The Pink Elephant in the Sanctuary

This article was written by Heidi, who wishes to remain anonymous. I have changed the title slightly but otherwise it remains unabridged.

~~~

Spiritual: concerned with or affecting the spirit or soul

Abuse: to use wrongly or improperly or excessively; pervert: change the inherent purpose or function of something

It’s not something we talk about much in church circles, but something which I have witnessed time and time again. From the time I was old enough to comprehend that not all church folks are “nice people”.

This is partially pulled from personal experience but is not intended to be completely auto-biographical. So, don’t go there. I am addressing An Issue, not venting a personal expose.

Let’s imagine we know a girl, Susie Sincere-Believer (she’s hyphenated, which shows how modern we all are…) 😉 and we are watching her life from the outside.

Susie has become a believer in Jesus as her Savior and has recently begun attending a local congregation. Pastor Fred is nice enough and teaches her from the Word that G-d is good, gentle, kind and sweet.

As Susie grows in her faith, she seeks expression through service and gradually, over a period of time, the Lord places her in a position of leadership. She gets closer to Pastor Fred and sees things that bother her. But, well, Pastor Fred “knows the word” better than she does, she thinks to herself, so she is certain there is a Good Reason for it all.

She refuses to listen to the warning bells in her head, confident it is just the old nature and a “critical spirit”. After all, Pastor Fred taught on that just last week. We should love one another and look for the good! We should always try to “see someone’s heart” before we determine the worth or validity of their actions. So, Susie continues to ignore the warning bells.

Then Pastor Fred gets angry at her for a mistake she made. It was rectifiable, but he was put out. Rightly so, she reasons, after all he’s the one carrying this heavy burden of responsibility for our church and no body can stay quiet and calm all the time! Her heart is hurt and her joy is diminished, but she’s been taught that being “judgmental” is the worst thing for the Body and so she decides to simply be quiet and work harder. Maybe if she helps Pastor Fred even more, he’ll be relieved of some of his burden and not be so easily angered. She decides that she’ll have to relinquish control of some of her role of influence and remember to “do as she is told”.

But as Susie works harder and harder, Pastor Fred requires more and more from her. He demands more of her time, her effort and her faith. When she asks for some time off? He rants and raves. Susie has by now become so beat down and convinced she cannot make decisions on her own she again aquiesces.

Until one day… She decides she can no longer function in that environment and emphatically says, “NO!” and decides she is no longer going to be the enabler for Pastor Fred’s “vision” and “ministry”.

And then Pastor Fred, in his anger and disappointment, comes after her in any way he can, he maligns her character and slanders her family.

But this time? Susie isn’t available to be manipulated by him and she walks away.

What is the lesson Susie learned here?

Unfortunately, for many zealous and gung-ho new believers, the lesson is probably that pastors and leadership are not safe and are not to be trusted. Ever. Many times the young one’s, like Susie, never come back to a fellowship of any kind. They are battered and crippled. Emotionally, yes. Spiritually, definitely.

So, what does Susie do now? She’s lost her “spiritual family”, her “spiritual home” and her spiritual accountability. The only people in her life who are friendly to her now are the non-believers she left behind when she found Jesus.

Unless Susie is remarkable and different from the normal person, her fledgling faith will withers up and blows away in the winds of compromise.

And Pastor Fred looks by and pronounces that she was obviously too immature for the requirements of “ministry” and since she is so obviously in SIN, should be avoided.

Whose fault is this? Can we lay the blame squarely on Pastor Fred’s broad shoulders? Probably not. Susie didn’t heed the warning bells in her own spirit and therefore was, at the very least, complicit in her situation. But Pastor Fred is the “older/wiser” believer and he was given the charge of caring for her spiritual well-being. A good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep… Or at least I’ve heard that somewhere, haven’t I?

But what if the shepherd doesn’t? What if the shepherd employs emotional manipulation, high levels of control and a constant state of agitation due to unpredictable bursts of anger or frustration? What if the shepherd feeds off the adoration and loyalty of his sheep? Perhaps the shepherd doesn’t care about the safety of the sheep only about his own needs being met. At any cost.

Well, then that shepherd has perverted, changed the inherent purpose, of the spiritual ( having to do with soul & spirit) environment over which he was given charge. He is “spiritually abusing” G-d’s sheep.

And Ezekiel 34 tells us that the wicked shepherds will, one day, have to deliver an accounting for their actions and their excesses.

My question to those of us who can recognize these patterns and have, to one degree or another, used these very excuses to avoid holding the leadership of our congregations to the higher level of accountability demanded of their position is this:

Which more clearly shows the heart of a growing and maturing believer?

Are you the person who takes what is offered from the pulpit and doesn’t question, doesn’t search the Word on your own, doesn’t seek to defend the weakest among us in the Body?

Or are you the one who “tests all things, hold(ing) fast to all that is good”, who searches the Word on your own and does all within your strength and opportunity to defend and disciple the weakest in the Body?

Even if it costs you a great deal… Especially if it costs you a great deal.

These men and women will continue as selfish pastors, wicked shepherds and abusive leadership as long as no one holds them to that Divine standard of accountability. They will be free to continue to harm others as long as they are not exposed or confronted on their poor behavior and choices.

“Touch not the Lord’s anointed?”

Maybe… So, were you there when the person claiming this “divine position” had their head doused with anointing oil by a bona fide, of biblical proportion, prophet of G-d? Or do you just have the vague ramblings of an “impression on their heart”? Samuel anointed Sh’aul to be KING! That’s the leader of an entire people group, not merely the leader of 55 in a small, cramped room. Sh’aul was called and placed by G-d’s elite representative on earth to be the ruler of a NATION of G-d’s very own chosen people. That’s what that verse is referring to.

Funny how that verse becomes the one of choice when one thinks to challenge the behavior of men and women, members of the Body of Christ and joint heirs with Him. You know, folks just like the rest of us who follow Christ. I believe we ought to be extremely careful placing the calling or burden of kingship on mere men and women who may or may not have an ability to communicate knowledge and exegete the Scriptures, may or may not have the heart to care for and tend the sheep, may or may not be willing to lay down their lives for the people. How many times do we base that burden and calling on the personal testimony of one person and a charismatic personality? Fruit of the spirit is not the same as a successful marketing campaign. A harvest of righteousness isn’t the equivalent of full pews and a brilliant sermon followed by a large offering. G-d doesn’t view success according to our finite understanding at the measure the world uses to show value and validity.

Anointing is of G-d. Anointing is of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. Anointing continues regardless of recognition, opportunity or a receptive audience.

The anointing of G-d doesn’t leave a trail of carnage among sincere believers. Baby believers. Well-intentioned servants and formerly close friends.

That’s something completely different.

I’ll let you figure out where that may have come from.

Advertisements

Does God Want Me to Stay in an Abusive Marriage?

This question was asked here today and I know the person who asked it is one voice out of many, many more who are wondering the same thing. The answer is both simple and complex.

For the simple answer, God does not want you to remain in an abusive marriage. But before you run out the door, be sure you read the complex part of the answer, too.

Jesus stated the purpose of His coming in Luke 4: 18,19.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

Jesus came for the purpose of healing the brokenhearted, delivering captives, and liberating those who are bruised. That perfectly describes the condition of someone who is being abused in their marriage. Jesus came to rescue people from abusive relationships!

OK, I just heard a whole bunch of “wait a minute…” voices from readers. 😉 Go with me here a minute. The church has reduced Jesus’ purpose to saving souls from eternal damnation. Do you see that in this verse? Certainly it could be considered to be part of Jesus’ stated Luke 4 mission. But why do we limit Jesus’ purpose to less than what the Word plainly states?

Nowhere in the Word is there a place where God applauds or supports abuse. In fact, abuse is inherently opposite to God’s nature. If believers are made new creatures in Christ and partakers in His nature, how can we possible justify or excuse abusive behavior by someone bearing the name “Christian?”

If we assume an abusive spouse is not a believer (which may, in fact, be supportable by Scripture) is a Christian abused partner expected by God to remain in that abusive relationship? The answer is still no. A Christian does not enable another person to continue in sin. By remaining in an abusive marriage, a Christian sends the message that the abusive behavior is acceptable – and affirms the abuser’s sin.

Here comes the complex part, however. God does not want you to remain in an abusive marriage. But there is also a process for addressing the abuse. If there is physical violence, even just occasionally, an abused spouse needs to call local domestic violence support and carefully, but quickly, get outside the home into a safe place. In this situation, further Biblical steps need to occur from a position outside the same home as the abuser. If there is not physical danger, all but the final step of dealing with an abusive spouse can take place without physical separation.

So what are the steps to dealing with an abusive spouse?

First, I think we are all called to bring every detail of our lives to God for His insight and timing. Almost without exception (I’d say without exception but maybe there could be one) we need to clean our own slates first. As abused spouses we need to maintain first an attitude of, “Lord, change me.” God uses our difficult circumstances to teach us things we would not learn otherwise. So we must appreciate God’s process, even in exposing our own sin and refining us to be more like Him while we are dealing with an abusive spouse.

Second, we have to maintain a humble spirit, remembering that all sin is alike as far as God is concerned. It is easy to get a prideful and judgmental spirit. We have to remember that every person is created in the image of God, even this abuser, and so is worthy of basic human respect. Gal. 6:1 says,

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Third, Matthew 18:15-17 outlines a very specific process for dealing with an offender, which would include marital abuse.

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

So we must first learn how to respectfully address the abuse within our marriage and establish correct boundaries. This is a learning process that can take months.

If the abusive spouse does not change when confronted privately, the abused spouse is to take a couple witnesses to confront the abuser again. These witnesses should be people the abuser respects and that the abused spouse can trust. At this point, I believe professional counseling is in order. A professional counselor can, in fact, be that witness. Another of the witnesses should be pastoral church leadership. This can be problematic because pastors don’t know how to address abuse correctly. But at least give the church the opportunity to do the right thing.

If abuse continues, the Word says the issue should be told to the church. This step is almost impossible to fulfill in the modern church. Pastors generally won’t allow it because they do not understand the Word on the subject. So, the abused spouse should attempt to press the pastor to allow this step, but if the pastor refuses, the abused spouse may need to move on to the final step.

The final step is removal from the relationship. Matthew 18 says to separate from the unrepentant offender. I Tim. 5:8 says a man who does not provide for his family (provision = financial, spiritual, emotional protection and leadership) has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. God calls an unrepentant abusive spouse an unbeliever. That is not my judgment; it is God’s. I Cor. 5:11 says believers are not to associate with, are not even to eat with, a person who is verbally abusive (“railer”). And I Cor. 7:13-15 says that if an unbelieving spouse removes (walks away from the marriage covenant – which can include staying in the house but leaving the relationship) himself from the marriage, the believing wife is to let him go. It may seem backwards for the believing wife to leave – but we have to remember that the “leaving” happens when a spouse does violence to his house (Mal. 2:13-16 was written to men who were NOT divorced according to a study of the Hebrew language used). The believing wife who removes to safety is not the one who abandoned the relationship.

Some will say removal from the relationship should be for an open-ended period of separation (which could be permanent if there is no repentance); others recommend divorce. I recommend you have a relationship with God whereby you allow Him to direct you because there is not a universal answer at this point. It may very well be that the only way to secure safe custody of children and spousal support for those children is through divorce. This is not out of line. And if the abusive spouse chooses to remarry that will certainly be the final nail in the door to possibility of reconciliation – a choice made by the abuser, not the victim of abuse who took the necessary, and Biblically supported, steps to address an abusive spouse.

God offers hope, not a lifetime sentence, to abuse victims. If you are in an abusive marriage you need to 1) get support for yourself that will stand by you throughout, 2) be willing to take the time to work through the Biblical process, and 3) stay on your face with God throughout the process, asking Him to change you. As hard as it is, this can be the fire that makes you into the person God desires you to be. It is hard and seems far too long in the process, but God is faithful and He does work all things together for good for those who love Him.

It is Time to Begin Speaking: The Church and Domestic Violence

My thanks to TheOoze.com for this excellent article.

~~~

By Kimberly B. George

The number of American soldiers killed in Iraq almost equals the number of women who have been killed on American soil by husbands and boyfriends over the same span of time. Since 2003, just over 4000 American soldiers have been killed in the war. Approximately 6000 women have been killed on the homeland (1).

Like the soldiers killed in battle, these deaths have left children without parents, fathers without daughters, brothers without sisters. Children witnessing domestic violence are suffering posttraumatic stress disorders. Many of the boys who witness the violence of their fathers will themselves grow up to physically, emotionally, or verbally abuse their partners.

I long for Christian communities to pay more attention.

* * *

I have often wondered why I have been in the evangelical church pews for 14 years and yet have never heard a sermon preached to unpack the complex reality of domestic violence in our society. Why have I never even heard the very words domestic violence from a pulpit? Why is this traditionally such a silent and unnamed issue in our churches?

Because domestic violence, in its very nature, feeds on our silence, like any kind of abuse. Women in these relationships are often controlled, isolated, and threatened to speak of what is happening to them. The psychological damage is so deep that many have felt stripped of a sense of self, not to mention any kind of financial resources. Women and children fleeing domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness– in fact, some studies have claimed up to 50% of homeless women are fleeing violence in their homes.

Domestic violence is a deep wound in our society that cuts across lines of class, education, religion, race, and socio-economics. Christians are not immune. I know an agency in my own city that routinely serves male pastors and other churchgoers who are coming forward needing help for their abusive patterns in their marriages. The agency offers assistance to Christians who abuse and Christians who are being abused.

But what of the intervention of our churches? First, Christians need to acknowledge and grieve for our historical failure to intervene. John Calvin– a prominent voice in much of our Protestant theology– once exhorted an abused wife, “to bear with patience the cross which God has seen fit to place on her…to please her husband…[and] be faithful whatever happens.” He explained that while he had sympathy for her, he could not advise her to leave her husband. While I think most of our church leaders today would disagree with Calvin if directly asked about the issue, it is not entirely easy to tell. I don’t hear anything from the pulpits on domestic violence. I don’t know what the message is in the silence, for not speaking is itself a strong message. Is this issue just not relevant or important to the Christian church?

If and when domestic violence is addressed from the pulpit, it needs to be done with resources for follow-up that will protect the safety and confidentiality of the victims. Leaving an abuser is statistically the most dangerous time for an abused woman. We need safe houses in our churches; education for our congregants; counselors in our midst; and people with experience navigating the danger of these situations.

But, we do need to begin to speak. We do need to engage our culture with Good News– both for perpetrators and victims. Many of the perpetrators know these patterns of physical, emotional, verbal and sexual violence because they too grew up in a home with such abuse. Men who perpetrate need help and compassion, too. Our society often does not give men what they need to be able to recover well from their own pain and traumatic experiences; nor does it provide very much guidance in emotional development within the context of certain stereotypes of masculinity. The church needs to listen to men, too, in coming to better understand why some men harm women.

We need to hear what it means for men to grow up in a culture where certain emotions are nearly taboo for them; where bravado is more respected than vulnerability; where being a man often means being in control and having authority; where many boys are without good fathers and role models and are simply getting terribly missed. We need to know what the church, the media, and their families are teaching men about being “men” and what has been gained and lost in the internalization of those messages. Men need to consider– together with women– why domestic violence is so widespread in our culture, and begin to speak out loud that the prevalence is not acceptable and change is an urgent need. We all need to ask what drives some men to harm women, and why do many women find themselves unable to leave such relationships? These issues are complex. We can’t assume we have all the answers, but will we start to educate ourselves?

Statistics are beginning to indicate that domestic violence in some Christian communities is on par with secular communities (2). Even more startling, is that the research is finding that Christian women stay in these abusive relationships longer, which is particularly frightening, because as those who study DV know, abuse only gets worse over time. Because “until death do us part is taken very seriously” in Christian culture, it can be very difficult to get out of abusive marriages. Furthermore, there might be not be safe places in churches for the abuse to be disclosed– especially when the abuser has a high position of power within his church.

* * *

It is ironic to me that in the church at large we are talking a lot about gender issues, but we are someone missing this one. It seems it is popular to sideline the realities of domestic violence for a host of matters considered more pressing. Because the Women’s Movement of the 70’s has disrupted may timeless notions of masculinity and femininity– effecting social and political change with surprising momentum–the church finds itself in a unique historical moment to re-define and discuss gender roles in the family and church. The church tends to enter the controversy of gender from two entrenched camps. Complementarians believe men and women are equal, but argue for hierarchy in marriage; egalitarians tends to argue for principles of mutual submission. Often, there is little common ground or creative attempts to hear one another. The tragedy is that while the evangelical church is engaged in heated matches on gender roles¬, the world is waiting by. While the church is arguing its gender battles, we are in danger of becoming scandalously irrelevant. We don’t hear the cries of those who are hurting over the sounds of our proof texts. We don’t recognize that there are conversations we are not having– and people’s lives are at stake because of it.

The church has a prophetic role within both local and global contexts to speak out against harmful structures of gender and power. On a global scale, domestic violence is the leading cause of death and disability for women aged 16-44 (2). This statistic ought to stop us, grieve us, and provoke us– and we must be more curious about the world in which we live and how we take part in unaddressed harm. Regardless of our theological differences, we need to ask: How do all of us nurture– or do not nurture– the voices of women in our communities? How would nurturing the voices of women help the church in both preventing domestic violence and fostering a proactive approach to teaching healthy relationships? Likewise, what is happening in our culture at large that masculinity is so often equated with aggression and dominance, and passivity and submission is equated with femininity? How are these stereotypes affecting how men and women live into relationship with one another, even within Christian marriages? As followers of Christ, can we consider for a moment where the logs are in our own eyes and communities? Addressing widespread statistics of domestic violence must start with our own hearts and we must step out of silence.

We can and will continue to hold different positions on how the Bible defines gender and gender roles. But we must have new conversations, ask new questions, and find new unity to come together so we so we no longer are sidelining domestic violence. The greatest tragedy in the church’s sin of omission on this issue is that we have a Gospel that speaks directly to the restoration of men and women. We have our first Story, when both men and women were given the image of God to hold in them and between them. Christians are not upholding the image of God in women if we are not addressing the widespread problem of domestic violence. It is time to start educating ourselves, break the silence on these issues, and provide help for men and women who will be stepping forward.

(Note to those needing help in the U.S.: Help in your area can be found by researching the web, but please remember abusers can track your search history on a personal computer. You can also call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY at 1-800-787-3224. It is open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.)

1. The statistics on the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq come from the Associated Press. The numbers on DV come from several sources that are tracking the patterns of homicides in the last decade. The U.S Department of Justice reports that about 1200 women have been killed per year in intimate partner violence in the last several years. The American Institute On Domestic Violence also claims about 1200 woman on average are killed every year by intimate partners. It is important to note that men also suffer from intimate partner violence, though the numbers are much lower and the injuries are usually not as serious, though homicides do in fact occur.

2. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 2002, Recommendation 1582 on Domestic Violence against women.

3. See James Alsdurf and Phyllis Alsdurf, Battered Into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home (Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press, 1989); and Calvin College Social Research Center, “A Survey of Abuse in the Christian Reformed Church,” Grand Rapids: Calvin College, 1990.

Kimberly B. George is a writer and teacher in Seattle, WA. She is currently writing a book on issues related to gender and Christian faith. She blogs, and can be reached at faithandgender@gmail.com.

Pastor Michael Vargo Nixa MO Charged with Child Abuse

I first saw this story yesterday and didn’t post it. However, I feel like I need to post it. At the same time, I want to underscore that no proof of the charges has been indicated in anything I’ve read about this one. The almost stark lack of information makes me wonder about the validity of these charges. Michael Vargo immediately resigned from the church when the charges were made. I hope anyone related to this story who knows of updated news stories on this subject will let me know so I can post them.

This story is courtesy of News-Leader.com

~~~

Micheal Vargo, 35, of Nixa has resigned his position as pastor of Calvary Bible Church in Nixa.

Vargo, who was charged last year with felony child abuse, is scheduled for a jury trial Aug. 25, according to the office of the Christian County prosecutor.

Vargo’s wife confirmed on Tuesday that he had resigned, effective March 2.

A felony charge of child abuse was filed June 27, 2007, that alleged Vargo “knowingly inflicted cruel and inhuman punishment” upon a 16-year-old female relative in June 2007.

Deputies responded to the girl’s residence and interviewed her after receiving a physical abuse hotline call. The girl had written a request for help from school authorities.

According to Christian County Deputy Brad Cole’s probable cause statement, the girl had multiple bruises on her arms, legs and chest. He said he believed they were received in the week prior to June 22, 2007.