As a Canadian, I am a peacekeeper to the very bone. As a Maritimer I’d rather feed you than fight you. As a human, if you demand it to be your way with words, I will relinquish it. There are precious few things I will throw my weight behind. Push enough, you’ll see what they are – this is one of them: “keep it in the family.”
Family is a group of folks that have a common lineage and for better or for worse, you can’t choose ’em. The family of believers is in a likewise similar situation where you have a truckload of folks who claim to be children of the same Father, that is, of the same spiritual seed. While this is a great mystery, it is even greater in its complexity.
It was Tolstoy who said that, “”Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This, statement, as pithy and poetic as it sounds, does not bear up under research. John Gottman, in his evidence based book The Science of Trust states that all unhappy families are actually unhappy in the SAME way.
There are a handful of rules writ large that are common to ALL dysfunctional families; the first of which is, DON’T TALK. Not only can you not talk within the family about abuse, addiction or daily deviance; it is considered treasonous to talk to ANYONE outside of the family about “family issues.” This warped loyalty encourages a culture of suffering silence in dysfunctional families of spiritual and natural seed.
As a family of believers, we have ourselves an issue, and a it’s a bloody whopper: clerical malfeasance. For ages past, shepherds have been fleecing the flock in three flavours; sex, money and spiritual abuse. It is not possible to coerce sex or money out of a faith-based follower without committing spiritual abuse. It is however possible, to spiritually abuse, without taking sex or money.
In my hunger for hope, I have been fed all three flavours of clerical malfeasance.
My experiences have irreparably changed the trajectory of my life and flung me head long into researching and writing about abuse in a faith-based environment. What I have only recently realized, is that Evangelical Protestants have an “expanse of victimization” within it. According to Shupe (2007), there are two common characteristics and held assumptions that promote victimization; naive trust & triumphalism.
Disclaimer: When we make an assumption is can make an ASS/U/ME.
Assumption #1: Naive trust
Naive trust assumes that fellow religionists are more worthy of trust than “outsiders.” (Shupe 2007) This extends from the highest of clerical elite, to the lowest rung on the religious ladder. Naive trust makes this statement, “Even in the face of bold evidence otherwise – I deem you trustworthy because you are not only part of the inner ring – you lead it.”
Naive trust not only aids and abets preying pastors, it effectively strangles the stories of survivors as they speak.
Triumphalism is religious smugness. “The attitude that one religious creed is superior to others.” This creates easy hunting grounds for victimization; when people support the religious elite, they will be “blessed.” The reverse is then also true, to speak against the religious elite is to be “cursed” and considered treason of a high degree. Biblical statements such as “Do not touch the Lord’s anointed” only further suffocate victims in silence.
“Con artists and schemesters (predators) know well how to infiltrate these groups (Evangelical Protestants) and manipulate such denominational and sectarian loyalties.” (Shupe 2007) In light of #churchtoo, I would say this is a solid statement you can take to the proverbial bank; that is if you have any money left to put in the bank.
When I came to faith, I went to a church whose lead pastor offered “free counselling.” I was broke and broken; yet it was the most costly counselling I have ever experienced. The pastor became a “spiritual father” in what can only be described as a co-dependant counselling relationship. Under his care, I met and married my husband, a man of means, who was also a counsellee of the cleric. In time, the cleric had successfully fleeced his flock financially – my husband and I stood out among the biggest losers. This was dysfunctional family at its finest. Crushed and confused, we broke cardinal rule #1: We told one person outside the family.
We also went to him. We went to him with two witnesses. We went to his board; his board was impotent. We went to the overseers, they fought valiantly, but were also rendered impotent. We went to the denominations head office. They told us to call the police or sue. We did. We left without a rally or a battle cry.
We have never mentioned him by name, smeared, slandered, gossiped or grasped for groupies. We went silently to slaughter and started again. And again. Now we are among survivors who selectively speak. We will never be silent about the smeared, smashed and silenced by the “sacred.” Never.
To the filleted by the “faithful…”
In an age of speaking, the choice to speak or hold your peace is yet a choice but a hard one. Mending takes time, garbage bags full of grit, and having the bursting bravery to live in the shadow of the cross that you once knew. You are loved, lift your chin. Let Him hear your voice and see your face; for to Him your voice is sweet and your face is lovely. Remember they mocked Him. They lied about Him. They called Him all manner of names. They spit on Him. They stripped Him naked. They crucified Him. Some of them are wicked most are weak. He is strong.
To those who prey upon the pious, be warned:
“If you didn’t want anyone to know what you did, you should have behaved better.”
All, and I do mean ALL that has been whispered in boardrooms, private offices, personal jets and fancy hotel rooms of you, the religious elite, will be shouted from the rooftops. He, whose name you so lightly invoke, He who hears all, and sees all – seems to be making it so.