Friday, 11 April 2014

Magic Words Syndrome

I recently re-read a couple of the emails (or nasty-grams, as I call them) I received from one of the board members of my old church. It was quite interesting to engage with them now, without the incredible pain of betrayal and judgement I felt at the time they were first sent. It feels like they are full of justification on his part and judgement against me. None of the issues I have raised were ever addressed, I just received a continual barrage of words telling me how much I was the one in the wrong.

Apparently I was living in the past, causing division, gossiping to others, slandering the leadership, using cruel words and accusations, refusing to walk in the power of reconciliation and anyway, I "gave as good as I got". The ones who'd abused me were walking in their freedom and I was still (by my own choice) walking in bondage.

The very last email correspondence was from last year, when I had tried a last-ditch effort to find a way of bringing about reconciliation between us. The letter started by telling me how little it had cost me to meet with 'D' (even though he had nominated a time exactly when he knew I needed to be collecting my children from school), but how much incredible trouble he had gone to.

What it articulated to me was how important he was with all his important ministry and everything, and how unimportant I was because I'm just a trouble maker, and how grateful I should be that he bothered to actually meet with me at all. He assured me that he was willing to pay such an immense cost because he thought 'reconciliation' would be the outcome. The trouble was that by reconciliation, I can only assume he meant I'd finally shut up and stop making trouble for him.

It seems I was in grave error right from the start because my "welcome [of him] was icy cold" and my husband's was "only slightly warmer". Seriously! What did he expect? I felt completely unsafe with this man and it was only my desperate belief that there had to be a better way than we'd found so far that propelled me into meeting with him at all. I'd felt sick to the pit of my stomach at the thought of that meeting because of all I'd suffered at his hands. He'd already made it quite clear that elder J was his golden boy, and that the only part I had to play was in submitting to J's "godly leadership" (although I would have described it more in terms of abusive usurper-ship, but then I'm the evil one of the piece). When I'd objected to the abuse I'd experienced, he'd made it crystal clear by his nasty-grams that the blame was mine alone.

This was also the man who had preached for 3 weeks in a row(!) warning the church against me and whose judgement against me had caused my brother and his family to sever all contact with me. I did explain this to him, but he rejected any responsibility in this matter.

In revisiting his written words, two things became painfully clear.

The first one was the evidence of what I've come to call 'magic words syndrome'. The way it works is that in dealing with an issue, you listen to the one you are 'counselling', agree that they believe in what they say they are struggling with, get them to say some magic words, and hey presto, everything's all ok.

The trouble with this approach is that it doesn't actually deal with any of the very real, existing problems. It doesn't deal with the emotional damage that has been inflicted, neither does it address the relational issues that have caused so much devastation. You repeat some formula words as if they have some sort of magic power, say forgiveness has happened and then equate that forgiveness with actual reconciliation.

This leaves those who have devastated you by their behaviour completely free to continue their ill treatment of you, because everything's been dealt with, and it places the onus on you to smile and just keep accepting the abuse. And woe betide you if you find yourself still wanting to deal with things, because that just proves that you are bitter and unforgiving; unable to move on (like everyone else has!) and rejecting the reconciliation that's been decreed to have happened - as if reconciliation can ever be a unilateral event imposed on another!!!

The second point, I will address in my next post, Silencing is Abuse.


  1. Thanks for being so vulnerable in this post.

    I was reminded how much our structures and hierarchies hinder relationship in the body of Christ, if only at a subconscious level. If we feel we're above someone, it becomes nearly impossible to humble oneself. I find it amazing that we've has access to the teachings of Jesus in written form for as long as we have, and still don't understand what being a leader is. So much pride. So much self-deception. So much ignorance as the nature of the Kingdom.

    1. It's funny James, I was talking to a work colleague about this just yesterday. As you say, it's nearly impossible to humble yourself to someone you feel superior to. As long as we have a system which places one brother 'over' another one, there'll be damage done. Pride, deception, ignorance… it all plays into it.

      And you are right - we have open access to the teachings which clearly show us a completely different way! But then I did read the other day something like, "If Jesus visited our churches today, he'd be accused of not acting in a Christlike manner!"