form we use it to control people. I include myself because I know that I have crossed boundaries at times in my own relationships.
Spiritual Abuse is when spiritual leaders cross the boundary from care and nurturing to control, neglect and rejection.
“Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.”
“Spiritual abuse can occur when a leader uses his or her spiritual position to control or dominate another person. It often involves overriding the feelings and opinions of another, without regard to what will result in the other person’s state of living, emotions or spiritual well-being” (Johnson).
Spiritual abuse is more common that you think. It is often subtle and it is conflicting because you are invested in your church and in your pastor and you don’t want to seem disloyal or to be going against the direction of the church. This can often be confused with going against the will of God.
You can find more information about the signs of spiritual abuse in an article I’ve written called “What is Spiritual Abuse?”.
Spiritual abuse is often very difficult to pick because it comes from someone that you are asked to trust, that the community trusts and that society trusts. This is difficult because group trust desensitises your alarm systems. It is also wrapped up in theology and your vision of who God is. This abuse is harder to see coming and when it does it takes you out. Trust is at the core of every relationship and very difficult to get back once broken.
Obviously not all church leaders are like this. Most are kind, loving and good people who mean well.
If you have been wounded please remember: Jesus does not wound. He himself was wounded for us, it is through the wounds that he received that we find healing. I speak more of this in an article called: Critically Wounded Trust Broken
Jesus loves: builds up, carrys’, holds, comforts, cares for, is compassionate toward, is gentle, is kind. If a spiritual leader has treated you thoughtlessly, unkindly, harshly, demeaningly, unjustly, if they have rejected, betrayed or sabotaged you then these are not the characteristics of Christ and these could be the signs of spiritual abuse. It could also be a sign of immature leadership and many Church leaders would be horrified so if this is happening to you or someone that you love please tell someone about it.
What do I do?
- No one has to put up with abuse, character assassinations, control or manipulation.
- Speak out to someone who is trustworthy. Telling your story is a powerful step to healing.
- Understand the impact of the injuries on your life – if you find this difficult make time to speak to a professional who can help illuminate and bring understanding to what has happened to you. Many of you expressed that you are receiving professional help and this is fantastic.
- Forgiveness is necessary for healing.
- Trust is not mandatory. Trust is earned and given and can be taken away at any time.
- ‘Philosophers such as Annette Baier have made a difference between trust and reliance by saying that trust can be betrayed, whilst reliance can only be disappointed (Baier 1986, 235).
- Carolyn McLeod explains Baier’s argument by giving the following examples: “we can rely on our clock to give the time, but we do not feel betrayed when it breaks, thus, we cannot say that we trusted it; we are not trusting when we are suspicious of the other person, because this is in fact an expression of distrust” (McLeod 2006). Thus, trust is different from reliance in the sense that a truster accepts the risk of being betrayed’ (Wiki).
- Trust can be restored depending on the circumstances.
- ‘Picture trust as a bridge that has been damaged or destroyed. The resulting gap is great and the challenges ahead are difficult, but not insurmountable. There are no shortcuts, however. It simply takes time. Time to heal. Time to earn again the trust that was lost. Time to rebuild the bridge’ (K. Bubna).
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