[EDIT NOTE: I have added to the end of this post at 3:30 my time.]
This one has been difficult to start. I have wrestled with wondering if I am off in dangerous places and if so, why would I want to lead others there with me... but in the end, this is where I am and writing about what I see is the whole point, right? I will state this caveat up front. This is only the churches I have had experience with. I pray there are churches out there that do not do this....
So, what do I mean by "abusive love?" There are so many things that could fit under this heading. But I am going to focus on one thing in particular. I notice it most in the church. In essence, it is using the threat of being out of God's will with if you don't walk in love.
Hmm... I recognize this more and more in the church the more I am removed from it. There is this idea that in order to 'walk in love,' we have to be nice all the time. What do I mean? Okay, it isn't nice to tell someone they have upset you or hurt you. I heard the misuse of this verse - "Love covers... just walk in love" - so much it makes me want to puke.
Okay. How do I get this from my head into words. Hmm... within the the church culture, there is a theme of 'walking in love' that says you 'love your brothers and sister in Christ' no matter what. You must always forgive and overlook hurts and love covers, it doesn't expose. Hmm... how to convey what I see... Okay, it has been created into this thing that is like a code of silence. It stretches to the place where if you speak up and say,"Hey, that's not right," you are accused of attacking.
Love is a foundational element to the Christian faith. Love is what moves Papa to act. Love is what moved Jesus to act. But I don't think, from my own limited experience, that the church really knows what love means - what it is - what it does. I think they try, as they do with so many things, to use the concept of love to modify people's behavior. And if people behave civilly and are nice to each other, that is all most churches really care about.
They take it to another level when they tell the people that if they are doing this or not doing that, the are not walking in love. It creates a climate of fear. People become afraid of being accused of not walking in love, so they stuff the pain or anger when someone hurts them. Hmm... there is a woman in the church that I left. She was also a leader. And she was a bossy, controlling type. And her love walk was her pride and joy. Anytime someone did something she didn't like, she would say, "I'm maintaining my love walk. So I'm letting that go." Hmm.. how paradoxical - that walking in love can become all about her and not about others... She was also the love walk police. She would admonish everyone to 'maintain their love walk.' Argh!
I digress. This is an attitude that I see in a general way in the church. And as I said, it is more about behavior modification than building relationships - with each other and with God.
But if the leadership of that church has an abusive bent...
This is where it can get really twisted. (Like the above isn't bad enough.) An abusive pastor will use a profession of love to disguise their true intent. I think, after a while, they even convince themselves that their lies are truth. The greatest way to mask emotional abuse is to tell someone that you love them. My former pastor says from the pulpit - and makes sure it is in all the church literature - that he loves people. (Don't let me get diverted on the issue of how he loves his female flock...) But his actions belie his words. When the truly desperate come into that church looking for help, they are either turned away or become the pet project. But the congregation says, "yes, we're all about loving people." But they don't. They just talk about how wonderful it is to be about that. And if the pastor is accused of wrongdoing, they exclaim, "He couldn't do that. He loves people." Hmm...
I was reading a comment on another blog that is devoted to abuse in the church - Because It Matters - and in it, the commenter implied that if a church was not busy doing missions and outreach, it was not really a church and should get over itself. Now the church he was talking about was one that formed from members of another church in which the pastor was caught having sex with a teenage member and those who tried to expose it were kicked out - including the teenager and her father. They then began their own church. They had, apparently, done some outreach type of work at first, but then chose to hold off on that until they were settled with a location and leadership, etc. Doing this meant they were not really a church?
And this brings me to the crux of the matter, I think. The church, as a whole, in my observation, tends to eat its wounded. They are so afraid of appearing imperfect to the 'outside world' that they throw their wounded to the wolves and put up walls to protect the wolves among them. And when you try to talk about it in a public forum, you are accused of being unchristian, heretical, heathen, or anything else they can think of... you are not walking in love because love forgives and love covers.
Yes, love does cover. But it does not enable. Here's how I see the concept of love covering: it is when someone falls into a mud puddle and asks for help - wants out of the puddle but can't get out on their own. Love reaches out a hand and helps them out of the mud and takes it's cloak and covers them up until they can get cleaned up to cover the shame of being covered with mud in public. What love is not is throwing a cloak over and covering up someone who jumps into the mud puddle and splashes around and grabs passersby and pulls them in. Love covers, it doesn't expose? My pastor, when I confronted him with what he was doing, actually said that God would not expose sin that way. Really? Ask Ananias and Sapphira. Ask King David. I think, sometimes, love must expose.
Until the church learns to love those within its four walls - especially the ones it has wounded, it has no business taking a false love to the world. It is like a form of love (a cardboard caricature, if you will) that denies the power of God's real love. Those outside the church smell the fake a mile away - and run.
So I guess I have this question for the church - I'm calling the church out: what is more important - your image or the people that are wounded in your midst? Is it okay to wound and leaving bleeding by the side of the road, covering up the actions of the wounders, for the sake of appearances?
And by the way, as to your image... this behavior of eating your wounded is visible from the outside and it has done more to damage to the church's image than anything else I can think of.
[I would like to add that I believe there is an example of a church who gets this. Kathy Escobar at the Refuge in Denver gets it. And pays a heavy price sometimes for living it. My hat is off to you, Kathy. And my prayers for your strength and peace and grace to carry you through till you are done.]