The first time I met Brooke Sulahian, she had just finished reading Half the Sky and the problem that had gripped her soul was the nightmare of fistula.
(If you don’t know what fistula is, brace yourself and go to her website http://hopeforoursisters.org/. She’ll tell you all about it. It just may grip your soul too.)
Since that first meeting, I’ve watched Brooke go from angst to action.
First she started raising money for fistula surgeries. At last count, she and her non-profit have raised money for 154 surgeries and counting at $450 each. Next, she traveled to Angola, where she visited the fistula hospital she supports and met with doctors, staff, and fistula suffers. She just returned, even more fired up to finance more surgeries than ever.
But now she’s also talking prevention.
She wants to pull up this epidemic by the roots. She’s looking at why fistula is happening and at stopping it at the source. This, of course, moves her into the territory of child marriages, maternal health care, education for women, and women’s human rights. Her latest blog post is the source of the powerful quote above.
“Combine individuals possessed of authority and power (who . . . are often oblivious to their capacity for spiritual abuse) with individuals spiritually conditioned to submit to authority. Then add devotees/enablers who (out of a misguided sense of loyalty to the person in power and the desire to curry their favor) turn a blind eye to abusive behavior and may even defend it. Suddenly you have ideal conditions for spiritual abuse to bluster up and thrive unchecked. . . . No one facing a storm like this should be content with merely dealing with the damage after the fact. We need to be asking what we can do up front to see that abuse doesn’t happen.”
We can batten down the hatch, put in place all the measures we know to weather the storm, and prepare to deal with the carnage, the casualties, and the consequences afterwards. Or we can put our heads together and proactively find ways to divert that storm out to sea before it hits land.
We can move from angst to action.
I’m already brainstorming with a couple of leaders to see what can be done to prevent spiritual and other forms of abuse before they ever happen.
Dr. Phil Monroe weighs in on prevention in his post, Preventing spiritual abuse? Listen to that little voice plus…
Here are some of the questions I’m asking:
- If abusers don’t recognize themselves, how can we alert/educate leaders early to the seduction of power and hence to our own potential for abuse? We need Christian leaders who will stand up and be counted, even if it costs them.
- If the underlying belief system sets the stage for abuse, should we expand our evangelical discussions of gender, authority, and submission to include a serious consideration of the relationship between our theology and spiritual abuse? Do our theological conclusions benefit the powerful and put the powerless at risk? Are we defining our terms according to Jesus or according to human tradition?
- If abuse victims are telling themselves they’re at fault and don’t realize they’re being abused, how can we fortify them with a solid understanding of who they are in Christ and of the dignity and exceedingly high value they have as God’s image bearers? How can we equip them so that when someone bullies, or Bible thumps, or guilt trips them, or expects their unconditional submission (no matter who it is), they can tell themselves the truth? How do we help them to understand that they don’t deserve this kind of treatment, but also that the abuser is behaving badly, that this is unacceptable, and to have the spiritual strength to stand firm and speak up or walk away?
- How do we empower Christians with the courage and determination it takes to become dis-ablers of spiritual abuse? How can we raise up believers who make the powerless and oppressed their priority, who stand against injustice no matter where they find it, and who have the courage to speak truth to power?
These days I’m feeling plenty of angst. Half the Sky intensified it for me too. This blog series on spiritual abuse has deepened that angst.
I don’t want to stop with angst or be a bystander. I want to be a Dis-abler. So I’m asking you to begin taking action with me in two ways:
- By brainstorming constructive, proactive ideas for preventing abuse in response to the questions above.
- By signing the “Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ.”
This statement is one small step toward actively addressing and preventing sexual abuse. To date, including the original signers, we have little over 1600 names.
I love David and Goliath stories and believe we’re in one now. And if we have to move forward with five small stones and 1600 courageous signatures, then with God’s help we will still move forward. But here’s the sad truth. In evangelical circles, it takes a lot of noise and determination to turn things around. As we contemplate next steps, we need to make more noise than this to draw attention to this important issue. So …
If you’ve signed the statement already, thank you for your courage and support!
If you haven’t signed, please consider adding your support to this list. Then please help us spread the word by asking your friends, colleagues, relatives, and Christian communities to join this effort.
Let’s move from angst to action!
What questions are you asking? What ideas/strategies do you think will help us move forward against this crisis?
Please join in with your comments.
Here is the complete series on Spiritual Abuse:
- It all started with Lean In: Seek and Speak Your Truth
- Part 1: This Can of Worms Must be Opened!
- Part 2: The Perfect Storm
- Part 3: The Many Faces of Spiritual Abuse
- Part 4: Identifying the Triggers of Spiritual Abuse
- Part 5: Standing Up to Spiritual Abusers
- Part 6: The Underlying Belief System of Spiritual Abuse
- Part 7: The Enablers of Spiritual Abuse … or When Silence isn’t Golden
Dr. Phil Monroe on Spiritual Abuse:
- Spiritual Abuse: What it is and Why it Hurts
- Why Do Some Spiritual Leaders Abuse Power?
- What Factors Support the Use of Spiritual Abuse?
- Four Belief System That Support Spiritual Abuse
- Do You Enable Spiritual Abuse?
- Failures to Act—Why we don’t always blow the whistle on abuse