Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ponderings on the nature of spiritual abuse

Several people have posted articles in their blogs about spiritual abuse. I have been thinking about a lot of things in this area lately - have read some news articles that make me want to knock people up side their heads and ask them what they are thinking. (Example) But in the end, I think many people are completely ignorant of even the idea - the concept - of spiritual abuse. So, what does spiritual abuse look like? How can it be recognized for what it is? 

At first, I thought I would describe what abuse is, in general. Then follow up with what spiritual abuse is. All very ship shape and Bristol fashion. Then I thought, Bah! I'm just going to write from the heart - about what I have experienced and seen - and let you decide if you can recognize spiritual abuse from that. I think that abuse, in its many forms, is in essence all about control - about the need to control someone else to feed your own needs. Spiritual abuse is no exception. 

Hmm... abuse has been around since the beginning. In thinking about it, all abuse is spiritual in nature because it is an attempt to control the very essence of who someone is - their inner self - their real self - their spirit. It is when someone makes the judgment that someone is less valuable than they are and then communicates that judgment to them in some way. It is demeaning someone in order to elevate yourself. I could easily get diverted here, but I want to address spiritual abuse in the church (or home) or maybe, more accurately, religious abuse. 

I think this (religious abuse) is basically misrepresenting God in order to control someone's behavior - get them to follow you, do what you want. Hmm... I think, in a very real sense, some of the church's methods of evangelism are spiritually abusive - at least in the church I grew up in. How is telling someone what a terrible person they are not abusive?

Anyway, back to inside the church. Hmm... to teach people that God has a standard of conduct in thought, word and action, that He measures us all by and that we must strive to measure up to this or we might 'slide backwards and become heathen reprobates who hate God' is abusive. Well, they might not put it exactly like that, but it is the underlying thought - fear - programming. The truth is, I can't blame anyone who does not want to serve a god like that. I don't want to serve a god like that. Thank God, I don't. :-)

I think spiritual abuse is anything that gets in the way of our ability to have a real relationship with Jesus and our Father. There are, then, many levels of spiritual abuse. Many are not deliberate or premeditated. But some are. So, in my opinion, it is spiritual abuse when...
  • ... you are attacked and or chastised for honestly questioning.
  • ... you are made to feel inferior to the leadership of a church/ministry.
  • ... you are told that you have to follow a list of rules to be saved/make it to heaven/be favored of God and man.
  • ... you are told that you must go through a church/ministry leader in order to receive from God
  • ... you are told what you can and cannot watch/read/eat/listen to/like.
  • ... you are told that if you don't give in the offering regularly, you are not a real Christian.
  • ... you are told you need to clean yourself up before God will accept you.
  • ... you are told that anger is a sin.
  • ... you are required to do anything that you have objected to.
  • ... you are told that God wants you to have sex with the pastor/minister - that it is His will.
  • ... you are told that if you leave this church/ministry, you will be vulnerable to deception and attack.
  • ... you are told who you can and cannot be friends with.
  • ... you are told who you can and cannot marry.
  • ... you are expected to lie and cover up the misconduct of the pastors/ministry leaders against your own conscience.
  • ... you are told you have to beat righteousness into your children.
  • ... you are physically hurt in any way.
  • ... you are told that you have to submit to abuse because God's laws are more important that your safety.
  • ... you are made to feel guilty for not measuring up to the church's standards.
  • ... you are told to shun friends who have left the church.
Well, that's the beginning of a list. I think you get the idea. Fear and greed and pride are at the heart of spiritual abuse (as all abuse). Hmm... I feel like there is more to this, but it is not coming, so I will post this for now and welcome your comments and thoughts and additions to the list.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Still here ...

Wow. I have been meaning to post for days. I have several things floating around, wanting to be written. ;-) 

But this week has been unusually busy. Spent several hours yesterday taking aptitude and competency tests. Yay. More than half way through the test that is designed to establish what your values and likes and dislikes are - yours - I realized that I was (as I have always done) answering the questions according to what I thought was what I should think - feel - like - dislike... Argh! I have a meeting in the morning with the Vocational Rehab counselor (not the same one I blogged about a couple months ago - they assigned me a new one). I have not finished my 'homework' because I don't know what the hell I want to do. Bleah! Actually, I think I do, but I don't know how to get ahold of it and articulate it yet...

Went to a series of 'revival' meeting (Sunday thru Wednesday nights) at a local church that is not high on my list of churches I want to be involved with - - - didn't really want to - felt compelled to . . . but it was profitable... a lot to talk about there... 

I will be moving within the next 3-4 weeks (I hope not longer!) And I really don't know what the hell is going to happen next... I hope I will still be able to get online...

Hopefully, I will be able to sit down and coherently put my thoughts together tomorrow night - maybe on the meetings I went to...

Thanks for your patience. :-)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What Is Truth?

When Jesus was in the court of Pontius Pilate, Pilate asked Him if he was a king. Jesus' response included the statement that He came to the world to be a witness to the truth and that those who cared for truth would know His voice. To this, Pilate said, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38) Or, to quote from Jesus Christ Superstar, 

"But what is truth?
 Is truth unchanging law?
 We both have truths.
 Are mine the same as yours?"
This is a very good question. Especially in light of what Jesus said in John 8:31-32 (Message)...
"Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. "If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth and the truth will free you.""
This is, to me, a very personal issue. It is at the heart of walking out of abuse into freedom. Two years ago, I began praying for freedom. At that time, I didn't even know what was wrong with me. I just knew that I wasn't satisfied with the way things were. I knew there was more. I knew I was not operating from a place of understanding and freedom. I knew I was messed up inside. I didn't know all the reasons why. But I wanted free. *Smiling* Be careful what you pray for.

Not long after I began praying that prayer, my whole world began to shake. In the span of six months, everything I thought I knew about church and following God was challenged and shaken and left lying in a pile of rubble. Through this, there is one thing that never moved. God. I clung to Him, even when it seemed like where He was taking me was insane. *Smiling* I am not out of that maelstrom even now. 

One thing I have learned is that you can have a set of facts and land no where near the truth. I think the crux of this lies in that you cannot discern what is in someone's heart and what kind of journey they have been on just by looking at a set of external facts about them. To do so is, in fact, dangerous.

Looked at another way, the Bible is a collection of facts about God and some of the people through history that have either followed Him or fought him. Some people never see it as more than that - a set of facts that must be laid out and followed - religiously... and if that is all you ever see it as, you are missing the Truth... 

I have found that this applies to more than just spiritual things. I spent about 44 years believing certain things about my family and myself and the church and God - things I was taught growing up. Over the last two years, I have had the layers of cover pulled back on things - a little hear, a little there - revealing truth. Ouch! The truth can hurt. But it is worth the pain.

Until I came to the realization of the truth that my mother is incapable of really loving me and empathizing with me, I would forever be trying to get compassion from a stone - seeking help in healing from wounds that were made deeper by the one I sought help from. I didn't see this until last year. When I saw it, it shook me. Seriously. I would sometimes just lie in bed and shake. My entire family paradigm has been forever altered. It hurt like hell to come to the place of accepting that both of my parents abused me - and continue to do so - and that my family, in general, is more critical than loving, and is not good for my mental health. That hurts. The picture of who my family was growing up has been shaken and left lying in a pile of rubble, too. But it is truth. And it is freeing me to break away and live.

I have found that many in church settings are not interested in Truth if it shakes the status quo of their little church group. That may sound harsh, but I have been there myself. It is neither easy nor fun to have the veil pulled back and see the hypocrisy and sham behind so many pulpits - behind entire movements. But to stay in a place of insular false security within an imagined fortress called a church is dangerous. Everything I was taught concerning the church growing up has been shaken, too. 

Hmm... sometimes, as you begin to see the truth, you get angry. And that is not a bad thing. I am angry at the abuses I have seen and am seeing. I am angry at those who use the covering of the institution to use and abuse the children of God. I am angry at those who use the cover of the church to get wealthy on the backs of the naive poor. I am angry at those who practice witchcraft* using the Bible. I am angry at those who tell victims to just buck up and get over it or bear their cross like a good little soldier. I am angry at those in the congregation that would rather ignore abuse and maintain their little perch in the status quo than confront evil when they see it. It makes me want to vomit. 

I think, maybe, that those who are dogmatic usually are operating with facts and not truth. And they are more likely to be afraid of having their interpretation of those facts challenged. Do I have all the answers? No... but I know that God is faithful and He has called me His daughter and His friend. I have a lot of truth yet to learn, but at least I have gotten to the place where I am less afraid of it. Yes, it can devastate, but what is left after the devastation is far better than what was before. Freedom......

* Witchcraft: The attempt to manipulate and control someone else's mind and/or will.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

One After-effect Of Abuse...

There are many lingering effects of abuse. Abuse messes with our entire perception of the world. It messes with our entire perception of ourselves. This week, I unexpectedly came face-to-face with one of those effects...

I have known for years that we all have our perceptions of how God is toward us colored by the way we were treated by our parents. Children who are abused can really get a warped sense of how God views them. As I have said in other posts, I grew up thinking that God was perpetually mad at me - that I was never measuring up to His expectations and that he really only tolerated me - loved me - because He had bound Himself to do so. There was a period - from around 7 years old to around 14 years old, that I actually thought he hated me. Why? Because of what was done to me. You see, at the time,  I viewed what was done to me as 'what I did.' I still struggle with that.

In the last few years, I have come to a place where I knew that God loved me, but there was still a battle - a feeling like I was always disappointing Him. He actually had to come out and audibly say to me that He loved me for it to begin to sink in. But I thought I had a handle on that issue - not done working on it, but at least recognizing it as an issue. Then He went and did something this week that has really messed with me... 

What did He do? To those who were not abused, it may seem strange - silly even. My friend's response when I told her was, 'Of course He does!" My aunt was surprised, when I told her, that I didn't already know this. It seems that to many, this is not an issue - it is a given. But to me, it never even occurred to me that He might...

Here's what He did. There is a follow blogger - a brother *smiles* - who goes by abmo and writes at the blog "Windblown Hope." He posted a blog titled "My discernment will kick your discernment's ass." I left a comment - we commented back and forth. He said that God loved me, and more than that He liked me. It didn't really sink in at this time. Then a couple comment exchanges later, abmo posted this comment:
"Hi Katherine,

Sometimes my mind will wonder around and then settle on somebody and that is the person I'm praying for. At the moment, that person is you. And all I'm getting from our Father is that He likes you a lot. I'll pray that this will become a anchor in your life.

God bless"
I just began to cry. God likes me? Why? This messed with me. It is still messing with me. I have asked Him several times over the last few days - why do You like me? I am realizing that I have never really thought - or expected - anyone to like me. I wanted them to, but I didn't think they did. I have mostly thought that at best - the really nice people would just tolerate me to be, well, nice. I realize this is somewhat insulting to the people who do like me. It is not meant to be. It is just where I have always been. It never occurred to me that anyone would genuinely like me. It never crossed my mind that God actually liked me. 

This is causing some fundamental shifts deep in me. I have only begun to think about it - talk to Papa about it. You like me? Really? Why?

Is this something other abuse victims have dealt/are dealing with? In talking with my aunt - my friend, it seems to have never crossed their minds that God wouldn't like them. Hmm... 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

So... who do you follow?

Hmm... I've spent a lot of time the last couple of weeks reading a lot of different blogs - a very broad spectrum of religious beliefs. I've seen a lot of anger and humor and making fun of 'the other ones.' And I've also seen some serious and thoughtful attempts at dialogue and understanding. All this has been rolling around in my subconscious, I guess. Today, it started coalescing. I realized that we are still very concerned about who is on whose side. And the question followed... So... who do you follow?

Here is what I see right now. There are many many different denominations within 'Christianity.' Although I know that both Protestants and Catholics would disagree with me, I view Catholics as one of many Christian denominations. So how many denominations are there? I'm not sure... There's the Catholics, the Coptics, the Eastern Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Lutherans, the Anglicans & Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Calvinists, the Anabaptists & Mennonites & Brethren, the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Piests & those of the Holiness Movement, the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, the Restorationists, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)... whew, and that's just some of the main umbrella groups. There are literally dozens of subgroups under nearly all of these. YIKES!

Now, it seems that each group thinks they have the low down on the Truth. Some will allow that the others have some truth and are 'brothers and sisters,' but they really aren't sure... Hmm... and they all look at each other suspiciously - afraid that they might become contaminated by association - or feel the need to try and scare or bully one another into agreement. And when asked what religion they are, they give their denomination. So this brings me back to the question... who do you follow?

Hmm... I will start my answer by saying whom I do not follow. I do not follow Peter. I do not follow Paul. I do not follow Benedict XVI. I do not follow John the Beloved. I do not follow Constantine. I do not follow St. Augustine. I do not follow Martin Luther. I do not follow the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury. I do not follow John Knox. I do not follow John Wesley. I do not follow John Calvin. I do not follow Peter Chelcicky. I do not follow John Smyth nor Jonathan Edwards. I do not follow John Wyclif. I do not follow Philipp Jakob Spener nor Phoebe Palmer. I do not follow Alexander Mack. I do not follow William J. Seymour. I do not follow Dennis Bennett. I do not follow Thomas Campbell. I do not follow George Fox. I do not follow Amy Semple-MacPherson. I do not follow Oral Roberts. I do not follow Kenneth Hagin. I do not follow James Dobson. I do not follow Todd Bentley nor Chuck Pierce nor Dutch Sheets...

Hmm... I know this is a long list. Sorry. Have I sufficiently stepped on everyone's toes? That's really not my purpose. But if your hackles rose a little when you read a familiar name and you thought, 'Hey! Don't bring my guy into this!'... well... who do you follow? I used to follow my denomination - then I began to be caught up in following Kenneth Hagin. For the record, I think many of these people would be appalled at the way people have begun to follow them - like they are what is important. But I can't speak for all...

My point is, as I think about my religious experiences, I have very often heard people say, "Well, I follow Kenneth Hagin's teachings," or "I am a Calvinist," or... on and on... I follow - a person or denomination... Hmm... Paul had something to say about this.
"I have a serious concern to bring up wth you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I'll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.
     I bring this up because some from Chloe's family brought a most disturbing report to my attention - that you're fighting among yourselves! I'll tell you exactly what I was told: You're all picking sides, going around saying, "I'm on Paul's side," or "I'm for Apollos," or "Peter is my man," or "I'm in the Messiah group."
     I ask you, "Has the Messiah been chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own? Was Paul crucified for you? Was a single one of you baptized in Paul's name?" I was not involved with any of your baptisms - except for Crispus and Gaius - and on getting this report, I'm sure glad I wasn't. At least no one can go around saying he was baptized in my name. (Come to think of it, I also baptized Stephanas's family, but as far as I can recall, that's it.)
     God didn't send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the message of what He has done, collecting a following for Him. And He didn't send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center - Christ on the Cross - be trivialized into mere words." 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (Message)
Now, I know that the Protestant movement was born out of abuses within the Catholic church - that a lot of splits were because of abuses. I am not here to debate the validity of the causes that were behind the formation of the various groups. I'm just wondering if, instead of focusing all of our attention on where we disagree and thumping our chests and saying, "I'm right and you're wrong!" - maybe would could look at what we have in common. 

All of the denominations I listed up there - along with their subgroups - no matter which one you belong to, if you believe that Jesus came to save the world and you take that promise and say that you believe He can do so and want that to include you, well... then you are my brother or sister - you're part of my family, no matter what else you might believe. 

That doesn't mean we have to always get along and spend lots of time together. That's just silly. But maybe it means we could respect each other enough to take a breath and listen instead of pointing the finger and accusing and calling names and mocking. That might make the framework which allows abuse to shrink a lot.

A lot of what I used to believe and think and cling to has been stripped away the last year or so. And all I am left with is Christ and His death and His Life - Papa God who will not leave me alone - the Holy Spirit who does not give up on me. Who do I follow? There really is only one choice left to me if I want to live. 

Maybe it is a Utopian ideal - but... just my thoughts today.