Friday, February 15, 2013

Spiritual Abuse



[v. uh-byoozn. uh-byoos] verb, a·bused, a·bus·ing, noun
verb (used with object)
to use wrongly or improperly; misuse: to abuse one's authority.
to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: to abuse a horse; to abuse one's eyesight.
to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign.
to commit sexual assault upon.
Obsolete to deceive or mislead.

Virtually everyone, if asked, would assert he is against abuse of any kind. The problem comes 
when we define abuse differently. For instance, I believe spanking is physical abuse. There are 
many others who disagree with that blanket statement and wish to add caveats to it: spanking is 
an acceptable form of punishment unless taken too far they say. Unfortunately, what may be quite
obviously "too far" for one child is not so obvious for another.

I believe repeated teasing and mocking of children is emotional abuse. There are those who 
disagree, who insist their child knows teasing is done in fun and their child actually likes it. 
Frankly, there are people in this world who are so damaged by that type of thing in their childhoods, 
that they do not feel truly loved unless their sexual partner mocks and ridicules them. If there is 
even a remote possibility my actions or words to my children could lead to that type of dysfunction, believe me, I will do everything I can to avoid setting my child up for that type of dynamic.

I believe many well-meaning religious institutions (churches, universities, mission boards) practice spiritual abuse. I daresay most of the perpetrators of spiritual abuse do not actually intend to wound others, although there are certainly exceptions where individuals do willfully and knowingly use their spiritual authority to control others. Spiritual abuse is defined as "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." A broader definition would be "a kind of abuse which...leaves us spiritually discouraged and emotionally cut off from the healing love of God." 

For churches to function properly, they need to know those to whom they claim to minister. Christians and churches can give trite "Biblical" answers to people, but often, they do not wait for a question. Jesus is the spiritual answer to dealing with the consequences of sin, yes, but "Jesus" is not always the correct answer for day-to-day problems.

For instance, I have a friend with serious health problems. In addition, she has two young children, a husband who is out of work, and a mortgage to pay. Groceries and medications are the main areas where their money goes, but she also needs gas to get to her own job, and her husband is continuing his education in an attempt to get work. Placating this family with the phrase "Jesus will take care of you." is not the answer they need right now. That answer is damaging to their souls, and causes them to wonder, "Why isn't Jesus taking care of us? What have we done wrong? Are we being punished for past sins?"

The true answer to their needs would be to act as the hands and feet of Jesus: dropping off food, offering childcare, being on the lookout for job opportunities. 

Another example is my acquaintance who is a single mom to a young, school-aged boy. She has to do the work of two parents. When she tried to join an evening ladies' Bible study, she was asked not to bring her son (even though he was quietly doing homework), because it was supposed to be a time for the moms to "relax and focus on God." 

Those women, because they could not see past their own preconceived notions of what Bible study is, hurt and alienated a woman who desperately needed support and fellowship from other Christians.

In my own experience with at least four different churches, I have been accused of not parenting "biblically" (because I do not spank), accused of not allowing the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of self control in my life (if I do spank strike a child, something snaps as a result of my own abuse, and I have extreme difficulty stopping myself), accused of being selfish and not taking others' needs into account (for bringing my newborn with me to a MOPS meeting instead of leaving her in the nursery with strangers), accused of making my newborn selfish (by taking her out when she cried in church),  and finally, accused of not supporting my pastor-husband by not sitting in the services and hearing him preach (I took our then four small children out to read them a Bible story book).

In churches, Christian school, and Christian college, I was told that a man's morality is dependent on how much skin I covered. (By implication, the message is all men are rapists at heart, which is both demoralizing and infuriating for normal men.) I was told that the happiness of my marriage was dependent on how much and how well I submitted. I was told that because Eve sinned by eating the fruit, and because she caused Adam to sin, women could not be trusted on spiritual matters. 

Brothers and sisters, fellow believers, that is spiritual abuse.

It is spiritual abuse to say "Be warmed and filled," and not provide the means of warmth and food if you have it. If you do not personally have the means to provide for those asking for your help, you likely know to whom or to where to direct those in need.

It is spiritual abuse to treat those is need as if their souls are somehow separate from their bodies - and vice versa.

It is spiritual abuse to place the burden of your interpretation of God's law on others.

It is spiritual abuse to shrug your shoulders or turn away when confronted with a problem in your religious institution you can help  correct.

The solution to this is simple: 

Jesus said, "'You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments." Matt. 22:37-40