Survey for Recovered Spiritual Abuse Survivors

In the wide, wide world of cyberspace, I found a doctoral student who would like help from spiritual abuse survivors.  This survey is part of the research for her doctoral dissertation.  It is specifically for those who have recovered from spiritual abuse.

More information, including how to contact her can be found with the link here or the link in the left sidebar of my main page.

Advertisements

“He Taught Me How to Fly” – How Abuse Affects a Child, Part 2

I’ll never forget how sick I felt the first time I heard my oldest son, J, verbalize his memories of his early childhood.  I had wondered what he remembered and hoped he didn’t remember the specifics.  But when he was a teenager he finally told someone what he remembered.  He was speaking to someone else, I can’t remember who now, and I was listening.  I had never spoken to him about the details because I didn’t want to color his memories, just in case he didn’t remember. 

This is what he said:

I remember being kicked into the closet.

I remember being slammed against the walls.

I remember running down the hall to get away from him and pushing the crib behind the door so he couldn’t get into the bedroom to get me because I was so afraid.

My dad taught me how to fly [spoken with heavy sarcasm].  He threw me across the room when he was angry.

While most of these could have happened at almost any age, the one about the crib occurred before he was 4 years old. 

It was also revealing, and just as heart-breaking, what he didn’t bother to mention. He never mentioned the slaps (open-handed, full-strength strikes to any body part) and punches, or being hit with whatever object was closest to his father’s hand at the time. These went on all his life, though after he was reported to DFCS “Gary” stopped hitting first. Instead he would provoke J until J flinched first. Then Gary could justify bringing out the fists in the name of “defending his manhood.” (So for the last 4 years we were together I couldn’t ever say Gary initiated physical violence – thus he and everyone else, including the judge in our divorce, thought he was a changed man.) J also never mentioned all the times his dad called him “demon child” or some version of that in his frequent rages. These things were so “normal” they didn’t even rate mention.

As I’m writing this my insides are trying to climb out of my skin. Why, why, why would no one ever believe me? Why was the answer always “submit more,” “have faith,” “remain faithful,” etc.? None of those answers even touched the question, “What about the children?”  Both of the first two times I left him it was about his abuse of the children.  When I asked for help I was betrayed, denied and disbelieved. When I left Gary he convinced everyone I was lying or it was my fault. And because those voices were so loud and so unanimous I kept believing them.

 I was afraid of the authorities because the fundamentalist system in which I was raised painted the government, and especially family and children’s services, as evil people who couldn’t wait to take away the children of Christians, abuse them and turn them against their faith. When Gary was finally reported to the authorities I trusted them. The church had failed me; the authorities were supposed to protect us and they were supposed to be able to recognize abuse.

But Gary convinced the DFCS case worker I was teaching J to disrespect him and he was only responding to J’s taunts and rebellious mouth. Everytime I talked to her she threatened to take the kids away from both of us because Gary was violent and I was teaching the children to disrespect him. She scared me to death.

Later our Christian counselor (the one who didn’t believe me and didn’t approve of our separation) also said my actions were teaching our children disrespect.

The accusation of disrespect came because every time Gary became angry I got between him and the kids. I tried to reason with him. In the moment I had two choices. Walk away and let him mistreat the kids or get in the middle and try to reason with him and get him to stop. By necessity, these arguments (because that was always what they became) happened in front of the kids. There was no opportunity to take them out of the room – Gary wouldn’t cooperate with that. But they did serve the purpose of turning his anger onto me and off the kids. That action on my part was “disrespect.” And yes, I was angry in those times. But I never raged and I never got physical. I never screamed and I never used profanity – which was his modus operandi. (To be absolutely honest, I did scream at him twice while I was on chemo – and immediately apologized and took myself out of the room. It was because my meds were out of balance and getting them balanced fixed the problem.)

Two voices both said I was teaching the boys disrespect of their father — I believed them both. I apologized to the boys. And I tried to be even more reasonable. I learned to never engage in anger; to remain calm and reasonable. I still got in the middle because I couldn’t just walk away and let him treat the kids that way. And every time J mouthed off to his dad I also talked to him about his disrespect and his responsibility to do what was right no matter the provocation.  These conversations took place in private.  Gary frequently accused me to “buddying up” with J in these conversations and taking sides with J against him, which was not true at all, but no one believed me. 

Of course, the fact that I didn’t get angry back at him only made him angrier. Previously, when I did get angry, he excused his rage saying it resulted from my anger. When I didn’t get angry anymore he said I was treating him like a child (disrespect again) and it excused his rage. Somehow if I said anything, his rage was my fault. He could get angry about anything and was both entitled and excused; I was not allowed to ever be angry about anything – not his lies, not when he put us in danger with his choices, not when he abused our children.

At that point, J had never initiated physical violence toward his father and didn’t for another couple years after that. Not until he was physically larger than his father. Let me ask the question no one else seemed to be able to see — why was it OK for Gary to punch his son in the abdomen hard enough to leave marks I could still see a couple hours later, no matter what came out of his mouth? On the other hand, why was Gary excused for everything that came out of his mouth because we “provoked” him – by being too loud, or interrupting his TV show (a common offense that resulted in physically violent rage), by doing whatever he found annoying at the time? Why, why, why????

An Observation Re: Fundamentalist Christianity & Politics

I don’t think I’m anti-fundamentalist Christians as people.  I have way too many friends and family whom I love and respect still within that group.  But the movement is taking some very dangerous turns, in my opinion.  This is one thing I’ve observed in recent months that I find alarming. 

In the course of my research I see a lot of articles and blog posts about fundamentalist Christianity.  Having grown up within the fundamentalist Christian paradigm I’m well aware of the “they’re all out to get us” mentality fostered within that philosophy.  Increasing public sentiment is openly turning against fundamentalist Christians.  However, this sentiment has not appeared spontaneously just because “evil hates good.”  Fundamentalists see persecution as affirmation of their godliness.  But the cultural shift against the movement known as “Fundamentalist Christianity” is occurring in reaction to the excesses and arrogance of those who call themselves fundamentalist Christians. 

The primary way fundamentalist Christians have made targets of themselves is through political action.  Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with political involvement; it is a basic right and responsibility of every adult American citizen.  However, fundamentalist Christianity has virtually taken over the Republican party, making politics a “fundamentalist Christian” vs. “non-fundamentalist-Christian” battle rather than a struggle over ideals and how to promote the welfare of our country.  Whether the fundamentalist leaders realize it or not, to everyone outside their rarified atmosphere they have made it all about their own religious particulars.  I know fundamentalist believe they have a mandate from God to control this country with their own brand of right.  This idea is alarming to everyone outside their paradigm.

They don’t see what everyone else can see.  Religion and politics are both power centers.  When one controls the other abuses of power occur.  It goes both ways.  In fact, that was one of the foundational issues in the formation of this country. 

Look at history.  Inside the fundamentalist subculture there is a lot of vilification of the Catholic church, Bloody Mary, and other religio-governmental abuses of religious freedom.  However, they conveniently overlook the fact that this abuse of power is not limited to the groups they see as evil.  The Puritans were just as bloody as Bloody Mary.  John Calvin also burned people at the stake for not agreeing with his theology – stunning religious leader there.  Why do fundamentalist Christians think they wouldn’t be just as guilty of misusing a power platform of their own?  As a religious group they already can’t keep their affairs in order; having them in control of a nation is a very scary thought, regardless of what I may think of some of their specific values.

Another issue I see as far as the dangers of fundamentalist Christians gaining political power is that statesmanship requires particular experience, education, connections and major leadership skills.  Religious values believed to be important to the country are not adequate qualifications to lead a nation!  Religious leaders, especially fundamentalist leaders, tend to be poor leaders when compared to the rest of the real world.  Not many of them could successfully run a large corporation, much less an entire country.  The rate of abuses, embezzlement, imbalanced leadership, etc. in fundamentalist churches is alarming.  Having this general type of person leading the country alarms me (not alluding to any specific accusations; I know of nothing specific against any fundamentalist Christian involved in politics).  Not one member of the “religious right” that has been a front-runner is someone I would trust in that position.  Some of these men I have known up-close (but not personally); others I have seen and heard just enough to know they almost certainly fit the same mold, especially when they uphold the former as role models to emulate.

I don’t think it is wrong for anyone to pursue a career in politics, regardless of their religious affiliation.  What I find alarming is using religious affiliation is an indication of qualification for political leadership and as an important, even primary, identifier.  To me that is obviously backwards, upside down and should be a sign that something is seriously amiss.

Some Thoughts about Denominations

In the course of writing and research I see a lot of articles and blog posts within the world of Christianity.  A constant recurring theme is “who’s got the ‘right’ denomination.”  Denominational squabbles have existed forever, I suppose.  I don’t get it though.

First of all, denominations are inherently divisive.  What is that bit in the Word about a house divided against itself?  That’s what denominations are – division in the “house” of the church.  I don’t know how to get around denominational division, but it is still division and a profound weakness to the church.

The really big thing that jumps out at me is, in constantly seeking the “right” denomination are we asking the right question?  Why are we seeking the right denomination?  There is no right denomination – obviously, personal opinion here.  Every denomination – with the possible exception of Catholic or Orthodox, who debate which came first – has been started in reaction to others, an anti-denomination if you will.   Why is “anti” another organization a good basis for the foundation of a denomination?  I understand how the theological process works to make a new schism.  I also know in some cases the founders of a denomination did not set out to start a new denomination.  Luther is a great example.  He wanted to bring truth to his own church.  They excommunicated him; that was not his choice and he seriously sought God’s direction in the process. 

But are we asking the right question when we debate who has the right denomination when the fact is none of us will ever have “perfect” theology because our human understanding will never, on this earth, be able to perfectly understand the mind and nature of God.  It is impossible.  Would we be better spending our time seeking God to improve our own personal understanding and relationship with God?  There are only so many hours in a day, and days in each life.  Are we wasting valuable time squabbling over theological bits and pieces instead of keeping our eyes on the ball of godly purpose – living life in relationship with God and others?

 Why are we seeking the right denomination instead of seeking to live in personal relationship with and in Christ?  That is a full-time, all-absorbing occupation.

I know it is hard to avoid theological wrangling when we feel strongly about points we feel we have come to hold dearly, sometimes at significant personal cost.  I don’t know if I can resist it fully myself, even when I consciously find it objectionable.  I can wax eloquent on theological issues such as Calvinism (don’t get me started), etc.  But how much value is there in the fight?  Debating details of theology is rarely the matter of defending truth and righteousness that we “feel” it is.  Entire online forums exist solely for the purpose of “defending” denomination and denominationally-distinctive theology — for promoting and continuing division on the church.  Does anyone else see a problem with this?

Theology of an Abusive Marriage

I wrote an article by this title in my articles section. I’m excerpting just the beginning of it below. It’s lengthy, so go check out the article to see the whole document.

~~~

Much of the abuse in my marriage had its roots, or at least it’s excuse for continued existence, in the theology of marriage and family taught in the churches where both my husband and I grew up. These were almost all Baptist churches, some fundamentalist Baptist churches, and a very few non-Baptist churches. The reason I am naming these churches is because, while this theology is extremely common in fundamentalist Baptist churches, it is not limited to this subset. Throughout most of our marriage we were in a Southern Baptist Church and during our first separation our counselor was an elder in our church who was also a LMFT and Christian counselor. During our second separation we received counseling from a trained counselor who attended a Charismatic (full gospel) church and had exactly the same theology of marriage. I also want to make clear that the application of this theology does vary. While I believe this theology is biblically inaccurate, not everyone reaches the conclusion in their personal practice that these theological distinctives excuse behavior which some view as godly but which is abusive…

Click here to read the rest.

The Theology of Cultic Christianity

Originally part of this post was incorporated into the one before it.  But I had so much to say on the subject I later pulled out part of the previous post to exand on it here.  I wanted to dig a little deeper into the theological errors of what I consider cultic Christianity.  What I am describing here are some of the theological particulars of the specific flavor of Christianity I experienced; fundamentalist Christianity specifically.

 ~~~

The churches of my childhood definitely have an elitist attitude that “we are the only ones with the truth,” including excluding other Christian denominations.  They might admit that some other denominations had real Christians in them but “they” didn’t have the whole truth.  We were the only ones who really “got” it.  However, outside of the very most primitive theological basics, the god worshipped in these churches doesn’t look like the one in the Book.

Is it enough to believe that Jesus is God’s son, died for our salvation which we receive by grace through faith? These are perhaps the most central, critical theological aspects of the Christian faith and certainly not to be overlooked entirely.  Paul does say that some preach Christ out of all types of erroneous motivations but at least the gospel is being presented and people are accepting Christ as their Savior.  And I don’t want to diminish the importance of that. 

However, we were pushed to salvation with constant violent and manipulative diatribes about how we were going to hell and God was poised to zap us. (I find it ironic, after the fact, that so much detailed graphically depicted violence of God’s judgment was acceptable in an environment that outlawed theaters, TV, movies rated anything beyond G, etc.  I think the way God’s wrath is being depicted, especially to children, is nothing short of abusive.) 

So salvation was motivated by fear – a completely erroneous motivation which skews the entire rest of the relationship. The Word says “God so loved…” not “God was so angry…”  It also says the kindness of God leads us to repentance, not His wrath.  Again, the Word says Jesus came not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.  Where in there is the picture of an angry God with His fist raised to strike? 

Oddly enough, the churches I grew up in said God’s love was expressed through His anger and judgment because His holiness demanded our perfection.  But the Word says God “knows our frame” and He remembers that we are “dust” — He understands our humanity.  His love is bigger than that. 

The Word also says judgment will take place after death and at the end of time.  God’s love is paramount during the time that is now.  His love holds His judgment of mankind in reserve.  Everything God has done to reach out to reconcile with mankind and His motivation for relationship with us is LOVE.  I was literally shocked to realize this in my early 20s.  How could I have gone to church my whole life and never heard this simple but profound basic truth that is clearly presented throughout the Word (but especially visible in the writings of John).  Who wants to run to a God who is preparing to strike them and whom they know will hit them everytime they make a misstep?  On the other hand, who wants to run to a God who loves us so much He was willing to give up everything of value to Him just to regain relationship with us?  And how can the church have mixed this up so badly?

Salvation in these churches was free for the taking by simply repeating a scripted little mantra that had the “right” phrases. If someone assented to this “prayer” they were in, locked, sealed and secure.  But the Word requires repentance – an entire life change.  It says our deeds will demonstrate a life change which will reflect whether our salvation was genuine (not to be confused with deeds earning salvation; deeds reflect salvation).  The Word says many will call God LORD who are not His followers – but they think they are because they think they have their theology in  order and have done the “Christian” thing correctly. 

At the same time, in these churches deeds are everything.  Deeds are the measure of holiness.  Deeds are the measure of not only maturity, but also the litmus test of the genuineness of your conversion.  Christians are required to “do” or “not do” a proscribed list of things if they want to be holy – which, of course, every Christian wants to be since God can tolerate nothing less than holiness.  There are a couple points of flawed reasoning in this theology.

First, the “deeds” of a true believer in Christ are not the things they do or don’t do in order to be holy.  The deeds of a true believer are simply the life they live as they are in relationship with Christ, controlled and motivated by the Holy Spirit.  A life in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is visibly different and noticeably powerful — but not because someone does certain things or doesn’t do certain things.  This is a misunderstanding of what personal holiness is. 

The Word says for us to “be holy as God is holy” but we can’t do that by following a list of behaviors that supposedly equal holiness.  The only way to be holy as God is holy is to let Him, through the Holy Spirit, be holy through us.  Literally be holy as God is holy because it is His holiness, not my holiness attempting to mimic His.

Also, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of how God views those who are truly His children.  This subject I have written about more thoroughly elsewhere.  When I get it posted to this site I’ll come back with a link.  Simply put, since the Word says God cannot see the sin of those who are in Christ and since Jesus paid the full penalty for all sin, for those who accept His sacrifice, God sees us as holy already.  Nothing we can do will affect that.  When we choose to act in ways that are outside the control of the Holy Spirit (these can be good things just as easily as “bad” things!) we pull away from God – not the other way around.  And all our actions will be sorted out in the end, with only that part of our life that was lived in Christ remaining.  We will experience the natural consequences of our choices on this earth; we don’t get a free pass to act however we want.  But God isn’t waiting to zap us if we don’t “do” holiness.

There is another huge mistaken understanding in these churches – mental assent (belief) is not the same thing as faith.  In fact I would dare say this misunderstanding is at the root of the failure of Christianity as an institution.  Belief (as in mental assent) makes religions.  Christian “belief” is no different than Buddhist belief, or Muslim belief, or atheistic belief.  It is just religion.  Faith takes a life leap into what cannot be known or determined through mental probing or analysis – it is full, absolute commitment and abandonment to life in relationship with Christ, in Christ.   (And if you really want to get into it – a subject for another article – everyone has faith.  Everyone has faith in something because faith is what ultimately determines our actions where we cannot know concretely.  Because we are humans – and cannot comprehend all knowledge – we all act in faith to a far greater degree than most people realize.)

Most pivotal, the purpose of salvation in the Word is restoration of relationship between God and mankind, not so we can avoid being zapped by God.  Before the Fall, God walked with Adam in the garden of Eden and had a literal walking, talking friendship relationship with him.  That relationship is what God wants to restore.  But in the churches I grew up in there is no relationship in this sense.  I never heard one word about this in 20 years in church. 

“Relationship with God” meant service in the church and “doing” the list of holiness behaviors. After “salvation” as it was taught in the churches of my youth, the rest of life was to be lived in service to God – that was supposedly our purpose on this earth. This is not relationship with God by any stretch of theological imagination. “Service to God” was synonymous with “serving the church and preacher, combined with constant proselytizing efforts.” Again, this life purpose is not the one described in the Bible.  Paul describes that purpose well in Phil. 3:7-14 where he says the ultimate goal is to know Christ.  It is not about “doing” for God.  It is about living with and in Him.  If we live in Christ, the Holy Spirit will do all the doing He wants done through us.

The wonderful thing is that people in this skewed Christian environment do actually find real relationships with God – and that is not to be dismissed. But these churches, at the very least, cripple converts from day one, twisting the rest of their relationship with God and their understanding of the truth – the truth that is supposed to set them free, but instead keeps them in bondage.

When Christianity is a Cult

(I divided this post into two after it’s original appearance.  So if you saw it right after I posted it on 1/19/08, you migh want to take another look at this post and the one after it.) 

I found this blog post at orthopraxis.wordpress.com, entitled “What is a Cult?” This interested me especially because I have long felt, and even said – to raised eyebrows – that the Christianity of my childhood was like a cult. When I was growing up the church said cults were those weirdo religions that didn’t believe Jesus was God’s Son, our personal Savior (etc. through the “correct” theology). I contend that a cult is a cult because of it’s overall mindset, well-described in the post copied below. The fact that these churches had key theological points in Christian order does not mean they were not a cult. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the theology involved, which includes a supposed Biblical mandate to blindly follow certain human leaders, etc. is an idolatrous religion.

So, read the description of cults that follows and see if it doesn’t look like some segments of Christianity.

~~~

In the field of sociology, much really excellent work has been done on analyzing the polity of cult behavior. The analysis has proceeded quite helpfully across confessional boundaries, to think in terms of cult social behavior, cult attitudes (in terms of social psychology), cult social structures, etc. There have been many studies and many lists of earmarks of cults put out, and some points are controversial, while others have nearly universal agreement. “Nearly”, because of course some groups feel justifiably threatened by the analysis. The analysis can apply to an entire group, to a group within a group, to a mere congregation of something vast and univeral, or to an entire confession. The sociological elements are key, not anything like “official” status, sanction, or membership. Your tax-exempt status has no relevance. Likewise it does not assume that all cult or cult-like groups will have all of the elements, so analysis is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to look for a constellation of attitudes and behaviors that elicit a trend. Here are set of common elements culled from some of this analysis:

  • The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to a charismatic leader and regards his particular version, flavor, or interpretation of beliefs, as the truth.
  • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished, usually by a series of social reprisals to include stigmatization (or even framing), shunning, and ostracizing dissenters with the goal of isolation, denial of support, and breaking down the reputation of those who leave or who try to remain but hold different views. The group may even go after dissenters in the larger culture, maintaining dossiers and conducting witch hunts for the ‘incorrect’ in our midst – essentially a kind of stalking of ideological opponents at large, and may employ moles, propaganda agents, and others to conduct operations against these opponents.
  • ‪The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel.
  • ‪The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members.
  • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality.
  • ‪The leader successfully evades accountabiliy to proper authorities in key matters relating to cult characteristics.
  • ‪The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group.
  • ‪The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
  • The group is preoccupied with correctness of belief and behavior, well beyond the norm.
  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities, and simultaneously to curtail ordinary behavior within the context of family, friends, etc.
  • Physical abuse is present and is justified or concealed.
  • Angry or vehement mistreatment may result from failing to achieve goals.