Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

Mom and Dad came over a few months ago and saw I was reading, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen.  After we talked about the book some, Dad immediately began to confess and to ask our forgiveness for his abuses.  The next day, Mom found the book in a bookstore, and the two of them read it together.  Not long after, she started confessing and mending relationships, noting to me how subtly she'd hurt one of her own siblings who'd been expressing doubts about God, which my Mom had wanted no part of and had chastised this sibling for.  It's a book I'd not recommend everybody read.

The authors write for Christians, or at least for church goers who have been abused by church leaders; and they write just a bit for the abusers too.  If you've read it then you know how the authors dedicate the book to "the weary and heavy laden, deeply loved by God, but because of spiritual abuse, find that the Good News has somehow become the bad news."  And, at the end of the book, they write to abusers:  "Even if you've abused others, God still extends his arms to you and says, 'Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.'  Does this sound like a welcome invitation?  We believe it is from the heart of God."  In the middle of the book, they also give this same quotation, saying, "It is possible that Matthew 11 gives one of the best descriptions of Jesus' earthly 'job description.'  If you want to see His stance toward tired, wounded, struggling, people, here it is."

I'm bringing this up because there's talk in the bibleblogosphere of bullying.  So you might say this blogpost of mine is how I respond to how Joel Watts responds to how "Peter Kirk responds to Anthony Bradley," which includes how Bradley responds to how Rachel Held Evans responds to Mark Driscoll for what she calls Driscoll's bullying, which could be seen also as his homophobia (if you read one of the many posts she links to).  I am weary now.  Heavy.  Heavy laden.  So what should I do?

Yesterday, my neighbor and friend told me how sad she is we're moving.  "And, do you know what kind of neighborhood it is you're moving to?" she asked.  "Tell me," I responded.  "Up through the 1970s, your new neighborhood was full of houses that were only deeded to whites.  When we were looking to buy there then, we were told, don't bother." 

You see, my friend is, by her own self-identity, "black."  In other words, she's African American.  She knows the history of discrimination of whites against black in the United States very well.  She knows her history very well.  She knows it personally.  Sometimes the abuse of blacks by whites is very subtle.  Sort of like the power of spiritual abuse of Christian church leaders and powerful bloggers. 

At any rate, my neighbor pressed.  She knows I'm white.  In other words, I'm Euro-American.  She told me that when she was a little girl, her mother took her into a department store that only whites frequented.  A young white store clerk grabbed the little girl by her pony tail and exclaimed to her mother, "You negroes must leave this store right now."  The mother looked at the clerk and apologized.  She looked at her daughter and told her that she must also apologize.  "This is the same mother," said my neighbor, "who used to beat me.  And now she was telling me to apologize.  For what?  For being black?  For going with her into a white store?  What did I do wrong?"

My friend and neighbor confessed.  "I used to hate it when Martin Luther King came on tv.  He'd talk of freedom.  But he'd stir everybody up.  He'd make for tension.  What good is freedom when it's just going to get you in line for more abuse?  Why couldn't he just be quiet?  Why did everybody have to listen to him?  I was a little girl then.  The attitudes were deep."

The attitudes run deep.  Very very deep.  This is some their power.  The subtleties reinforce the power and perpetuate the abuses.  I'm not saying I have answers for anybody else right now.  I'm just blogging.  I do think fb, twitter, and blogging, like pulpiteering and pony-tail grabbing can be abusive.  And yet, and yet.  I still believe in good news and in good change.


tim bulkeley said...

I don't think tghe problem is so much the store clerks, who are low on the "food chain" and tend to follow the crowd. I don't think either it is often the deliberately abuse of power. But often it is power that is not recognised by the holder, who acts as if there was no imbalance of power between themselves and another. Because there is in fact a difference an unrecognised abuse occurs.

Teachier are quite susceptable to this form of abuse, often not recognising (or not wanting to recognise, beacuse it does not fit their ideology) the imbalance. In blogging, only the hugely "successful" (or megalomaniac) feel they have power, so again an unrecognised abuse can occur...

JR said...

Pain on pain. By the time I work collaboratively with clergy who refer in-house (in-church) domestic abuse cases (I get the restraining orders – and pray and cry alongside) in poverty cases – the manifestation of physical abuse is usually only the late expressed violence of ambient and long standing spiritual and verbal abuse. Verbal – in all its so-called less violent forms.

I’m on a withered and bent track today. Sorry for this. Biopholia (love for bios and biology) is my first love. And foremost. If I had it to do all over again, I’d devote it all to biometrics. And use the biometrics against the closed-hard-taxa of Aristotle in order to bless Lynn Margulis – "Gaia Is a Tough Bitch."

Tough bitches aside – because tough bitches are tender too.

And the very toughest – “because tough, girly, ain’t enough” – get hurt.

I’m on this weird biological and biophiliac roll because the overlay of poverty and the cooking of meth labs pouring acid into maternal love-centers in the brain (men too) so fries and so ruins maternal love in acid wash – especially love of the mother by the mother for the mother – that when all of this hell of verbal abuse is cooked with chemicals – and then gets expressed in the lexicon of spiritual language – it seems to me the sum total of abuse is totalized. Suicide rates are climbing.

Eu is gone.

Only Daemonia remains.

That texts – and your love for canon too – could help heal these neural centers? Inside. And between us.

Sorry I’m not in a good listening mood. Speaking out of pain. Had another of these cases.

Save listening to such very good news – about your mom and pop. So very good. And tender along the way -- "And yet, and yet. I still believe in good news and in good change."



JR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. K. Gayle said...

Tim -
Your observation about unrecognized imbalance seems exactly right. Even in our English language, the default and unmarked forms (linguists say) are the unrecognized ones. In contrast, there's an imbalance with phrases such as fe-male and wo-man and even colored person. This happens in Greek too, and in biblical Hebrew some, but gets really dicey when it goes unnoticed. The hierarchical map of knowledge that Aristotle's science attempted to construct, boxes binary pairs - and there's always the default / vs. the marked. The one is always, by the method of this "knowing," over and above the Other.

Jim -
Thanks for your thoughts about violent forms, and for bringing in Margulis' science in ironic contrast to Aristotle's, and for somehow connecting this all to illegal drug making and abuse and suicide. You play on Aristotle's Greek-word (for) happiness in ways that I only recall Mary Daly doing so well. On texts, of course, they don't change us; persons are above logic, and we construct texts. But look what you're writing. You're writing. And thanks for listening too. I know you're listening. So am I. How do adults change, as my own parents who birthed me are still changing, in good-news ways?

JR said...

J. K. Gayle,

Talking about you behind your back.

I don’t know whether (good etiquette?) or where to place this link on your blog. I’m taking a shot: placing one here and also at our conversations on canon/text.

Please – please - if this linking is offensive in content or good form – please delete these two links.

I do not expect to do this often, if ever again.


“What Thomas Aquinas, Saint of Evolutionary Psychologists, Did Not Know ~ The Biblical Basis For Darwinian Psycho/Sociobiology”

... with references to you. In thanks. Hopefully not counterproductive. Corrections welcome.



Kristen said...

Good post, Kurk. The attitudes do run so deep that many times we are all oblivious to our own. This blog post is very useful by way of illustration. (The blogger does sometimes use strong language):

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for the illustrative post, Kristen. Just had a chance to skim it. Who wrote it?

Kristen said...

I thought I had posted a reply to this; but apparently I didn't. I don't know any more about the blog owner than what she says about herself, which is very little. I was directed to the site by someone else who thought it was very well written.