Just this last week I've encountered examples of what I can only describe as spiritual abuse. It saddens one, because what is meant to be life-giving, is turned in to death-like clouds of oppression, and that, by the very people who should know better.
Vulnerability to this abuse is widespread and the causes are many, but I think one of the biggest issues is the obsession with the Bible being a book of rules defining specific behaviour as pleasing, or not pleasing to God. The mindset this creates is that the "average" person, or "layperson" has very little or no real capacity to discern scripture for themselves. They have to be told what is true and untrue and the highest virtue they can practice in the faith community they serve, is that of obedience. They are not encouraged to think for themselves and for them to question anything is always seen as threat.
Now, put people who are not encouraged to think and question and who have no confidence in their own discerning abilities, together with strong leaders who believe exactly how to "interpret" these rules and impose them, and you have the ultimate recipe for abuse, especially where leaders are locked in to their own performance and achievement. People then simply become pawns on the egocentric chess boards of these leaders.
What makes this worse is that people become part of a church and a god created in the image of the leadership, serving the ego needs of that leadership, with faith having nothing to do with gaining a deeper understanding and experience of God and Church. In fact, such a deepened understanding may just expose the abusive system for what it is, causing it all to come crumbling down. Sometimes that's precisely what is needed to enable the birth of a Divine infusion of authentic work and service.
One such community I know has now met this fate. The human pain left in its wake is hard to describe and will have to be dealt with, with all the compassion it so richly deserves.
Are our churches places of life-giving exploration where people are free and are encouraged to inquire and question, or are they communities solidified with attitudes of threat, cemented dogmatism and dictatorial leadership?
Originally posted at Seeing More Clearly.
Pat replied on Permalink
Amen and Amen! I just left a church like this and told my fellow elders before I left that it was not Jesus' church but that it belonged to those who had taken it upon themselves to run it, so as far as I was concerned, they could have it.
DannyHaszard replied on Permalink
A cult does not require any set number of leaders, only the inerrant belief that they are the ONLY TRUE RELIGION. Nothing else matters once that ego kicks in and messes with their heads. Once that engages, it usually takes a life-changing event or change of circumstances to get them to reconsider their beliefs.
The definition of a destructive religious cult is like alcoholism-if booze controls you instead of the other way around you are an alcoholic.
Religion can be benign then there are hard core fundy groups that want to rule and control you like hard core alcoholism.
The Watchtower society Jehovah's Witnesses as an example is not benevolent and won't let you leave their organization in peace.
If they try to ruin your reputation and break up your family for trying to get out then they are a cult!
Danny Haszard born 3rd generation Jehovah Witness.-
Anonymous replied on Permalink
Prayers and empathy
I can truly empathize. Your post could have been written to describe what has happened at a church I loved dearly. I would expand your topic a little bit to include the general proposition, so prevalent in the church, that God is assessing our holiness, and offering blessings to match. This may feel logical, but it's not the Gospel. It is much more akin to other religious traditions, such as Yogism or tribal shamanism. Purity simply does not come up in the Gospels. What does come up is the repeated message that God comes to us, runs in fact, and asks no questions, gives no tests. I would ask folks to look at programs like Celebrate Recovery, or the Beta program, and really consider whether the self-help, manage your behavior message has much to do with Jesus. Religious conservatives like to talk about how "liberals" conform to the culture, but seem unable to notice their own achievements in this area. God bless, peace to all.