Spiritual Abuse

This Week, In One Article

Hey everyone, can we have a family meeting?

It’s been a really rough week, and it’s only Thursday.  I’m full of rage.  If I were still a church-going gal, I’d call it a righteous rage, but since I’m not, I’m going with “channeling my anger.”  I have some things I’d like to talk about.

TAMPONS

Yeah, I’m going to talk about menstrual blood, y’all.  I think you should read this.  ESPECIALLY if you are male identifying.  Those who have vaginas generally bleed every cycle for 3-7 days.  We need a certain amount of pads/tampons/liners to remain sanitary, clean, comfortable.

Over the years, I’ve become aware that people who are underhoused or who live outside often go without because people do not donate these items to banks.  I’ve done several successful drives to raise these items for those who bleed.

It has come to my attention that within the prison system hygiene products are NOT freely given to those who need them in several states, most notably in Arizona where inmates are only given 12 products to start and up to 24 more, causing inmates to cut them, or use them far beyond the safe time potentially leading to infections and toxic shock syndrome.  If they need more than the 36 free products, they must purchase them.

When we think of the less than… the “undesirables” in our populations, the people we “look away from”, when it comes to women, it’s homeless, and the incarcerated.  We have to take care of those who bleed.  This is a natural function, and dignity is a basic human right, whether people live outside, or on the “inside.”  We have to do better.

FOOD BOXES 

45 has a new found passion for moving SNAP to food boxes to save money. (And reduce the ALARMING 1.5% fraud rate.)  This would move the ability to pay for groceries from a debit card system to pre-made boxes.  I didn’t know this before, but Indian reservations (the original owners of the land we usurped and then we shoved them onto small parcels after some wicked genocide, while we were illegal immigrants, but that’s something we can ignore forever) already employ food boxes.

Food boxes take choices away from families and force them to eat exactly what the government decides is proper (shelf stable and processed/canned foods.)  Choice = dignity.  There is also an idea that the poor are ducktale-style swimming in gold coins and eating lobster tails on the government dime while we sit over here living it up in our luxuries, like HEAT, FOOD, and TAMPONS.

This is also coming from people who look down their noses as the “poor” purchase food that the rich don’t feel they should.  “How dare people in section 8 purchase a Snickers bar? THE OUTRAGE! When they swiped their SNAP Card, I SAW THEIR MANICURED HANDS!!!  ZOMG.”

As someone who grew up in poverty, I’d like to address several points.
1.  Once in a while, we needed to feel like we were human.  We already dealt with feeling “less than” in so many sectors.  To be able to provide your kids with a treat now and again helps them to feel like (for once) they are “just a kid” like all the others.
2.  adults work jobs.  They need to feel that they are presentable.  This may include a manicure.  They may have scrimped and saved for that.  They MAY NOT HAVE.  They may have done that for their own ever-loving self-care.  They may work three jobs and this is the one thing that makes them feel human when they go home and burn their furniture to stay warm.  (Taken from an actual experience.)
3.  Food Boxes will reduce access to fresh produce. There’s not much more I need to say on this topic. By not giving families access to money to purchase goods at their local markets, they will be unable to purchase fresh goods. It’s not rocket science.

Guys.  No.

FLORIDA (ET ALL)

Florida. I burst into tears today. Guns need to go. Like every other civilized country who doesn’t have mass shootings. I watched a video with children sitting on the ground of their classroom SCREAMING as shots rang out from a gun that was so loud it hurt MY ears across the country. WHEN WILL ENOUGH BE ENOUGH? WHEN WILL CHILDREN BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN GUNS?? We need to talk about this. They just need to go. I have a kid in school and I’ll be damned if he dies because some kid who was expelled has access to his parent’s AK-15. Nobody needs an AK-15. This isn’t the time to politicize this? Yes. Yes it is. Because there is a mass shooting almost every day. There isn’t a day NOT to politicize this, BECAUSE THERE AREN’T ENOUGH DAYS.

PASTORS HARBORING ABUSERS

Churches need to stop shielding abusers. I don’t have much more to say to that. I let fly on a long post about that yesterday. I’d love for you to read it. I’m angry that there are some pastors that seem to have a problem with this idea. 

This is my typical platform, and I will get back to #churchtoo, and #metoo on my next blogs.  Stay tuned.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT- #METOO

Women are not to be harassed if they do not respond how you wish.

They are not marrying material, and if you think they are, and you don’t know them, aren’t in a relationship with them, and don’t have a ring, bringing that up (especially in a catcalling way is outrageous and offensive).  Yelling “Marry me!” and then being offended when we are less than impressed… and yelling “C*UNT” at us, escalates the situations really really quickly to a safety issue.

If you do not like the way she’s getting her chips out of the vending machine, keep it to your damn self. You think she’s being aggressive getting those chips? Maybe give her a wide berth and avoid eye contact. This is NOT THE TIME TO POINT THIS OUT.

SHUT YOUR MOUTHS MEN. WE DO NOT NEED YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT HOW WE BEHAVE.

also: Do NOT put woman in a situation where she does not have an immediate way out. This causes us extreme anxiety.

Do not circle us with all your dudebros.

Do not block us from exits.

Do not push us against walls.

DON’T BE A DOUCHECANOE.

GENDER IS FLUID AND SO ARE COLORS!

BLUE IS FOR GIRLS AND PINK IS FOR BOYS. FUCK IT, ALL COLORS FOR ALL GENDERS EVERYWHERE ON THE SPECTRUM, YOU GET A COLOR, YOU GET A COLOR, EVERY.BODY.GETS.A.COLOR!

 

Abuse, church, I kissed dating goodbye, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Spiritual Abuse

Balderdash Indeed.

Recently I’ve been drawn to the topic of #churchtoo.  The prolific outpouring of #metoo stories that are coming from survivors that have either been abused by members or staff of churches OR have disclosed their abuse to staff at the church and have been ignored, shunned, shamed, dismissed, or “dealt with in “biblical ways” (small nods of penance/prayer etc.)  I am a survivor, so #metoo & #churchtoo applies to my story directly, leading to my passion on this topic, as well as my strong empathy for the outpouring of the stories from these strong women.

I blogged EXTENSIVELY about the story of Jules, a young lady from Texas who was sexually assaulted by her youth pastor forcing her to have oral sex with him on a dirt road.  She then disclosed her rape, later on, the pastor was only dismissed from the church in an internal justice thing, as she was asked to keep this quiet (despite the fact that a crime had been committed).  The pastor then, later on, was hired by another church in Tennessee.  Jules then shared her story publically, and the pastor was forced to share in front of his congregation what he had done.  Instead of the shock and awe, he should have faced for the criminal act he had done, the man received a standing ovation.  After the public backlash, the pastor went on leave.  Remember this was a CRIME he got away with, that was covered up by the church.  For a long post on this, please refer to this post.

This is just one example of the #churchtoo stories that are coming to light.  Women are starting to become emboldened to speak their truth, in a patriarchal system that previously silenced them.

Now, before #churchtoo, there was #metoo.  We had permutations that came from that and one of them was #yesallmen.  #Yesallmen brought about huge backlash from the XY community, who knee-jerked into the “but wait, I’m not all men!  I am not a rapist, I don’t sexually assault women!  I don’t do these things!”  However, ALL MEN have been involved at one point in the catcalling, in the group that has made fun of a woman, etc.  All men have been bystanders while something has been said or done to a woman. So #yesallmen.  But before we get too hopped up on that broad term, let’s get a bit more specific.

I recently signed up for Twitter.  I’ve been dreading the form of social media for some reason, I didn’t really find myself connected to it, but I did come across an amazing woman who tweets fantastic content.  Amazingly, she linked a blog from Pastor Russ at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church in Missouri, I’d thrilled to dialogue with him in person, because I’m about to break-down his entire post piece by piece and would be happy to put a face to his words. My hopes are he is woefully misguided and just had a moment of feeling wounded.  “But my church isn’t like that, please don’t write us all off” perhaps is where he was coming from.  I don’t know.  I’d be happy to have a Skype conversation.  You know how to reach me.)

You can read their entire post in sequence here. (Assuming he doesn’t have the proper sense to take it down.  (Though I’ve saved it in a cache and a word doc for posterity.)

I will be writing his words in quote boxes and mine below for the rest of this post.

Maybe you’ve read the articles. The world accuses the Church of fostering a culture of sexual abuse.

Balderdash.

Millions of Christians worldwide daily pursue justice and mercy, goodness and truth, and love for neighbor within their marriages, in their parenting, at work, in church, in their neighborhoods, and in charities and social organizations, quietly modeling the character of Christ day in and day out. Their conduct never makes the news. Christ-like behavior is not nearly as sexy as one Christian whose conduct denies his profession of faith. Scandal sells.

  1.  The world-  This is church-speak for “christians vs. non christians.”  We outside of the church proper are the world, for reference.  He is taking a perspective that this is a church v. non-religious stance, rather than the sexual abusers (and those who empower/harbor/excuse them) vs those who want to make sure they are… not doing that.
  2. Millions pursue justice and mercy etc etc etc.  Sure.  Yes.  Millions of people don’t do the wrong thing. Bravo. It’s kind of like when you serve a sandwich that doesn’t have a hair in it.  That’s kind of the minimum of the sandwich artist, right?  To serve a sandwich without a remnant of the server in it?  I’m not going to cheer that my sandwich did not have a curly purple hair in it.
  3. Scandal sells.  Now at this moment, he jumps the shark. I wasn’t angry about what he said before this very moment.  I was annoyed, maybe?  I was like “yeah, I remember this gaslighting message from before, the smooth-talking “world v. us” mentality” but, Scandal sells?  Seriously?  That’s where you want to go with this?    Survivors are not a story to be monetized.  Scandal sells?  We are talking about sexual abuse, rape etc.  This is a crime in which women (and men) have DEEP DEEP shame.  This is a story that often never gets told because of that shame.  The #Metoo movement has finally brought women to the point where they feel that there are enough survivors out there that there is a safety net of numbers so they feel that they can safely be heard and supported, or they would still be in the shadows.  There is nothing to be gained by stepping out and sharing a story about their rape, their victimization, ESPECIALLY if it happened in the very communities that they share a deep connection like their faith, their friends, their pastors, their religion.

Every day faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of abuse, cooperating with law enforcement, caring for victims, and pursuing justice and accountability, quietly and faithfully. But that’s not newsworthy. Scandal scintillates.

  1. Here, let me fix that for you: “Faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of CRIME, sweeping things under the run, shaming victims (like I’m doing in this post,) hiring would be felons, having no accountability, keeping things quiet (I totally agree with that one, buddy).  And that is newsworthy because that’s what we have been doing for so long and it’s finally coming out, and we are all nervous. Scandal scintillates.  And I’m scared that it might come out about my church, too.”
    Whew, much better.  See how that flows?
  2. Broad swaths of churches are not handling abuse, and the large amounts of disclosures that are happening from victims well.*

For two thousand years the Church of Jesus Christ has inculcated the virtue of self-control (Titus 2:11-12), the importance of love for neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40), and the necessity that men treat women as sisters in Christ (1 Timothy 5:1-2). The Church has been teaching men and women to conduct themselves with sexual integrity since the days of Moses. But that’s just a killjoy. Scandal is so much more intriguing than obedience.

  1. Self control- YES. See, that’s what could keep you from getting in this mess.  The church slut-shame girls and women by telling them how to act, dress, and to keep themselves all prim and proper (Hi, one-piece suits for girls but topless boys,  double standard! I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl, I’m looking at you too!), rather than teaching men to keep it in their pants,  control their minds, and not martially rape their wives.
    When we are taught to be submissive, not to be valued; when we are trained, like dogs; when the biggest value we have is hospitality, to be a mother, and a wife, not a member of society, to go to college,  to get an amazing job, to contribute passionately to the world, not our minds, wit, and spirit…
  2. This sexual integrity you speak of is totally not of this church world.  When the church teaches about sexual integrity in the terms of passing around a rose and by the time it gets to the end of the youth group is all smudged and broken and we are told that is what we are when we give part of our heart/spirit away like we are objects… or a piece of paper that gets ripped in half each time we like a boy until there is just this tiiiiiiny piece for the person we marry… see how we are objectified?  This is what the church teaches.  Mind you also, this is ALWAYS DIRECTED TO THE GIRLS.  We are fine china and any chip in the china and we are damaged goods.  Wonder why we don’t disclose abuse and rape? When all of that is shattered when our “purity” is taken from us, and we are disempowered by the very church that tells us it’s ultimate value, that is the power the church has.
  3. “Mansplaining” what it’s like to be in a survivor’s shoes, by this point in your blog is getting offensive.  You’ve started to lace in sexual purity and self-control to the narrative as if the #metoo or #churchtoo movement has to do with a lack of self-control.  RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE IS NOT ABOUT SELF CONTROL ON THE PART OF THE SURVIVOR.  IT IS ON THE PART OF THE AGGRESSOR/ABUSER.

The world expects, nay, it demands, that the Church share its outrage against sexual sin, which is the sin de jour. If a church instead chooses simply to live in fidelity to the truth and in sexual integrity, rather than to make showy, toothless, public proclamations, then that church is—according to the world—complicit. Phrases like “silence is consent” bandy about as the world shames the Church. But if the Church does rebuke sin, and if that sin is not the sin de jour—or if it is a sin that society refuses to call sin—then the world denounces the Church as hateful or racist or misogynistic or any number of other derogatory labels of contempt.

  1. Violence.pngRAPE IS NOT SEXUAL SIN ALONE.  RAPE IS A CRIME. RAPE IS A FELONY IN MOST, IF NOT ALL, STATES.  IT IS NOT THE “SIN DE JOUR”.  IT IS THE “CRIME DE OMG WHY HAS THIS NOT BEEN ON THE FOREFRONT OF ALL CHURCHES ALWAYS WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THE TIME AND WHY AM I EVEN HAVING TO SPELL THIS OUT FOR YOU?”
  2. Are you really saying that the world would have an issue with you going “the church will have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual abuse, assault and rape?”  Is this really even something I’m saying?
  3. We ARE shaming the church.  When the church has unprecedented access to vulnerable populations (children, homeless, women, survivors, etc), you ARE held to a high standard of behavior.  There is story after story coming out of staff who are known predators who were hired with known criminal records.  This is UNACCEPTABLE.  This point cannot be argued.

And now you go into your affirmations.  I recall these.  In the church we used to say stuff and just because we said it, it made it true.  We had a gal who had cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition, where the pastor told her that she still had it because of unconfessed sin, but that’s for another time), we spoke it out that she no longer had CF and waited for Jesus to heal her, because anything claimed in his name became true.  She died before she turned 30.  But let’s go into this pastor’s affirmations.  These might go over better.

I affirm that individual professing Christians have been guilty of sin and abuse. I reject the idea that an entire institution is guilty for the sin of an individual.

Onboard.

I affirm that individual churches have mishandled abuse cases, and in so doing have wounded the abused. I reject the idea that every church stands guilty for the sin of one church.

Abuse was an actual CRIME, but okay.

I affirm that entire denominations have failed to speak or have actively covered up sexual sin. I reject the notion that every denomination is thus a nursery for abuse.

When there are posts like this pastor’s, shunning the speaking up of victims of abuse (you can bet that no one from his flock will because HOLY SHIT, #nothischurch), and being in a system that is male-dominated, and where victims often are told that the abuse will be handled internally, rather than to be encouraged to speak to police, the Church (Big C, meaning any/all) will not be a safe place to disclose abuse.  But don’t just take my word for it.

I affirm that the Church must balance justice and mercy, giving appropriate weight to each when dealing with sin and abuse. I reject the intimation that world knows best how the Church should deal with sin.

There is a whole justice system set up to deal with crimes.  Which is what we are talking about here.  If the church wants to help out with the spiritual side of an abuser, carry on, warriors, but justice and criminal repercussions are handled in the courts.

The world understands neither justice nor mercy, and it certainly knows nothing of how justice and mercy meet in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

Eyeroll.  Just no.

I reject the hubris of the world in presuming to tell the Church what it should or should not do and say.

Here, let me help you out.

  1.  We the church will not hire, abet, encourage, employ or affirm abusers.
  2.  We firmly stand with, affirm, believe, encourage and stand up for the victims of sexual assault, abuse, and rape.
  3. We will IMMEDIATELY contact law enforcement if we become aware of any information that breaks ANY laws regarding sexual crimes involving children.  We will immediately encourage any women to report sexually based crimes to law enforcement.  We will support them FULLY through that process.
  4. We believe in the autonomy of both women and men, and the absolute value of both sexes.

It’s really that simple.  IT’S.NOT. THAT. HARD.

The Church of Jesus Christ—with all her warts, flaws, sins, shortcomings, baggage, failings, and weaknesses—is still the beautiful Bride of Christ whom He will deliver blameless on the last day. The Church still binds and looses, opening and shutting the Kingdom of God through her preaching of Good News. To the Church Jesus has given the oracles and ordinances for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. With the Church He is battering down the gates of hell.

The world is in no position to bad talk the Bride of Christ.

In fact, the world might find that the Church’s husband has been keeping score, and He is jealous for His Bride.

Is that… a threat? Keeping Score?  If I’m keeping score on the bride of christ, you have a chance to do better.

I’m available via skype, OP.  I’d love a dialogue.  I’m a survivor, of a rape that happened IN my church.

The church has an opportunity to call survivors in by acknowledgment of organizational failures (if not singular church failure), rather than call the world out for pointing the finger at the clergy at Large for harboring.

HOW WILL YOU USE IT? 

TRY AGAIN, PASTOR RUSS.

 

* I’m adding this edit: I realize that this pastor is one of the first to come out and attempt a dialogue.  This is hard work.  It’s hard to be male and attempt a dialogue about sexual assault, being that the voices that should be out there should be the victims.  Victims need to be the ones talking, but it takes a lot of emotional labor to be always educating on this issue.

I spent a lot of time on this article, and I also spoke with many people as I wrote it, including quite a few who are in the church themselves to ground my anger with the faith-based responses to the #churchtoo movement.  I do understand that likely this pastor is working to try to understand how the church can meet people where they are.  I imagine there are people in his church that have experienced rape, and I hope that he can find a way to hear their stories without judgment.  Victims deserve to have their perpetrators face justice within the justice system and to have support systems in place to encourage them to speak to authorities if they so choose.

Rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse is not only a sin, it is a crime.  Pastoral staff need to take a stand against this crime and stand with women who are starting to be able to find their voices and boldly step into the light.

 

 

Religious Trauma Syndrome, Spiritual Abuse

Trauma Bonding- The Church and the People

When one unpacks RTS, abuse is central to the conversation.  Spiritual trauma is insipid because the abuse involves so many facets of the person.  Let’s start a conversation about the aspects of abuse that the church is a part of.

  1. Psychological Abuse– Church leaders depend on dependence.  By letting people know how little they matter (we are born in sin and need a man to save us over and over all day long) we become reliant on hearing how we can somehow be saved.  Spoiler alert: churches depend on us being broken and being aware of it.

    Coming from the framework of a youth, we also became dependant on our youth leaders to tell us how to behave and think.  Our pastor was the mouth of god, and though he was the age I am now, he was considered the end all and be all of what was acceptable for us.

    Most leaders of the Evangelical church are male (and white, let’s be honest).  They tend to also be narcissistic, and power hungry.  They lead droves of “broken” people, being the voice of god.  As the leaders of the church, they also often go unchecked.

    I would be remiss if I did not bring up mental illness in this section.  Mental illness is so poorly dealt with within the church, it is shocking.  Depression is considered the work of the devil.  I recall people saying that those who were depressed had “a spirit of xyz” that was affecting them.  Taking anti-depressants or other mental health supports were frowned upon at best, mocked and shunned at worst.  I was suicidal throughout much of my church-going days, and I was told that I had a “spirit of death.”  I was surrounded by church leaders who would scream at me in tongues and lay hands on me to deliver me from this evil.

    “Counseling” often came in the form of deliverance meetings where the leadership would pray over the affected person to the point where they might have a panic attack (seen as the devil coming out of them) and an emotional break.  This was seen as positive progress and the person was sent on their way.  That person was then expected to be healed, which frequently meant that the person would just hide their struggles from others.

  2. Emotional Abuse- I categorize this in another section from psychological abuse for several reasons.

    First, services are constructed to create an emotional experience (and in some cases, an emotional frenzy) for the participant.  As the church-goer becomes more reliant on the cortisol of the high-stress build up, and dopamine release,  they become addicted to the framework of church.

    Second, parishioners are often given trite explanations for their ailments.  To solve the largest or smallest of problems the formula almost always involved:
    – Reading your Bible more
    – Praying more
    – Attend church more
    – Speaking about unconfessed sin
    Having these simple answer to the world’s complex problems causes feelings of hopelessness and feelings of inadequacy. We become dependant on the church to “fix” us, but we are going through the washing machine of brokenness over and over.

    In addition, putting the onus on the church-goer to put in enough “god-credit” to cause ‘him’ to change your life situation places undue stress and responsibility on that person.

  3. Spiritual Abuse- Church leaders pick and choose what information is dispensed to the church.  Often, the only information about god that is heard is from the mouths of the clergy.

    Putting aside the idea that people should do their own research, often the vulnerable populations attend church.  The young, the old, the marginalized, these amazing people are hearing what is being shared and taking it as truth.  For example, one youth in my church was sent to reparative therapy for being gay.  This “therapy” is incredibly dangerous and outrageous, to say the least.  To tell a vulnerable youth that they are not good enough because of who they love is appalling.  To do so using god as an excuse is abhorrent.

    Church leaders often told us that if we were to be able to do something (lead a group, step up in ministry, etc) god would tell them. (As if god would only speak to them.) This sets a precedent that god only speaks to certain people, and only some are worthy.

    Hinn leads a “healing ministry” where people come to mega-arenas with the hopes of being healed from a multitude of illnesses.  People come up on stage, and “fall under the power of god” as Benny shoots god-bolts through the air at them.  Do I believe that some of these people actually feel this happening?  Yes.  I really do.  The power of suggestion and reinforcement coupled with hope creates a huge experience in the mind of the participant.  What happens when they go home and their ailment is still there?

  4. Social Abuse- By social status and capital, people in the church gain, lose or maintain power.  These power structures are well defined and it’s quite difficult to break the glass ceiling.  Men are (biblically) over women, setting up a framework that will carry through to marriage relationships.  Women are to be submissive to their husbands, which carries through major decisions all the way to sexual activity in the home. Women are (more often than not) disallowed from most positions in leadership outside of music and children’s ministry.  Their voices, thus, are worthless.

    Finally, in this category are “prayer requests.”  Within the church, “would you pray for so-and-so, they are struggling with xyz” is a way to spread gossip in a holy way.  In this way, people can share what they know, under the guise of spirituality.  By manipulating disclosure, people don’t know who to trust within the system, and the leadership are often the biggest offenders.  Prayer cards were a living document where families would air their dirty laundry… not knowing how widespread the viewing of their cards were.

  5. Financial Abuse- This is a topic not brought up enough.  The church runs because of the biblical stance of tithes.  The premise is that the first 10% of your earnings go to the church.  This alone isn’t something I have qualms with*.  However, I do have issues with the way that the church asks for money.
    * Assuming you are fiscally sound, solvent, and are ABLE to do so.  Many who give this amount are already living in poverty and should be RECEIVING support, rather than giving more up.

    I’m sure we’ve all be exposed in some way to manipulative ministries.  Some ministries that could fall into this category would be the TV Evangelists (such as Pat Robertson from the 700 Club or Benny Hinn). These people THRIVE on the emotions of others.  These shows also inherently prey on the people who are vulnerable (the isolated, disabled, and the elderly) since they are on during the middle of the night and early morning.

    Robertson is known for being a particularly conservative person (and proponent of abusing your wife if they aren’t behaving. But that’s for another day.)  Not only does this hit every offensive button in my body, but he uses his show to raise money for crusades.  He will come up with random things that god has led him to pray about, preying on the people to send him money to be on his prayer list.

    I recall our summer revival services, where we would have traveling pastors come and lead tent meetings.  These were large events, where we were packed into hot churches, and whipped into a frenzy by these powerful messages of healing, revival and renewal.  The bucket would get passed, and the expectation was that everyone would contribute to pay for these pastors to come speak.

    Need after need was brought to the church, and often well-meaning people would give and give, as they were told “god would provide and bless you ten-fold” the more they gave.  Fiscal responsibility was not a topic brought to the table.  So, is it surprising when pastors embezzle money, steal it from the church, ride around in proportionally fancier cars than their parishioners?

Why do people stay in abusive churches? It’s often because of something called “trauma bonding,” where you become addicted to the hormonal rollercoaster an abuser sends you on.

Abusive churches use gaslighting, and “lovebombs” to get you hooked on the message, the people, and the building.  It FEELS great to be a part of something big, something godly, and seemingly loving.   Over time, as the attendee gets more involved, they become more exposed to the darker sides and abuse, but the dopamine release during emotional releases (like passionate worship sessions, fervant prayer times, and touching messages) helps sweep those moments under the rug (and in some cases they may not even see the abuse for what it is.)  Victim blaming keeps the church-goer dependant on the cure (the church), with the hopes that if they give/do/serve enough, they too can obtain spiritual enlightenment.

The denial within the evangelical community about the widespread abuses of power must be addressed.  Abuse is happening.  Power and Control is central the church community, and it must change.

 

church, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Sexual Assault, Spiritual Abuse

#ChurchToo

When pastors can get up in front of their congregation and get a standing ovation for admitting that they sexually assaulted a minor, we are CLEARLY missing the mark.

This month, Tennessee Pastor Andy Savage spoke to his church admitting to a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old girl. This “incident”  involved pressuring this girl to perform oral sex on him. For the rest of this post, I will refer to this “incident” as sexual assault, as that is the correct term.

Previously mentioned in past posts, I find the vast access of clergy to be very problematic in the incidents of sexual assaults because of the implicit trust placed in their hands.

Christianity Today’s Editor, Kately Beaty hits the nail on the head with this response: 

“In these cases, you have a very vertical understanding of forgiveness, something that happens between the perpetrator and God. But we lack a horizontal understanding. There really has to be a reckoning with the wrong done to this woman.”

Let’s call a spade a spade.  Using your spiritual and male privilege to convince a youth to perform oral sex on you, is sexual assault.  It’s not an “incident.”  Until we are able to be direct and blunt about responsibility (the onus is on the person in power of the sexual situation) we will not be able to move forward as a culture, a church, and a movement.

There must be frameworks and expectations put in place, and followed up with by outside agencies when it comes to crimes on church property, or with the clergy.

Churches have an obligation to be a safe haven for people to go.  A place for them to be safe, and to make sure that they are taken care of.  As a young person, this church failed me.

Subsequently to the #metoo movement, I’ve found the #churchtoo hashtag.  This is a bold statement of women and girls to say that the church has been abusive by either being the abuser or enabling abuse to occur on the property or at sponsored events.

Just recently, I asked to meet with my former youth pastor.  I disclosed to him in the early 2000’s about my rape on church property during a youth group night event.  (Side note:  When I disclosed my rape, (which occurred next to a bathroom that was further away from the youth event, but still within the building,) the first thing he said was “well, why were you over there?”  Not, “I’m so sorry.” or “That’s horrible, how can we, the church support you?”) Immediately, (via FB messenger) he avoided my request to meet, even invoking his wife as a reason, stating that he doesn’t meet with women alone.  I responded that if she needed to attend our meeting, I’d be fine with that, giving him no other excuse.

When he further pushed as to the reason of my meeting, I answered that I wanted more information about the reporting he did upon learning of the sexual assault that happened on the property.  He then told me that it happened so long ago, that he didn’t really remember anything.  I pressed him to meet with me for “closure” and my healing, and he told me he’d “pray about it” and get back to me after the holidays.  This was over a year ago, before Christmas 2016.

Just tonight, January 2018, he told me that he wasn’t comfortable with the meeting, to which I let him know that I would be going to the media with my story.  He then suddenly remembered that he had gone to the church leadership and they had “reported” the crime, and I should take up any media attention and direct it at the church itself (with his implication that he shouldn’t be involved.)

Since the police never approached me with the information about the rape, it’s clear that my rape was never actually reported to the authorities.

There are many major issues here.

  1.  The youth pastor likely did not report the rape that occurred during a youth sponsored event, after I disclosed my assault.  If he had,  he would have told me a year ago when I asked in December 2016.
  2. The youth pastor stated that he disclosed my rape to the “leadership” (of which he still has not named) at the church, (this information was “recalled” during a FB message 1/25/2018) who also did not report the rape that happened at a church-sponsored event.  If he cannot name who he spoke to, it makes it sound like he buried it himself, and he’s trying to cover his tracks. There is a pending question of who he spoke to in “leadership” that has been seen, but so far unresponded to, leading me to further believe that he is attempting to cover his tracks.*
  3. If he had been open and reported the crime, why is he elusive about answering basic questions about a life-threatening assault that happened?  Did the church protect one of its own with the hopes that my experience would not come out?  What are the long-reaching implications of this policy, and how many other people over the years have been harmed by this church?
  4. He would be open and honest about who he spoke to, if his intent and interest is doing what is right, not doing what is best for himself or the church.

I’ve yet to come out and name this church or pastor(s) publically, except to a few local people in common with the church and friends.  My intent is NOT to smear the name of the church, but rather to call to account the person(s) involved with keeping a violent crime “in the family” rather than reporting it to authorities, and/or offering me support. (Or I’d name the church right now.)

The Sr. Pastor of the church I was assaulted with is no longer in ministry and has entered the corporate world.  This youth pastor that I’ve interacted with is still in ministry and is a local Sr. Pastor of a church (that he “planted”).  I have deep concerns for any/all youth and young people who are within the church, as they will not be protected or supported by this pastor.

Where do we go from here?  How do we protect our youth and young adults from (1) predators, and (2) an insulated hierarchy of clergy?  Should we not expect transparency from persons in spiritual (and typically male) positions of power?

 

 

*Update: after my last “who did you report it to” question, he finally agreed to a meeting.  I will update after this meeting, but likely no new information will be revealed.

 

#metoo #silenceisnotspiritual #justiceforjules

 

Religious Trauma Syndrome, Spiritual Abuse

Let’s Talk about Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS)

Religious Trauma Syndrome is a frequently used term among ex-pats of the church. As time has moved forward, RTS became a part of my own identity post-church.  This syndrome is interchangeable with the term Post-Traumatic Church Disorder, coined by Reba Riley in the book of the same name.

When unpacking a former life in the church, those leaving have many questions and frameworks to unpack from the smaller issues of “can I take birth control” to larger issues of “is there a god?”

I will be pulling source material from HERE for this post.

Causes of Religious Trauma Syndrome:

Authoritarianism coupled with toxic theology which is received and reinforced at church, school, and home results in:

• Suppression of normal child development – cognitive, social, emotional, moral stages are arrested

• Damage to normal thinking and feeling abilities -information is limited and controlled; dysfunctional beliefs taught; independent thinking condemned; feelings condemned

• External locus of control – knowledge is revealed, not discovered; hierarchy of authority enforced; self not a reliable or good source

• Physical and sexual abuse – patriarchal power; unhealthy sexual views; punishment used as for discipline

(From the source above)

Let’s start with a few premises.

  1.  The church should be a safe place for vulnerable populations to be. (Youth, Homeless, Women, the Abused, etc.)
  2. The word of god (in this case, the Bible) should be used as a tool to better people’s lives.
  3. The people of the church (employees, volunteers, workers) should be safe to be around and work to edify the members safely.

So, let’s unpack how RTS might occur.  I am speaking from the view of a youth/young adult, as that is where my RTS stems from.

Lack of Oversight

It frequently surprised me as a youth worker, how little involvement parents had with the youth ministry.  Many of the youth in our care were from vulnerable families (impoverished, single parent or abusive.)  They were often dropped off early, and picked up late, trusting the church to manage their care for the evening. (Which alone is not an unreasonable expectation.)  I rarely saw parental involvement regarding the teaching the pastors were giving at weekly youth nights, or on Sundays.

I have to acknowledge my own bias on this issue.  I lived in a church that had unhealthy boundaries,  unacceptable teaching practices, and shame placed on youth.  If I didn’t know what I do, I might not have the same amount of awareness of what information a church is giving to youth.  There SHOULD be a certain amount of trust given to a church, to protect, serve and help develop morally centered youth.

It brings me a large amount of shame to know that I was a part of an oppressive religious culture for youth.  I take some solace in the fact that I was subjected to brainwashing by this church from a young age and I didn’t know better.  I also was not in a position that I could question those in charge. (Especially since the men in power “spoke for god”.  One gift I gave myself was an extensive journal history that documents my feelings THEN, rather than how I have filtered my history post-church.  I did indeed wish to do well, but it’s obvious that I (along with every other youth) was subject to oppressive MALE figureheads.

Toxic Theology

As a youth leader, we were expected to be the eyes and ears of the paid leadership and the small contingent of adult youth leaders.  We reported back to the leadership when there was a youth who was “straying” from the expectations of the church. (EG: moral & sexual purity, sexual orientation, the home life that was unacceptable.)  This information was documented in books on each youth for the church leadership to review and refer to.

As I developed during my teen years, purity culture was strong.  Youth were STRONGLY encouraged to develop relationships within the framework of courtship.  Girls and boys would express their interest in “courting” a girl to our pastor.  A discussion would ensue between all of them about whether it was a good match, and to set up boundaries. (For an extensive post on this topic, click here.) Then, the girl and boy would be closely supervised by youth staff to make sure they followed the rules set up.  Much of the burden of maintaining actual and moral purity was placed on the girl.  This set up a clear precedent for slut-shaming and the patriarchal framework.  Sexual purity was often the burden of the girl (resulting in girls being “responsible” for the straying of thoughts, or hands of boys.)

Toxic Peers/Adults

One of my former pastors currently still is within the church. He took time off from being a pastor for a while (rumor mills swirl, but I don’t have a clear story on this, so I’ll leave that there) then returned to ministry.  He left his mega-church to found his own in rural PNW.

I have many qualms about his practices.  How so many youths came through his care (we were a mega-church with at least a couple hundred youth and young adults) and he was never called out on his words, is beyond me.

One very large issue was this.  A girl was raped on church property, during a youth night, and this information was brought to his attention. He did not report this as a crime occurred on the property.  When approached about the question “did you report the rape that occurred?” his response was “that was so long ago, I don’t remember.”   Clearly, this answer wasn’t hard to unpack.  He was avoiding admitting that he did not report a CRIME.  At this point, no parent should feel safe that this pastor is in charge of their care.   And this pastor is still practicing.  The amount of restraint I need to practice on a daily basis to not warn the public is huge.

We have to feel that our youth are safe when at youth events, and if the unplanned/unexpected occurs where a youth/young adult is injured or there is a crime, we should expect that will be reported to the proper authorities.  This is youth care 101.

Circling back to RTS- After the assault, I was told to give back my purity ring, because I was no longer sexually pure.

This sort of victim blaming and shaming is nothing new.  Look at the recent sexual assault allegations (and subsequent weighing of whether the woman was in the wrong) with Aziz Ansari. Here.

What must women do to make it more clear that sexually based crimes are never the responsibility of the woman?  It is always on the perpetrator. In the same vein, spiritual/religious abusers are also in charge of their manipulation.  They MUST be held accountable for harmful behavior by the adults who know about it.

 

 

church, Process, Spiritual Abuse, Vulnerability

When Being Human Feels Like Imposter Syndrome

For me, nothing feels more vulnerable than not being able to perform at the level I’m used to.  I find solace in the idea that if anything I prove my worth by doing ALL THE THINGS.   Over the past few months, my health has taken a weird turn, requiring me to really pare down how much I am “doing” throughout the day.  I’m consistently tired, thus needing to pass some of the workloads I’ve previously owned, to my husband.

At the same time, I’ve been in therapy with Jessica for over three years now.  I’ve been working through years and years of trauma and abuse, while simultaneously trying to {adult/wife/mother}.

I have a lovely husband, an amazing child, and a great life.  But my trauma keeps me from enjoying it the way I should.  I feel like an imposter in this life, as if I can’t play all the parts I should to deserve it all. I sit in therapy and spin in circles about the human I am, who I was supposed to be, and the complex factors that created who I am today.

Despite her not giving me a single reason to, I’ve consistently challenged Jessica’s dedication to me as a client by calling her out on various things she says that trigger me.  (Interestingly enough, she probably finds this totally helpful and empowering for me to do.)  Every few months I seem to hit this Wall of “OMG WHY AM I NOT “BETTER” YET?”  Today she mentioned in response to the Wall, that therapy for complex trauma survivors can take 10 years + to move through.

I was dumbfounded.  Then she drops this:

“When you’ve grown up in persistent and systemic abuse, with incident after incident, complex trauma, therapy is a process of totally rebuilding a new human being.

Of course it’s going to take a long time.

Not only that, but it’s expected and okay.”

I left shaken, and in tears of both shame {for feeling this way} and relief {maybe I’m not broken?} I turned on a podcast and started listening to my weekly “geek-out” of Psychology in Seattle about Imposter Syndrome.

The podcast got me thinking.  I feel like just existing is imposter syndrome for me.  I consistently question my own reality because of the spiritual abuse I experienced.  The church shunned facing trauma head-on and working through it.  I recall ministries that would have you bring your trauma to a weekend retreat and be expected to let god heal it all {read: never need to worry about, deal with, or mention said trauma again}.  If you did struggle with that trauma afterward it was because of {a lack of faith, a lack of reading your bible enough, a lack of prayer, unconfessed sin in your life}.

Perhaps this is why the formerly religious struggle so much with trauma.  Without a forum to safely express feelings, doubts, and struggles,  how is trauma to be resolved? {Or maybe not even resolved, but integrated into our lives.} When lack of healing is connected with lack of faith, there is little motivation to explore struggle with past trauma.

When I was in the church, I was basically cattle.  I was being raised to fulfill certain duties {youth leader/wife/worship leader} and to not stray beyond that.  Purity was of the utmost importance, and the appearance of being unblemished was critical for those roles.  The girls, specifically, were raised with a goal of a marriage and children.  There was little room in there for humanity or cracks in our perfect porcelain plates.  In order to have a great match, endorsed by the pastors, we needed to have an appearance of perfection, and a lack of struggle to be holy.

Upon exiting the church, I felt everything I was and formed myself to be was called into question.  I was wandering among the world we were taught to not be of, with huge gashes from childhood and young adult complex trauma, with no support system.  I felt so vulnerable because the part I was groomed to play was suddenly taken away from me.  An arranged marriage to a member of the ministry, all my friends, my musical self {worship team}, and even my family.  My sense of self was systemically taken from me {or never allowed to develop}, piece by piece during my childhood through to my young adult days along with countless others.  {Some of whom are still deeply involved in the church life to this day, and now a cog in the spiritual abuse wheel.}

Thankfully, I’m a member of several FB groups where deconstructing religious experiences and spiritual trauma is an everyday discussion.  I feel less alone when I see similar stories of spiritual abuse, and how their experiences in the church have cause people significant and ongoing harm.  It hurts me to know that a group of people can hurt people so badly, and even after a person leaves there is significant, ongoing wounds that pop up.

On the flip side, at times a topic will be brought up that turns my world on end again.  This goes along the lines of “know better, do better.”  I will suddenly have a realization that something I experienced wasn’t normal, or was downright abusive, which puts me back in the trenches of needing to deconstruct my long-held beliefs.

I frequently doubt my ability to reconstruct a whole human being from the broken parts I’ve gathered over the years.  I feel a sense of obligation to be further along in my process than just 3 years.  When I struggle to be the perfect wife, mother or friend, I have little sympathy for myself, or grace.  I am keenly aware this is a result of the unbending black/white thinking I grew up in, but cutting myself the slack to know that I’m not going to break my child by reacting a certain way when I’m triggered… my husband isn’t going to leave me because I need to rest and not unload the dishwasher… I’m not failing at life because I sit in therapy every week spinning on the same issues over and over… is difficult.

 

 

church, Spiritual Abuse

Responsibility of the Religious

How do we hold the powerful accountable?

In the current climate of sexual assault revelations, one particular story caught my eye.  Danny Ray Johnson, a pastor and a legislator from Kentucky died by suicide when allegations of sexual assault became public from 2012.

Following up with the post I wrote (I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye), a recent FB post came across my feed that also got me thinking. The question was:

In the midst of sexual harassment allegations, and listening to the women who spoke up about feeling obligated to comply because of the status of the male figure, I can’t help but feel like perhaps mary felt the same way.
What higher status of “man” is there than the god we literally believe in?
Do we worship a god of rape?

The final sentence blew my mind.  My answer is yes, and here’s why.

The power differential between a young girl and an all-powerful god is extreme.  No matter what, I’d imagine that Mary couldn’t say no if she wanted to.

Picture this, the object of your worship comes down in some form and says “Mary, I need to have a baby.  Would you be the mother of that baby?”  I’m imagining this as a human now.  If I found out that, as a young girl, there was an omnipotent being who could take my life in an instant with his smiting wand, and he came down to me in a booming voice and asked me to conceive his child, damn right I’d say yes.

Let’s bring this to practical terms.  In many churches, the pastor IS the voice of god.  (Especially to young people.)  I recall the churches I was a part of, and I recall this perceived spiritual distance and prestige that the leadership had.  They could do no wrong, and whatever they told us to do, we would.  Our parents would also back them up.

So, here comes this 17-year-old girl, in 2012, and her pastor.  The pastor, during a sleepover at the church, molested this girl.  The victim states that she thought of her pastor as a “second dad,” giving him emotional access to her.  She brought a case against the pastor, which was later closed (under shady circumstances). Recently the abuse came out in the media, and the pastor subsequently shot himself after an incredibly odd sing-along presser.

This “pastor” called himself Pope, and also had odd statements that conflicted with reality (he created a morgue, as a private citizen at the twin towers on 9-11, for which he got some compensation from PTSD developed from this incident.)

What does this boil down to, and why are Male Pastors so dangerous?

 

They are generally male, and placed in a “father” role.

Female senior pastors are still rare (though becoming more common every day, listed at 9% of positions in the clergy) and thus males continue to hold senior responsibilities and roles in the church body.  Consider the population of church-goers as well.  The pastor is the “head of the church” and men are “head of the family.”  It’s not a big jump to say that pastors are then placed as a father figure to many, especially for the vulnerable and the young.

Take Johnson, again.  This man gained access to this girl by befriending her, and subsequently took advantage at a church sleepover.  Some may ask, “Well, where are the parents?”  To which I’d answer “What sounds safer than a sleepover at a church?”

They often have illusions of grandeur.

Pastors are “set apart” from their congregants in many ways.  They stand in front of their parishioners weekly and interpret the bible for people to listen to.  Often this is the ONLY exposure people will have to the bible, and many take a clergy member’s view as fact.  Imagine if you were perceived to be the sole person in charge of a group’s spiritual well-being.  This gives you a lot of power and control.  As seen in the case of Johnson, he actually took the title of “Pope” (otherwise referred to as “His Holiness.”)

They are not held accountable for their actions, even if they are wrong.  

Putting aside the current rape-apologist culture we live in, Pastors are rarely called to task for mistakes (regardless of severity.) In this example, the Johnson continued to “serve” as the church head for more than 5 years after the assault occurred.  At the presser Johnson held, he literally was sung to by faithful congregants.  The Governor of Kentucky said Johnson was “an embarrassment” but would not call for his resignation from Congress.

Their power is often unchecked, and has no bounds.  In some cases, they are “overseen” by a board of some form, but again, these boards are mostly male as well.  As a result, sexual crimes are not taken seriously.

Cover-ups from the church come from a feeling of shame and guilt.  The embarrassment of having a pastor who isn’t following the law, or the moral obligations he speaks to weekly is too much to bear. Thus, any “indiscretions” are swept under the rug with the hopes they are not found out. In some extreme cases, pastors resign amidst controversy if the rug gets too bumpy from all the dust bunnies the pastors put there.  Rarely are formal charges filed for crimes.

 

Bringing this back to Johnson:

The “pope” dies. If you look on the FB pages that are linked to the press releases, there is a LOT of victim blaming going on.

First, the 17-year-old is listed as a woman.  (Now, she is CURRENTLY of age, but at the time of the assault, was a girl.)  This diminishes the power of the crime he was accused of.  Rape is awful, no matter what (I say this as a survivor myself), but underage abuse and assault is another layer of awful.

Second, there is a LOT of support for the pastor in this situation, and not as much for the sexual assault victim.  The suicide is linked directly to the recent publication of the sexual assault, placing the onus of his death squarely on her shoulders.  100% of sexual assaults are caused by the assaulters.  Subsequent actions as a result of guilt must also be placed squarely on the shoulders of the abuser, not on the person who spoke up.  His death is 100% NOT.HER.FAULT.  However, the outcry of support for him is dauntingly loud.

Bringing this back to Mary:

So, why are these points relevant? Imagine you are Mary, an unread, simple girl who knows of god as an omnipotent being who can create and destroy at will and on a whim.  God, in whatever form, speaks to her and lets her know he’s picked HER to be the mother of his baby.  The bible expresses that she consents, and TADA a fetus is developed.

Let’s look at the verse in question:

Luke 1-26-38. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Breaking that down:

  1. Mary is shocked by the appearance of something clearly more powerful than her. (Don’t be afraid of me, Mary, God thinks you are cool.)
  2. Mary has been deemed worthy by an all-powerful being, (Woah, the creator of the universe has his eye on me, and thinks I’m awesome.)
  3. She is TOLD that she will be the incubator of god’s baby. She will name him Jesus.  (So, she is TOLD what will happen by god. See, no consent here thus far.)
  4. She replies that she is a servant of god, and acquiesces to god’s statement. (Imagine this in the context of a slave owner to a slave.  The owner has ultimate control of her fate, and thus is she ever even able to say no if she wanted to?  I would submit that any consent is suspect at a minimum, and likely not even an option.)

But could she ever actually SAY NO? It’d be like sitting with a nuclear weapon pointed at you and having someone say “hey, would you be my baby mama?” Is it really even a question, from the woman/girl’s perspective? I would humbly submit that the power differential is so extreme that we don’t even have context for it in modern concrete terms.

In concrete terms, the pastor has an incredible amount of power, being the voice and interpreter of god.  In many churches I attended, the leadership complained about the amount of responsibility they held and the inability to fail in any area of their lives.

Surely, pastors should be allowed to be human, they will make mistakes.  But, when they took the job of spiritual leader of the many, they ARE held to a higher standard of morality than the layman.  Abuse of their access and power MUST require that they be held accountable, not just within the church structure (with a public repentance, temporary leave of absence, or resignation) but with a public outcry of accountability within the community (and when appropriate, through the legal system with the full support of the congregation.)

Where does that leave us?

People in power need to use their power effectively and for good, with subsequent and appropriate oversight.