|“The Knotted Gun” by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd|
After being out of town for several days last week, I returned home to a writing deadline, packing Frank off to Pennsylvania to start his new job at Biblical Seminary, the ongoing saga of selling our house, and a system crash on my website.
So at the moment, I’m off my regular posting schedule and scrambling to catch up. I’ll post the next Lean In chapter on Friday. Sorry for the delay.
I saw a replica of “The Knotted Gun” sculpture (one of over 20 scattered around the world) for the first time at the WWII Museum of the French Resistance in Lyon, France where it silently spoke volumes.
It came to mind again as I contemplated writing this blog in an attempt to identify some of the triggers that cause spiritual abuse to flare up. What conditions set the stage for spiritual abuse in the first place—in work and church environments? How can we respond differently in ways that dismantle those triggers and prevent us from dishonoring one another as Christian brothers and sisters?
Dr. Phil Monroe has just returned from Rwanda, so after over a week away he’s catching up too and rejoining our discussion from a professional counseling prospective. Here’s his latest post on the subject:
My comments come from what I’ve been reading and from more than a decade of observing and listening to women’s accounts of spiritual abuse. Some of these women have become casualties and have left (or been forced to leave) positions of ministry. Some have left ministry and church altogether.
So to give us a starting point for discussion, I’ll take a stab at an overarching umbrella definition of triggers as the need to protect something, coupled with something or someone perceived as a threat.
Some examples of the kinds of things Christians leaders seek to protect are: power, authority, control, personal or ministry reputation, a theological position, manhood, or simply “the way things have always been done.”
Threats (or triggers) surface in such things as:
- Conflicts—of ideas, theology, male vs female, personalities, methods, styles
- Differences—of gender, personalities, backgrounds, cultures, ethnicity, experience
- Challenges—asking questions, concerns, criticisms, or introducing something new
- Fear of and/or resistance to change
Spiritual abuse is a destructive way of responding to these triggers when a person in a position of spiritual authority uses their authority and power to diminish others and deflect the focus away from the perceived threat, so that the overriding issue is no longer the dissenting viewpoint, but the dissenter themselves, who are made to feel they are somehow out of accord with God. They’re “unsubmissive,” “unspiritual,” or the “disturber of the peace.”
A good example is the female pastor who objected to being bullied by a male pastor in staff meetings and was subsequently rebuked as “Satan’s mouthpiece.”
Thankfully, we have other ways to respond to the triggers that, while asking more of us, open the pathway to growth and to live out the gospel in relationships and difficult situations in ways that God intends will set Christians apart from others in how we work together and handle our differences. This is, after all, a spiritual issue and there are spiritually constructive responses that God uses to help us grow and where we may even learn a thing or two from one another and discover change is something we all need to do. The fruit of the Spirit might be a good place to start.
But we have stories too.
A classic story is the Old Testament book of Ruth. The meeting between Ruth and Boaz in the barley field isn’t the sparking of a beautiful romance, but the dangerous convergence of the kinds of explosive combinations we hear about every day in the news.
Boaz is a native born Israelite. He was raised on the Mosaic Law. He enters the story with fanfare as a man of power, wealth, and stature. In stark contrast, Ruth is a brand new convert to faith in Yahweh. She lives at the bottom of the social ladder as she is female, poor and powerless, younger, widowed, barren, Arab, and an immigrant.
It gets worse.
This newcomer and scavenger in Boaz’s field has the audacity to challenge his understanding of Mosaic Gleaning Laws. Buttoned down Boaz is in perfect compliance with the letter of the law. This could have triggered spiritual abuse.
So what happened?
Ruth brings a different and, as it turns out, a missing perspective for she lives on the hungry side of the law. Ruth doesn’t want to take home scraps to her mother-in-law Naomi. The spirit of the law says, “Feed them.” So she makes an unusual and potentially offensive proposal to Boaz that shakes things up.
Boaz could have taken umbrage at her boldness and thrown her out of his field … or worse. Culturally, this was the predictable response. All of the men in her family were dead, and therefore she had no defender—except for God.
Did she make Boaz uncomfortable when she questioned the status quo? Was it annoying and disturbing to listen to this immigrant, this novice in the faith, this woman? Yes indeed.
Astonishingly, against all the cultural norms, Boaz listens and learns from Ruth. Instead of using his power to crush her dissenting voice and assert his spiritual superiority, he invests his power to promote her cause. (If you want more of their story, read The Gospel of Ruth—Loving God Enough to Break the Rules.)
I think of Ruth and Boaz, every time a woman tells me of her painful or incredible experience when she became the first woman on a church staff or ministry team or the lone woman on a church committee or enrolled in seminary and raised a delicate issue or a perspective the men hadn’t considered or when her presence meant the way of doing things needed to change. I hear so many stories that break my heart. But I also hear stories that fuel my hope that spiritual abuse can and will be displaced by that Blessed Alliance I keep talking about.
This is part of the challenge we are facing. I am eager to hear your thoughts.
What triggers have you observed that set up spiritual abuse? How can we address our differences in ways that honor one another and reflect the people Jesus calls us to be? How have you seen that happen? Or not?
Previous posts on Spiritual Abuse:
- The Many Faces of Spiritual Abuse
- The Perfect Storm
- This Can of Worms Must be Opened!
- Lean In: Seek and Speak Your Truth
Other blog posts on Spiritual Abuse:
- Why Do Some Spiritual Leaders Abuse Power? by Phil Monroe
- Spiritual Abuse: What it is and Why it Hurts, by Phil Monroe
- Spiritual Abuse: 10 Ways to Spot It by Mary DeMuth