Posts Tagged ‘Church

19
May
11

Scapegoating & Spiritual Abuse in Churches (Part 1)

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.

12
Oct
09

Yes, but who do you say Christ is?

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?’

03
Oct
09

Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18

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’

29
Sep
09

It Isn’t Easy to Love – a reflection on Matt 22:34-46

Readings: 1 Thess 2 & Matt 22:34-46.

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′

27
Sep
09

Generosity in the Belly of the Whale – Jonah 3:10-4:11

Jonah 3:10 – 4:11  &  Matthew 20:1-16

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’

18
Sep
09

Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9

Reading: Luke 13:1-9.

“If the fig tree bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” Well, that could generate a little stress for the fig tree, couldn’t it? It really does sound kind of harsh.

Since it is a continuation, to grasp the meaning we need to briefly revisit chapter 12. Luke 12, leading up to this reading, can be a little disconcerting. Jesus made a comment of the sort we don’t usually associate with him; Jesus said he had come to bring to the earth not peace, but division. Family member will be set against family member. This challenges our image of Jesus as the “prince of Peace”, doesn’t it?

Still, as God’s own Messenger in the midst of this world, there is no avoiding a certain degree of conflict. Jesus’ insertion into this world as a truly holy person was like putting a white hot piece of iron into a bucket of cold water—a boiling reaction was inevitable. Continue reading ‘Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9’

17
Sep
09

What Does Dominion over Creation Mean?

Whether you believe in Creation as a 6-day or an evolving process, we generally seem to have no doubt we, as humans, were the ultimate goal in God’s Creation. In either case we have assumed dominion over the earth, ruling over all its inhabitants and resources. Is this really what God had in mind? We obviously have no way of knowing absolutely, but we certainly can gain clues from Scripture. The point of this message is not to determine the answer to those questions, but simply to offer other, possibly more controversial, views of God’s position. Continue reading ‘What Does Dominion over Creation Mean?’

16
Sep
09

IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?

Around the world there are myriad variations of the churches that fit under the general banner of Reformed. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) alone boasts membership of 215 denominations in 107 countries with over seventy five million members, the majority of which are in the southern hemisphere.[1]  This vast number still does not contain all the denominations with roots in the 16th-century Reformation led by John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and others. Many of these denominations, especially in the United States, developed after previous church bodies split apart over irreconcilable differences, while others exist separately because of geographic location, or ethnic origin. Some others have been drawn together into larger groups or denominations, such as the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom or the Uniting Church in Australia. While belonging to the WARC, to foster common mission and ministry, relations between some of these various ‘partners’ are tenuous at best. An example is found in the way many members of the Christian Reformed Church in the U.S. refer to the Presbyterian Church (USA) disparagingly as Neo-Reformed, while some of the latter refers to the former as Neo-Nazi. Among those that have recently united, there has been a blending of polity and theology, or at least a tolerance developed for varying beliefs and processes within the same body, that may leave some wondering whether they still possess a truly definable theological identity. Continue reading ‘IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?’

14
Sep
09

Christology of Jon Sobrino

The Concept of Jesus as a Model of Radical Political Action with Reference to the Theology of Jon Sobrino.

In his 1972 book The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder developed the biblical evidence which justified his belief, “Jesus is, according to the biblical witness, a model of radical political action …”[1] Yoder, disturbed by theological thought that separated Jesus from the political sphere, attempted to prove that faithful Christian disciples should adopt Jesus’ political approach, which included pacifism.[2] Another area of Christian thought that encourages active participation in the arena of politics and justice is Latin American Liberation Theology (LALT), with Jon Sobrino being a particularly vocal advocate. Sobrino comes from a completely different tradition, culture and political climate than Yoder, and would have dissimilar beliefs in many regards – absolute pacifism being just one. The aim of this paper is not to compare and/or contrast the principles upon which these theologians’ beliefs are built, but rather to determine if this particular quote of Yoder would also be compatible with Sobrino’s theology. Continue reading ‘Christology of Jon Sobrino’

13
Sep
09

Women’s Leadership in the Early Church

“Women’s leadership and contributions to early Christianity can only become historically visible when we abandon our outdated patriarchal-androcentric model of early Christian beginnings.” [1] 

 In many quarters there is a fascination with the “early church”, the model of church that existed in the first century C.E., exhibiting a romantic naiveté in believing that it had some idyllic, unified conduct. It is apparent that certain particularities of the early church have been considered normative by churches old and new. The mega- or meta-church movement in the U.S. and elsewhere has drawn on the practice of home-churches, as reported in Paul’s letters and Acts, to develop massive organizations, built on cell- or small-group ministries, that have little or no resemblance to the early church. Pentecostal churches have strived to emulate the Apostles in becoming filled with the Holy Spirit after baptism, leading to the proliferation of the once peculiar “born again” phenomena. Perhaps the single particularity of the early church to have been most widely adopted as normative by a great many of the world’s churches is the exclusion of women from leadership roles and, in many churches, a discomfort with or outright denial of the status of women as being made in God’s image. Rather than resulting from a naïve understanding of the Christian church in the first century, which would lack any intent to degrade women, the view of many feminist theologians is that male hegemony is the consequence of deliberate efforts to institute and maintain patriarchal language and systems within the early church and beyond. 

Continue reading ‘Women’s Leadership in the Early Church’

30
Aug
09

God’s Promise – Gen 15:1-12, 17-18

In 2004, while studying at Cambridge, I had the privilege of leading the Community Day worship hosted by my college. This was part of the curriculum for the sermon class, and I was just lucky enough to pull that date. I decided to take a chance – to push the envelope somewhat of what worship and sermon was like. The British church is a little famous for it’s staid and traditional approach to worship, so I didn’t want to blow them out of the water. The biggest complaint that I got was that I left the sermon with questions to which I did not provide the answers, which is the classic English preaching style. Follwing is the liturgy and sermon for that day. I hope it is meaningful in some way.

Continue reading ‘God’s Promise – Gen 15:1-12, 17-18′

25
Aug
09

A Cynics View of the History of Disciple-making

The adherents of Christian religions include upwards of 2 billion people – almost one-third of the world’s population, according to David Barrett, an Evangelical Christian who is the compiler of religious statistics for the Encyclopedia Britannica.[1] While Christianity began in the Middle East, it is generally considered a European/ American religion. Those areas, however, do not encompass the majority of adherents. More Christians, in fact, are found in the “third world” – those areas that were formerly colonized by various European powers.  The story of the spread of the world’s most prolific religion during the second millennia of Christianity is at least interesting, if not informative of the current political and military efforts of the West, most notably the U.S., seemingly aimed at making converts of another sort – disciples of Western democracy and capitalism. Continue reading ‘A Cynics View of the History of Disciple-making’

25
Aug
09

Women’s Equality Day – Liturgy and Sermon notes

Special Service Recognizing Women’s Right to Vote

 Service of Word and Sacrament                                                                                  August 26, 2009

Continue reading ‘Women’s Equality Day – Liturgy and Sermon notes’

19
Aug
09

What Kind of Peace? – Matthew 10:24-39

In this chapter of the Gospel of Matthew I hear Jesus saying to the disciples, “So, you want to be a follower of Christ?”

The chapter begins with Jesus giving the disciples’ ministry and mission, “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” Then, Jesus tells them what might happen to them on the way, culminating in the instructions to flee to another town when they are persecuted. Jesus tells the disciples that because the culture opposes Jesus, it will also oppose them – they are not above the same treatment that their teacher encounters.

But, Jesus says, do not be afraid – bring what you have seen and learned in secret into the light and proclaim it from the rooftops. And God will know and value you for doing so. Not only that, but knowing what they are doing as followers of Christ, Jesus promises to testify on their behalf before God.

And, lastly, Jesus tells the disciples what they will witness in families and communities as they deliver the good news. The reaction to the good news of the gospel may not be good news. Continue reading ‘What Kind of Peace? – Matthew 10:24-39’

18
Aug
09

The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11

Read the passage here.

Being a numbers geek, I am always tempted to craft an artful sermon about the significance of forty – you know, going over the theological, cultural and political significance of forty as it appears so many times in scripture. I am tempted, but I know that I would probably be the only one who got anything out of it – and, as I so often need to be reminded, it’s not about me.

I am still tempted, though. If I did it well, it would be a sign that I was pretty gifted when it comes to theological study – it could make me look good. But, then again, looking good – making a big impression – is that what ministry is really about?

Then again, if I did it REALLY well and used a lot of theological language that was tough to understand – and I made sure that the right people got a copy of it – I could get some real mileage out of it in the presbytery. I could gain some power and prestige out of that, couldn’t I?

Okay – probably not. Continue reading ‘The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11’




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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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