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.