For young people, especially LGBTQ, who at are risk. If you, or someone you know is lost, feels alone, is confused, bullied, deeply troubled or having suicidal thoughts, this helpline is available 24/7. There will be more about what you can do elsewhere on this blog but, whatever you do, call if you or someone you know is at risk. Remember, you are not alone.
While researching the subject of spiritual abuse, it became obvious there were several distinct categories including cultism, abuse suffered by pastors/ministers, and sexual and non-sexual abuse at the hands of pastors/ministers. The greatest amount of literature uncovered deals with cults, followed by sexual abuse, and the abuse of pastors respectively. Material discussing the emotional, physical, marital and spiritual issues of these particular religious aberrations is readily available, lending credence to the realities of the pain and suffering of the victims. The least reported aspect of spiritual abuse, the non-sexual abuse of parishioners or church staff by ministers of the Word and Sacrament in mainline churches, became the subject of this research paper. This decision was prompted by three factors – (i) the relatively small amount of relevant material; (ii) the apparently cavalier attitude possessed by some regarding this phenomenon; and (iii) my own personal witness of, and experience with, episodes of this nature. With rare exception, only one or two chapters in each book, some of which are secular, dealt with situations of this type.
The development of spiritually abusive patterns
Before discussing issues of pastoral care for the spiritually abused, it seems necessary to define the situations, environments and methodologies within which spiritual abuse proliferates.
“Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment” (Johnson, p. 20).
One of the earliest non-scriptural references to abuse at the hand of clergy was found in Six Books on the Priesthood by St. John Chrystostom, written in the fourth century CE. Chrystostom’s discussion revolved around the high expectation of thought and behavior and the displacement of ego necessary for the office of bishop, combined with his fear of his own human weakness of spirit and inherent iniquity. Ambition, conceit, pride, anger and love of power are among his most common self-criticisms, as well as reasons for disapproval and rebuke of clergy. Jealousy, arrogance, fawning over the rich, acquiring and hoarding material wealth, slander and political intrigue, while not character traits repeatedly applied to himself, are appended to the list of unacceptable qualities in a bishop (Neville). Chrystostom cited these characteristics as foundational to the then-current incidences of abuse of church members. Preaching for self-promotion rather than the edification of the populace, ignoring the plight of the widowed and sick, and complicity in the condition of the poor by amassing wealth as opposed to supporting the needy were some of the symptoms of pastoral abuse he mentioned. Chrystostom’s description of the consequences of these actions was dire, but his contemporaries were evidently not motivated to change, since he died en route to exile for upsetting the church and political elite.
Chrystostom pushed against power, and power pushed back. In Understanding Clergy Misconduct in Religious Systems, Candace Benyei states that, when our forebears in Eden assumed the right to possess the knowledge of Good and Evil, they actually made a decision to rely on their own resources instead of the gifts of God. In this search for meaning in their lives, they instead “discovered insecurity, and its corollary, the need for power” (Benyei, p. 6). Power, she asserts, is a function of advantage or privilege. Insecurity teaches that there is not enough abundance to satisfy everyone equitably. The need, therefore, develops to guarantee existence by controlling more than a fair share of available assets. When this underlying fear of ‘being without’ is exacerbated by childhood experiences of abuse, abandonment or neglect, it can lead to what Wayne Oates, in When Religion Gets Sick, calls the “sociopathic power orientation”.
According to the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, the more correct term for sociopathic is “antisocial personality disorder” or “antisocial person” (Hunter, p.46). Throughout the texts researched, the authors interchangeably used persecutor, oppressor, abuser, antisocial pastor and sociopath to describe this personality type. For consistency and ease I have used the terms ‘antisocial pastor’ to denote a member of the clergy with inclinations towards abuse, and ‘abusive pastor’ to refer to those actively engaged in spiritually abusive behavior.
An antisocial pastor leads others by dividing and conquering – maintaining some level of distrust and conflict between – his or her ‘subjects’. Pastors of this type become “known for the number of people who leave the church” after suffering or witnessing one conflict after another at the hands of the leader (Oates, p.164). Other people learn about these conflicts – only occasionally at first, but then with increasing frequency. Any effect on the antisocial pastor is negated or limited by the congregation’s tendency to find a scapegoat. “Because it is unbearable to believe that the beloved minister could commit such acts, since that would shatter the fantasy that one had at last found the ultimate caregiver, victims are often [to the congregation] unforgivable” (Benyei, p. 95). Most often the persons disclosing mistreatment are accused of lying, bearing a grudge against the pastor, being sick or neurotic, or even as evil incarnate. The church so described has a secret to keep, and will attempt to squash any attempt to make indiscretions public.
“Too many churches communicate this kind of shaming message: ‘the problem is not that your boundaries were crossed and violated, the problem is that you talked. If you would not have made such a big deal, everything would still be fine.’ If a person accepts that message, they will stop talking. The real problem, however, is that if a Christian who feels violated stops talking, then the perpetrator will never be held accountable for his behavior” (Johnson, p.69).
Sometimes, the antisocial pastor will participate in, if not initiate, accusations to deflect attention away from the original conflict. With each new disclosure, the number of people aware of the pattern seems to grow. The pastor may then become more abusive by aggressively using ‘scapegoating’ as a defense – against individual victims, entire church groups, other churches or ecclesiastical bodies such as presbyteries. The insecurity of the antisocial pastor mandates that his or her ministry be protected at all costs. “The minister addicted to power punishes and purges the system of anybody who would upset the status quo” (Arterburn, p.176).
Eventually the minister may take on the role of the persecutor, becoming an abusive pastor (Arterburn, p.193). Uncorrected, he or she may become paranoid and possibly depressive “especially when caught in misdemeanors or frustrated in his or her global sense of power” (Oates, p. 165). An inner circle of ‘disciples’, or faithful supporters, is enrolled to both feed the abusive pastor’s ego needs and serve as a source of information that can be used for damage control. “With the faithful followers willing to do anything to support the persecutor, the organization becomes dysfunctional and unbalanced, leaning heavily toward the top” (Arterburn, p.196). Robert E. Quinn, in Deep Change – Discovering the Leader Within, describes the next development as a “tyranny of competence”. Fearful of being overshadowed by someone more competent, the abusive pastor may manipulate situations to discredit other lay or ordained care providers, become competitive instead of cooperative, intentionally generate ill-will, and even participate in subtle forms of sabotage with regard to other programs within the church.
‘Plausible deniability’, a tool of some politicians and business people, becomes an effective device within this environment. Essentially, plausible deniability is an intentional process whereby other people are asked to discredit or attack someone, but only after the instigator stages a ‘show of support’ for that person. This allows the abusive pastor to deny that he or she communicated the particular message, ostensibly because it is contrary to his or her publicly stated opinion. “Persecutors don’t start out to deceive and victimize their followers or families” (Arterburn, p.202), but out of their own fear eventually develop into what I have euphemistically labeled ‘ethically challenged’ individuals. Rather than being the origin of untruths themselves, abusive pastors actively encourage gossip and may use any information, no matter the source or credibility, to further their interests. “Truth” may become subjective and prone to manipulation and distortion.
Distraction, or the use of smoke screens, is another tactic employed by some abusive pastors in the aforementioned environments. With the constant and ever-increasing need to maintain the appearance of virtuousness, the minister may use or create other urgencies to “create confusion and uncertainties [that] delay or evade any processes that would seek to uncover the real problem” (Benyei, p.106). Within the staff functions of the church this tool may create confusion as to roles, responsibilities, administrative procedures and hierarchical structure. Within the church, selective amnesia with regard to history or events, the mysterious absence or inadequacy of records or meeting minutes, or the proliferation of stories about a purported attack from inside or outside sources enable the veiling of ‘secret’ agendas or the evasion of consequences resulting from specific situations. “When you see people in a religious system being secretive —watch out. People don’t hide what is appropriate; they hide what is inappropriate” (Johnson, p.78).
Arterburn & Felton developed a comprehensive list of characteristics of the abusive pastor, or persecutor, that is abbreviated below (Arterburn, p.213):
- Needs to embellish and make things grander than they really are
- Needs and seeks power and control
- Projects own misbehavior onto others
- Believes people are extremely good or bad, usually depending on the level of support offered to the pastor
- Often motivated by greed or materialism; impressed by those with wealth or material goods
- Feels is owed something
- Is extremely self-centered
- Contorts Gods Word to fit own beliefs or needs
- Surrounds self with people who are insecure and easily swayed
- Manipulates others using guilt, shame, and remorse
- Attempts to make others accept responsibility for his or her own mistakes
- Has compulsions in several areas, especially in area of ‘hard work’, that appear admirable to the world
- Is not involved in accountable relationships
- When in a bind will ask for forgiveness and appear sincere when doing so, but doesn’t change
- Fears not measuring up or losing image
- Fears that if no longer able to perform for the masses will be useless to God.
The abusive pastor can become pathologically unable to distinguish between the actual and created realities (Oates, p. 166). Within this context, paranoia may develop into a persecution complex. Because reality becomes fuzzy, the created or manipulated diversions may seem to become real leaving the abusive pastor feeling oppressed and attacked. The congregation can also become absorbed with fictitious enemies, thereby strengthening the alliance with the pastor, who takes on the role of defender.
Go to Part 2.
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.
A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2010. That’s about 31 full 747s.
In 2010, there was 1 new post, growing the total archive of this blog to 215 posts. There was 1 picture uploaded, taking a total of 24kb.
The busiest day of the year was March 6th with 163 views. The most popular post that day was Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were search.aol.com, anagiollo.wordpress.com, search.conduit.com, slashingtongue.com, and webhostingplusdomain.co.cc.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for luke 13:1-9 social justice, acts 11:1-18 social justice, mother’s day litany, sources of theology, and matthew 18:1-6.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9 September 2009
Matthew’s Talents vs. Luke’s Minas February 2009
Christology of Jon Sobrino September 2009
Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18 October 2009
Litany for Mothers’ Day May 2009
Because LGBT individuals historically have been labeled deviant or pathological by many in the medical and psychiatric community, they have been marginalized by some segments of the health professions. As a result, many gays and lesbians do not disclose their sexual orientation to their health care providers (Cochran & Mays, 1988). Consequently, many LGBT individuals, particularly transgender individuals, are reluctant to use mainstream health care services and are medically underserved.
However, LGBT health advocates and professionals have lobbied for changes in mainstream professional organizations. This has resulted in policy statements addressing the needs of LGBT clients and the formation of official LGBT affiliates, such as the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Status of Lesbian and Gay Psychologists and the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues. Although these changes have been important steps in establishing ethical guidelines for appropriate care, many health and mental health treatment providers remain uncomfortable with sexual diversity and continue to discriminate against LGBT clients. Continue reading ‘Why Do We Need a LGBT Health Month?’
In Matt 16:13-20, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” There followed a series of answers – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or any number of other prophets. The common denominator in the answers may or may not be obvious.
They were all people who proclaimed God’s message. Many times that message was difficult to hear, and probably equally as difficult to proclaim. The messages compelled some people to believe and to act, and it turned others away. The messages were harsh, and the responses of those who rejected them even more harsh. But they proclaimed the message of God as best they understood it even in the face of rejection and death.
That’s what they did – each of them proclaimed a message of God. These answers to Jesus’ question, however, were not good enough. Jesus followed with a much more pronounced and difficult question – one which showed that the answers about Jesus simply being a prophet of God’s message were not accurate. Jesus asked, “But, who do YOU say that I am?” Continue reading ‘Yes, but who do you say Christ is?’
In order to be faithful to the gospel of Christ, we must have boundaries, right? There are things that are normal and proper – limits to what we do and believe. And yet to be faithful to the gospel, there is this nudging, this incessant prodding, as the Holy Spirit pushes us out beyond our limits. There is this nagging voice always whispering in our ear, “Are these limits God’s – or are they ours?”
Peter believed in limits. We learn that in the reading. We could easily think that Peter’s limits are simply the dietary laws of Leviticus. But, there is a much larger issue going on here.
Peter believed in the validity of all the Levitical laws. Those laws not only said what you could eat, but what you could wear, which nation you should belong to, how you should worship and who you should love. You see, for Peter and some other church leaders, you had to be a Jew in good standing to be considered a follower of Christ. To be in good standing you had to be “pure” and live up to all the laws – end of discussion.
Well, actually not the end of discussion. To be a Jew in good standing, you had to live up to those Levitical laws that the hierarchy decided were still binding. Just as in current times, some were and some weren’t. The Levitical laws have been used selectively ever since they were formalized. It just depended on who was calling the shots at the time. Continue reading ‘Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18’
In the first century Roman world, status was critical. By someone’s place in the social order, he or she would be allocated value or worth. The emperor stood at the top of Roman culture. Everyone else like politicians, soldiers, business people, general citizens and slaves had their places in relation to those above and below them.
Like Rome, every outlying city had its own social stratification. People attempted to maintain or raise their position in many ways. Making major gifts to the city was a way of gaining public honor. Funding a building, education or some other public facility like a bath or gymnasium, which were very important in Roman culture, were all ways to gain status. So was supporting an artist or artisan, guiding a young person or helping people find work.
These were all very good things, but the reasons for doing them were self-serving. It was called patronage and it was essential to the social system. Beneficiaries gave respect and status to their patron – flattery that had currency because it elevated the patron’s power, prestige and position.
In return, the beneficiaries expected more favors, assistance and general support. Conferring honor to those higher up in the social order was an economic transaction that had material benefit for those lower on the scale. It was a system designed to keep people in place in the social order by making each dependent on the patronage of those above them. Continue reading ‘It Isn’t Easy to Love – a reflection on Matt 22:34-46′
We hear two parables in today’s readings. The last one is the Parable of laborers in the Vineyard from the Gospel of Matthew. The first was the Parable of the Jealous Prophet.
Now, there are a range of thoughts about the original intent of Book of Jonah. Some understand it to be a narrative of both historic and natural fact. Others laugh and say that it is purely fantasy. There have been arguments about the Book of Jonah for millennia – from the time of the first Rabbinic interpretations all the way through to the present.
Arguments still go on about whether it was a marine dinosaur, a whale or a big fish that swallowed Jonah – that, of course depends on what you believe about creation and evolution. And arguments about whether it would be possible for a human to be swallowed whole by any of them and survive – which, of course, depends on whether you believe miracles happen. And then there are arguments about … Well, never mind. You get the idea.
Suffice to say that, as with so many things, the Book of Jonah presents yet one more reason for people of faith to fight with each other. And what is at stake in these arguments? Why the right to claim to be right, of course. It seems like, if any party can convince enough people that it’s right, their truth will somehow become God’s truth – that somehow God will be and act the way they think God should based on a majority vote.
And into this fight I am going to step and say, “I don’t care.” Continue reading ‘Generosity in the Belly of the Whale – Jonah 3:10-4:11’