Spiritual Abuse is Devastating
Emma Green, staff writer for the Atlantic, wrote a lovely piece on Feb 11th about how Shannon Dingle, mother of six children, had just been forced to resign from a conservative Christian organization because she had expressed opposing views about Donald Trump. In the article, story after story illustrated how Christian’s whose hearts are for love and justice are feeling a need to speak against the injustices they see being instituted by their government. But, for those who work for many of the conservative evangelical organizations, they are being asked to either silence themselves, deny their beliefs, or leave.
This type of experience is quite often devastating.
Often people in these organizations bring their heart and soul to their work. Shannon for example, worked for a Christian disability-advocacy organization. Three of her own children have special needs and she is a specialist with a deep heart for her work and for her faith. For earnest people, with heart and soul deeply invested in their work, it is more than a profession, it is a calling. When your boss, who shares your faith, then begins to call your faith or motives into question, or asks you to compromise your beliefs in order to keep your job, the wear and tear on you hits every area of your life. They are not only abusing their power, but they are often doing it in the name of God.
There are ramifications emotionally, mentally, relationally, spiritually, and physically.
In my clinical practice, I have talked to many people over the years who have suffered this kind of spiritual abuse. It can be excruciating, and the harm and betrayal can take years to heal. Once gone from the organization, people often find themselves isolated from dear friends wondering if their faith and integrity is being questioned behind their back. It is so common and painful, there are several books written on the subject, and on how to heal.
This type of spiritual abuse is quite often aimed at women.
There is more misogyny than I think we realize both in and outside the church, thus there is less tolerance for women speaking out. Men, when they do speak out, may be granted more grace inside the ‘bro-code’ and, they may not speak out because they do not want to break the ‘bro-code’, (the agreement that you don’t rat out ‘your brother’).
To demonstrate the subtlety of this misuse of power, at one point in the article, Emma quotes an evangelical pastor who says, “At the same time, it would be very difficult for us to have someone serve in a leadership position who disagreed with us on essentials,” including the authority of scripture, the sanctity of life, and a Christian sexual ethic, he added.
What this pastor is actually saying here is, “It would be very difficult to have someone working here who did not agree with our politics” (anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-virginity at marriage).
Focus on the Family, James Dobson’s organization has been in the middle of the religious right and moral majority for the past 40 years.
Shortly after the election, one of the employees for his organization expressed sadness over a transgender youth’s suicide on her personal facebook page and got this response from a supervisor: “It comes across as smug, disrespectful, and distinctly partisan”, according to a text exchange she shared. “I think there’s a lack of wisdom in going at this on social. Please pull.” A week or so later, her bosses told her they thought she was not a good spokesperson for Focus on the Family. She was given two options: She could resign, get a severance, promise not to take legal action, and sign a non-disparagement agreement. Or, she could choose to be fired. She chose to be fired. You can clearly see the power abuse in this story.
The Big Lie Most Republican Evangelicals Believe
I distinctly decode what the pastor above termed essentials as politics because nowhere in scripture are abortions or gay marriage addressed, and after the resurrection of Christ, no sexual ethic based on his ministry was ever created. Instead, a sexual ethic emerged in about the second and third centuries that was about denial of the body and pleasure as a way to show piety. This has produced religious sexual shame and ignorance in profound ways, culminating in our latest ascetic crusade, the purity movement from 1992 to present. To understand more, and how to heal, read my book upcoming in May 2017, Sex, God, and the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy.
What we do know is scripture values committed love.
We do know that Jesus welcomed all people – women, men, children, Jew, Gentile, the rich, the poor, the sick and the well, the abled and disabled, the righteous and the sinner. He only asked that the heart be willing to follow his ways – ways of love, justice, grace, and mercy. One of the last things he says to his followers in John 13:35 is that others will know his disciples by how they love.
The interesting church history about abortion was that it wasn’t a pivotal issue for Christians until almost 1980, a full seven years after the passage of Roe v Wade when it was made an issue for political reasons, not scriptural ones. In fact, the idea that abortion is a key Christian issue that arose out of the Roe v Wade ruling legalizing abortion is one of the most enduring myths of the evangelical religious right and the moral majority movement!
Actually, the history is that in 1979 evangelical leaders, in a meeting called together by conservative Christian activist Paul Weyrich, decided on the issue of abortion as a rally-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.”
I was in college, and I remember this!
In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, still the key magazine of evangelicalism today, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justiﬁcations for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, filled with some of the most conservative believers in the country at the time, reafﬁrmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976. … Baptists, in particular, applauded the decision as an appropriate articulation of the division between church and state, between personal morality and state regulation of individual behavior.
“Religious liberty, human equality, and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” wrote W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press.
But, abortion eventually took hold like a wildfire at the end of a dry summer. It was the perfect issue to rally around; it was a woman’s issue and an issue involving sex, pregnancy, and fear. Things patriarchal religious cultures historically seek to exploit. Before long, evangelicals became convinced God had personally told them that life began at conception and abortions were murder – even to the point of bombing abortion clinics and literally murdering physicians who performed legal abortions.
The same kind of extreme thinking can be found attributed to the homosexuality issue.
The kind of homosexuality we are familiar with in our culture is between two consenting adults, who most often are seeking to live in a monogamous committed relationship. We know this type of love is celebrated by God and by Jesus in scripture. The only kind of same-sex sexual relationship that is referred to in old and new testament scripture is teacher/student (pederasty) and master/slave. Both of these relationships have a power dynamic that makes consent impossible. And because of this, when they were discussed by a Rabbi or Jesus’ followers, they were discouraged. There cannot be justice if consent cannot be granted.
Considering the wonderful people in Christian service such as Shannon Dingle, as gut-wrenching as it is to be treated unjustly by someone they deeply trusted and thought shared their faith, not to mention held the power to their paycheck, there is a liberated and grounded faith on the other side filled with wise and loving people waiting to embrace them. Many have walked a similar path, and they will affirm that Shannon can trust her wise heart. It was captured by Jesus, the radical rebel who came to abolish the law and extend love, grace and forgiveness to all. And yes, while she is busy trying to help the least among us, it is enough to focus on Micah 6:8 –
To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.