Monday, 28 December 2015

When Controlling Behaviour Backfires

One of the first bloggers I started to follow after experiencing bullying and abuse in the institutional church was Julie Anne. She now writes a blog called Spiritual Sounding Board, but when she first started blogging, she could be be found here.

She wrote this about being sued by her ex-pastor:
"Days after the commencement of this blog, I received a legal summons suing me and three others for defamation to the tune of $500,000. The story of spiritual abuse needs to be told. People are being hurt emotionally and spiritually by pastors who use bully tactics and we need a place to learn, to talk freely, and to heal. I will not be silenced."
I was so grateful that she refused to be silenced, because it was people like Julie Anne who gave me hope after my world imploded around me. Blogs like hers reassured me that I was not evil, or insane, or "just bitter". And reading the stories of others helped me to understand that I was not to blame for the abuse I suffered at the hands of those who claimed to represent 'god'.

Now it's ironic, but many people would probably never have heard of Julie Anne's ex-pastor, Chuck O'Neal, if it were not for his actions in trying to shut down someone who was creating a safe place for victims of spiritual abuse. His attempts to dictate what could, and could not, be said or written - to control the narrative - backfired. People started reading and sharing Julie Anne's story as a direct result of Mr O'Neal's efforts to suppress it.

Whatever he thought he would achieve, Mr O'Neal's efforts to silence her, only called attention to Julie Anne's story.

Now, when someone tries so strenuously to suppress information that they end up achieving the exact opposite, its known as the "Streisand effect".
"The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.
It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently drew further public attention to it." - Wikipedia
Ironically, the photo was just one of 12,000 photographs taken to highlight the problem of erosion along the Californian coastline. In trying to suppress the photo, Ms Streisand only called attention to it, and her actions created the very problem she feared. The number of downloads of that particular photo jumped from 6 before her lawsuit, to an incredible 420,000 after it!

Attempts to maintain control over others rarely end well for anyone.


I don't know what was going through the heart and mind of Mr O'Neal, when he decided to use the law against a fellow christian. I can't imagine why he thought his reputation was so precious and important that he chose to take such an adversarial approach to his 'problem'. But I just can't see Jesus using the threat of legal action to silence and intimidate his brothers and sisters. And if Jesus can't be seen in the actions of his people, then something is wrong.

So here's my thought for the New Year:

Let's stop worrying about 'looking good', and actually care about being 'good'.

Let's take seriously the example of Jesus. He couldn't have cared less about his own reputation. And couldn't have cared more for the people around him.
"... He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! ... He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death..." Phil 2:5-8
Instead of loving his power, he demonstrated the power of his love.

Let's commit ourselves to doing the same!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

We All Need Help Sometimes

I'm not going to wait until the last day of the year to share that 2015 has been an "Annus horribilis" for me and my family.

My sister died suddenly and unexpectedly, and in the midst of that I was attacked for saying how I sick I was of christians who refused to deal with their own crap. (By a man who seems to have a lifetime of unresolved crap.)

Several weeks later, I lost my job because I stood up against bullying in the workplace. (And I'd do the same all over again.)

And then, just as I was taking time out to heal, I was hit by legal action from two religious leaders who happened to be ex-friends. (Thankfully that has now been resolved as there was no evidence against me.)

But in the midst of that, my health broke down and I found myself unable to function in a reasonable manner. 

And I ended up seeking professional help.

And it's the best thing I could have done.

And, in hindsight, I probably should have done it 3 years ago after being abused in the church.

But the point is that I've done it now. And it was a good and healthy choice. And my ex-friends have done me favour in that regard.

And I want to say, if you are struggling, or angry, or grieving, in this time when it feels like the whole world is celebrating, then you are not alone. And it's ok to admit it. And I want to encourage you to seek the help you might need.

There is no shame in admitting you are not a robot, or that there are no magic words, or that denying your emotional state is somehow godly.

Jesus wept.

And he was real and unashamed and honest.

So don't let anyone, or anything, hold you back from admitting that you are not ok - and reaching out for whatever help and support you need. 

You, and I, are not alone!

Saturday, 5 December 2015

When "Forgiveness" Becomes A Trap

I recently came across an article which asked the question about what it takes for us to be able to forgive. In it, the author offers the suggestion that we need to lament - to protest the pain and darkness we are facing. Lament calls for us to be honest about our feelings instead of denying them. To refuse to "sugarcoat [our] rage" or "explain away [our] bitterness. To feel it, to own it, and to use it to protect ourselves from further harm.

As she says, "It’s easy to say we’ve forgiven if we haven’t felt our anger."

And I think that is the trap too many christians fall into. We've been taught that forgiveness is mandatory, but we also live with the unspoken pressure to keep up appearances - to look good for God. And so we fall for the lie that all we need to do is say the magic words and then everything is all ok again. We can then proceed as normal and sell our testimony of how happy and free we are.

The only trouble is, that we haven't actually dealt with the grief and anger and pain; we've simply papered over the ugliness and called it forgiveness. Despite the fact that Jesus had no issue expressing strong anger and deep grief, we've somehow equated a lack of emotion with godliness.

The article includes this quote:
In his book, The Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender says that smooth, unruffled acceptance is delusion. “For many [Christians], strong feelings are an infrequent, foreign experience. Their inner life is characterized by an inner coolness, bordering on indifference. Unfortunately, this is often mistaken for trust.”
When christians buy the lie that strong feelings are somehow 'bad', and couple it with a belief that simply saying forgiveness has happened makes it so, it creates a trap for the one who desires to be found 'acceptable'. They must continue to uphold the illusion of forgiveness and so daren't give expression to their true feelings, and yet in suppressing those feelings they will never know the freedom of real forgiveness.

If we've said we've forgiven and yet never owned our emotions, there's nowhere for us to go. We can't admit our feelings, and so we can't deal with them. We're stuck with them unless we find some way to break free from the lie.

Tragically, emotions which remain unaddressed will negatively affect both ourselves and our relationships:
" turns out that people who habitually suppress their emotions actually experience more negative emotions than people who suppress less. Although suppression doesn’t dampen people’s experience of negative emotions (just their expression of them) it does seem to have an adverse effect on people’s positive emotions. People who suppress more do report experiencing and expressing fewer positive emotions, and their friends agree. Being a suppressor is also associated with being more depressed, less satisfied with life, and having lower self esteem, optimism and well-being. People who suppress more also have less social support, avoid getting close to others, and are seen by peers as having fewer close relationships. Why is suppression so bad? Researchers suggest that it’s because suppressing your emotions makes you feel inauthentic, which leads to feeling worse about yourself and your relationships, the very thing you were trying to avoid." The Good and Bad of Emotion Regulation Strategies 
So maybe, it's time for christians to stop the rush to declare 'forgiveness', and take the time to actually deal with the emotional impact of whatever behaviour we've experienced which needs our forgiveness.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Misrepresenting Jesus

In the past few weeks, I've been forcefully reminded of all the reasons I walked away from the institutional church, and I've revisited all the reasons why I no longer feel safe attending one.

I've also realised how sickened I am by the use of Jesus's name to stroke egos and build platforms, and to inflict pain and doubt and fear on those who are supposed to be family.

Too many people have been damaged and disillusioned by those who claim to represent Jesus - the one who spoke out against injustice, who defended the powerless, and who himself called out the religious leaders on their misrepresentation of God. So here's what I think:

When you chase after power and fame and numbers, you are not representing Jesus.

When you use the law to intimidate and silence others, you are not representing Jesus.

When you choose to protect your reputation by covering up heinous abuse, you are not representing Jesus.

When you try to control and 'discipline' the innocent while protecting the guilty, you are not representing Jesus.

When you build yourselves mansions in a world where poverty kills, you are not representing Jesus.

When you boast about throwing your brothers and sisters under the bus, you are not representing Jesus.

When you support the abuser and dismiss the abused, you are not representing Jesus.

When you build yourself an empire so you can play sexual power games with young women, you are not representing Jesus.

When you blame the victim instead of supporting them, you are not representing Jesus.

When you use fear and threats to control your brothers and sisters, you are not representing Jesus.

When you tear families apart and shun brothers and sisters, you are not representing Jesus.

When you shrug, offer platitudes and distance yourself from me when I tell you I'm being put through hell again, you are not representing Jesus!

And right now, it feels like Jesus is the very thinnest of threads that I'm holding onto. So I have no time for religion that fails to look anything like him at all!

Monday, 9 November 2015

The Dangers Of Religious Leaders

I came across this article over the weekend which references a recent study whose findings will no doubt ruffle a few religious feathers. The title of the article declares, "Religious children meaner than agnostic and atheist kids, study finds".

The article shares this quote:
“Religion and morality are two different things,” said lead author Jean Decety, a Chicago University neuroscientist.
“Past research has demonstrated that religious people are no more likely to do good than their non-religious counterparts. Our study goes beyond that, showing that religious people are less generous — not only adults, but children, too.”
 Which brought to my mind this quote:

However, the thing that really caught my attention was the concept Mr Decety referred to as "moral licensing":
He attributed the findings to a phenomenon dubbed “moral licensing”, where people’s perceptions that they were doing good — in this case, practising religion — exempted them from the obligation to perform other worthy deeds. “Apparently, doing something that helps strengthen our positive self-image also makes us less worried about the consequences of immoral behaviour,” he said. [Emphasis added]
Now, he was talking about religious people generally, but I immediately thought about the unbelievably abusive and 'immoral' behaviour of some 'church leaders' and wondered if this author could be onto something. Because I have never been able to comprehend how someone who claims to be one of God's children, could act with such callous disregard for the feelings of others. How some 'church leaders' can see the pain and distress they cause to another human being and simply shrug it off, disclaiming any responsibility for that trauma? What is it that gives them such a capacity to look upon the suffering they've caused and feel not one jot of compassion? Why do they seem so incapable of feeling the smallest twinge of empathy?

But if what he is saying holds true, then the one who is super-strengthened in their self-image by being 'The Man of God', might readily feel far less worried about behaving immorally - or even in complete contradiction to the teachings of Jesus himself! It would certainly go a long way to explaining why so many religious leaders act as if they believe they are a law unto themselves.

Is it possible that being a religious leader (especially if you have had to climb over others to get that status) brings with it the danger of falling into such a delusional state that any behaviour can be justified in your own mind simply because you see yourself as morally superior to anyone else, convinced that your cause is God's own!? 

That's an incredibly scary thought, and yet there is ample evidence of religious leaders seeming to do exactly that: throwing people under the bus, punishing people by dragging them through the courts, creating such division in families that relationships are permanently destroyed! The list is not only endless, but it's absolutely gut-wrenching! And yet so many who have behaved in such ways not only show no remorse or regret, but angrily defend their behaviour to anyone brave enough to question them.

Maybe that's why Jesus warned that none of us should be called 'leader'. He knew all too well the propensity of some to 'lord it over' their brothers and sisters. I think he knew the very real dangers we face the moment we start to believe our own advertising and step into that place where we see ourselves as being in some way superior to other human beings.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Of Con-Men and Religion

There's an old children's story called "The Emperor's New Clothes", which tells the tale of two con-men 'selling' the emperor a new set of clothes. It is said (by the con artists) that these clothes are woven from cloth so fine that only the truly discerning can even see them! Of course it's all a scam, but no-one wants to be thought undiscerning. So they all pretend that the clothes are there until one little boy, too innocent to play the game, actually tells the truth and points out that the emperor is, in fact, stark naked!

It seems to me that this happens in churches all the time. We 'sell' Jesus as the answer to all life's troubles. Come to church and everything will be ok. Say the magic words and you'll be transformed into a super-christian overnight.

The trouble is, it's not true. It's a religious con. Jesus actually promised trouble for those who truly followed him. He promised a sword, not a sofa-bed.

And the product that is sold in many churches doesn't transform people, it merely teaches them the need to perform and pretend. It polices morals, but leaves hearts untouched.

That's why I fought so long and so hard when everything started to go pear-shaped at my ex-church. We, the leadership, were saying that we had a better way - a higher way - but in reality, when the rubber hit the road, we had nothing better to offer at all. We squabbled amongst ourselves like children fighting over a coveted toy. We lashed out at each other and tried to lord it over each other, hoping that the other side would just give up and go away.

And eventually one side did exactly that, and nobody cared that we were wounded and bleeding. Nobody thought they'd done anything wrong. "Church leadership can be brutal," I was told. That's just the way it is. And nobody even questioned that!

Well, I'm calling bullish#t!

Just this week, I was passed on the school steps by the wife of my ex-friend from my ex-church. I spoke to her, but she continued to pretend I didn't exist... well... actually she looked like she really wished that I didn't exist.

Just like my sister-in-law, she has a way of looking at you that makes you grateful that looks can't really kill! Still, it's not for want of venom in her eyes.

The truly sad thing is that this woman is the "senior leader" (along with her husband) of her very own church! True! Their church even has its own website telling people about how much they value things like love and trust!

But I suspect that's only if you agree with everything they do and say...

Someone who cannot even bring herself to acknowledge my presence, let alone deal with our past issues, is selling herself as a leader - an example for others to follow. But when it comes to her dealings with me, she's not even acting like a grown-up, let alone a christian!

And if she wasn't refusing to have anything to do with me, this is what I'd like to say to her:

Sister, I actually don't care what you think of me, or whether you look maliciously at me every time you see me. It actually doesn't bother me any more, even though it used to tear me apart inside. I've finally found the freedom that Jesus was offering me all those years. And it's better than all the titles and 'authority' I lost when I walked away from the institution.

But here's the thing - when you publicly hold yourself up as a shining example of the "transforming power of Jesus", I will call BS! When I see people being sold a dud product, I will stand up and point it out.

And it's not because I hate you. Or that I want to hurt you. Actually... it's not about you at all.

I do it because I care about the people being conned into thinking they've got the real deal. And I don't want to see anyone else hurt or damaged or betrayed like I was.  And I care less about what people think of me, than I do about those who suffer at hands of religious leaders who are simply peddling snake oil. So when I see christians selling one thing, and living something so entirely different, I will shout a warning and tell the truth that the 'emperor' is absolutely stark naked!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

There's Something Terribly Wrong With Our 'Christian' Culture

A few years ago, as a church leader, I experienced bullying and spiritual abuse when one man wanted to 'lord it over' his peers. When the oversight board was called in to help mediate, those men simply took the side of the bully. After experiencing further abuse and an incredible miscarriage of justice, I ended up resigning from leadership and later leaving the institution.

Just a few weeks ago, as an office manager, I needed to deal with a situation where one staff member had been trying to 'lord it over' her peer. When the boss was called in to help effect justice, he simply took the side of the bully. After the victim was further traumatised, and she and I were treated with nothing but injustice, I ended up with no choice but to resign from my job.

Two separate situations - one a church and one a workplace. So what did they have in common? Well, both times pernicious behaviour was ignored; both times justice and integrity were lacking; and both times the events occurred in places which prided themselves on being 'christian' organisations!

Screen shot from The Princess Bride
But to misquote Inigo Montoya, "They keep using that word 'christian'. I do not think it means what they think it means!"

According to the online Oxford Dictionary the word christian, used as an adjective, means:
  • relating to or professing Christianity or its teachings: or
  • having qualities associated with Christians, especially those of decency, kindness, and fairness.
Now, there was precious little "decency, kindness, and fairness" on display in either of those situations. So I'm left with the question, "Does christian culture relate to demeaning and damaging others, and does it teach us to bully and abuse others?"

Whether you've encountered this reality personally or not, even a cursory glance online or through social media would certainly seem to indicate an affirmative answer is in order. There we find 'pastors' abusing people as well as their assumed positions of 'power'; churches ignoring or defending this behaviour; victims being blamed and shunned; countless blogs detailing injustices perpetrated by 'christian leaders'; and online 'christians' berating and belittling those whose beliefs differ from their own.

We have created a culture so toxic and so harmful that multitudes walk away from it each day - battered and bloodied - and yet we don't even blink an eyelid! We keep smiling and justifying our behaviour and telling ourselves how evil our victims must be. And we do it all in the name of our god!

Where did we get the idea that we are representing Jesus by beating up our brothers and sisters? Who in their right mind would think that treating others with contempt and injustice is a godly display? When will we open our eyes and realise that something is terribly wrong with us?

Why does 'christian' culture seem to create so much pain and hurt when its purported intention is to foster a community of Christ-followers who are known primarily for their love? If we are truly disciples of Jesus, why do we look (and act) so unlike him? 

I've said it before and I'll continue to say it - we've got something seriously wrong guys!

Worse still, our failure to love even our fellow believers (let alone our 'enemies') serves as a warning to those outside the family of God that our religion is dangerous - that instead of creating communities of love, compassion and justice, we generate a culture of anger, arrogance and abuse.

And it is true far too often. We are dangerous. Our culture is toxic. And we totally misrepresent the one whose name we bear!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Why Can't Christians Cope With Disagreement?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled Why Can't Churches Deal With Disagreement? I was discussing the fact that most of my experience with that particular institution has encompassed an enforced conformity to a single viewpoint (usually that of the leader/s) and a lack of willingness to have the difficult conversations which are needed for real unity to occur.

Yesterday, I had an experience which left me wondering (yet again) why it is that individual christians also fail so miserably at this necessary skill.

I had read an article suggesting ways in which christians fail to represent Jesus to the world, and I was engaged in an online discussion regarding it. In the midst of this, one woman had mis-quoted what was written in the author's bio as proof of his heretical tendencies. Knowing how easy it can be to read into the words of those with whom we disagree, I suggested she might have mis-read the original words, as the real quote spoke of something quite different. She quickly replied that she hadn't been referring to his bio at all, but another article entirely. When I quoted her words back to her - words which clearly indicated she had been referring to the author's bio - she became extremely agitated. I was accused of being passive-agressive and questioned about the validity of my faith. She then deleted not just her comments, but her entire profile as well.

Apart from the lack of honesty and integrity on this woman's part, her unwillingness to accept that I could legitimately agree with the author's article was stunning. She and another commenter seemed to think that if they only used enough words, I'd see the error of my ways and repent. Failing that, I'd need to provide concrete evidence, with plenty of biblical referencing, to show to their satisfaction that I was not just being bloody-minded. And even then I'd still be wrong!

Unfortunately, the inability of many christians to accept that anyone could legitimately hold a differing view to theirs is all too common. Common, too, are the displays of anger and the nasty belittling of the person they happily accuse of 'heresy'. It got me thinking about what it is that makes christians prone to display such unloving and ungracious behaviour.

And it occurred to me that the whole institutional church system all but guarantees this outcome. The message we are sold is that only we have the "truth", and that it is our holy duty to set everyone else straight - creating an incredibly arrogant attitude towards those outside our own little sect. On top of that we are trained to be passive receptacles of the preacher's wisdom - teaching us that thinking for ourselves is a dangerous pursuit. Questioning the dogma, or the one who preaches it, will quickly land you in serious trouble!

So we are left with thousands upon thousands of christians who are too arrogant to entertain the validity of any differing perspective, and too conditioned to question the dogma or to think for themselves. Naturally enough, when anyone who claims to follow Jesus but who fails to conform to the approved 'truth' comes on the scene, the only option open is to react in fear and anger.

The more convinced we are of our own correctness, the more tightly we hold to our own perspective. If I am certain that I am correct, then your differing view must inevitably be wrong! My superior understanding trumps yours... every time.

On the other hand, the more open we are to understand that our perspective might be simply one of many (or might even be wrong!) the likelier we are to welcome the input of others, and even benefit from their way of seeing things.

Why do we christians live in constant fear of heresy or error? Why do we insist on a standardised 'faith', refusing to engage with or validate the views of others? For myself, I trust in a God who is big enough to guide us and keep us safe in our faith journey.

Yet it seems we cling to our own pet dogmas like a life raft on a stormy sea, fearful of anything outside that space, and so we fail to be enriched by the wisdom others have to share - and God forbid that wisdom might come from a source outside our own religious enclave! It seems we'd rather destroy relationship and treat others as worthless than give up our own arrogant ignorance.

Maybe it's time we stopped shoving our 'truth' down people's necks and actually listened to what other people are seeing. Maybe it's time we started treating others (and their understandings) with the love and respect that Jesus modelled for all of us!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Hurting Others With The Hurt We Have Received!?

One of the things I am really struggling to comprehend right now is how someone who has suffered at the hands of a 'christian leader' can then turn around and treat a fellow believer exactly the same way. It's a bit like a variation on the parable of the unforgiving servant found in Matthew 18. In that story the servant who had been forgiven a huge debt by the king, refused to have mercy on a fellow servant who owed him a pittance in comparison.

In the story I've just encountered, a person who knew the pain and anguish of being treated badly by a 'king,' systematically subjected a peer to a campaign of such intimidating behaviour, that the victim's physical and emotional health broke down. Yet even when that person was made aware of the suffering they had inflicted on another soul, they refused to admit that they'd done anything wrong.

Now, unthinkable as it is, I've become accustomed to hearing about (and experiencing) christians in positions of power treating their brothers and sisters like dirt. But I just cannot fathom how someone who knows how devastating that behaviour is, could deliberately dish it out to others with an apparently clear conscience.

Maybe I'm naive, or maybe just plain weird, but I'd rather chew off my right arm than inflict on another soul the distress and devastation that I was subjected to. I thought that would have been a fairly normal response under those circumstances. But apparently I was wrong.

Apparently there are those who have no problem passing on the pain to others - despite constant protestations of their love for Jesus. I simply cannot wrap my head around that!

Is the lust for power and control so overwhelming that they would willingly sell their soul for it? Does the desire to manipulate people and circumstances simply subvert natural human decency? Can they be so driven to 'lord it over' others that they wilfully inflict pain on anyone who refuses to bow the knee to them? I won't even pretend to understand what goes on in the hearts and minds of those who could behave this way. I just don't get it!

But irrespective of the pain you've suffered in the past, I would suggest that when someone lets you know that your behaviour is hurting or even harming them, a normal person would stop and listen. Anyone with even a modicum of compassion and empathy would apologise and change their behaviour. You don't even have to be 'christian' to respond this way - it's just simple human decency.

Either way, it seems to me that if a person can inflict pain on others, and neither know nor care, there is something seriously wrong!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Staying Free From Religious Bullying

Over the past couple of months I've written about life after church abuse and the freedom I have discovered as a result of moving beyond that reality (here and here). So it was interesting to feel it was all being put to the test in the last few weeks, when I found myself facing a situation so similar to my 'church' one that at times it was almost laughable... if you're into really black humour.

Not only have I managed to add another 'godly leader' to my collection of "important-men-who-seem-afraid-to-talk-to-me", but I've realised that they must all use the same "how-to-prove-you-are-righteous-and-your-enemy-is-evil" manual.

In an act of supreme irony, the same person who berated me (on the very day my sister died!) because I dared to admit my struggle with christians who refuse to deal with their crap is now... well... refusing to deal with their crap!

Despite some very serious, and highly credible charges being presented to this person, their response has been to effectively ignore them. (Apparently, it's not just christian celebrities who consider themselves above the law!) Naturally, this person is now hiding behind accusations of bitterness, the trump card of so many 'godly leaders'. They get to shut down the conversation and play the righteous martyr, persecuted for simply doing the 'work of God'.

Talk about deja vu all over again! *insert winkey face here* It's exactly the same game plan used by the 'godly leaders' at my ex-church. Ignore the very real issues. Discredit the victim. Arrogantly demand submission. And when all else fails, play the 'bitterness' card.

When you are convinced that you speak for God - that you are always right - you are in an unassailable position. But it's a coward's trick.

Move along.

Nothing to see here.

How dare you oppose me! I'm in charge here!

Sorry, but I'm just not buying it! These days I can see through the religious claptrap. I'm not afraid of the bullying and the bluster. Pulling rank doesn't impress me. Threats of my imminent spiritual danger just sound pathetic. Self-important and self-righteous promises to pray for me leave me unmoved. And having bible verses being thrown at me like some sort of weapon disgust me.

I've heard it all before and I've learned from the experience. I'm not the same person who was nearly destroyed by the 'godly christian leaders' in the church. Religious manipulation just doesn't work on me any more. It's my life and I get to make my own choices, thank you!

So I will stand up for the vulnerable and insist on real justice. I won't turn a blind eye to behaviour that damages others. I don't care about my reputation with the religious establishment. I'm prepared to lose relationship if that's the cost of acting with integrity. I've put my money where my mouth is. Literally!

So this is me...

walking away...


without fear...

and with my head held high!

I've passed the test, and I'm staying free!!!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

"You're Just Bitter!"

How many times have christians used those words to shut down conversation?

To avoid genuine and meaningful interaction with a fellow believer?

To dismiss and deny valid grievances and justifiable anger?

How many christians have thrown those words into the face of their brother or sister in an attempt to keep themselves safe from having to evaluate their own behaviour - using accusations of bitterness as a talisman to ward off the pain of honest self-reflection.

Most times it's not even true - it's just an accusation to hide behind - a way to avoid engaging with some hard truth.

So what motivates men and women who claim to follow Jesus to protect themselves at all costs from owning their part in a conflict? Why would they rather attack and damn others than look in the mirror and take stock of what it reflects?

It certainly comes across as unbridled arrogance, but is there more to the story? Is there also a desperate fear that haunts those who employ such tactics?

If we could see behind the religious hubris, beneath the insolent self-righteousness, would we discover a frightened child, cowering as if from a blow, frantically lashing out at anyone who threatens to uncover their true state?

Or would it look more like the Wizard of Oz, fearfully fabricating his grand illusion of power and authority, whilst behind the curtain stands a man emotionally paralysed by the miserable awareness of his own inadequacy.

Hiding behind the illusion.

I actually don't know. Only God can see the heart. But I do know how it feels to be dismissed with such callous disregard. Like so many others, I have experienced the injustice of having my legitimate grievances expunged with the magic words, "You're just bitter."

When it happened at my ex-church I was devastated by it. I remember the pain and betrayal of trust. But since then I've done the hard yards, and I've learned to thrive in the liminal spaces I was pushed into. (Hence the title of my blog!)

And I've discovered that these days those words leave me feeling genuine pity. Because it seems to me that the person who needs to resort to protecting themselves in this way - shutting down conversation in order avoid even contemplating their own culpability - is not someone who knows the joy and freedom of life in Christ. And that is truly sad.

So do yourself a favour and stop using this dismissive accusation. Really, just stop! You are most likely hurting others by it, and you are quite definitely harming yourself. And who knows, you just might learn that to live with honesty - naked and unashamed - is actually the most liberating experience you'll ever have!

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Fantasy of Church Culture

In my last post, I mentioned watching the efforts of my ex-fellow elder to pretend he was unaware of my presence. I also mentioned how funny I found them. (I also admitted that I used to find this sort of behaviour deeply painful and hurtful.) So when a friend commented on my Facebook page that it gave her hope that she might also get to that same point of freedom from the pain, it made me stop and think about my response to his performance, and how I have got to this place myself.

One of the biggest factors at play has got to be the 'awakening' process I've journeyed through. I call it that because when I think about it, I am reminded of the lyrics of the Keith Green song:
Like waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed
Until your love broke through
I've been lost in a fantasy, that blinded me
Until your love broke through
That's how it feels sometimes - that I've lived so much of my life in a dream-like state known as 'church culture', and finally the real love of God has opened my eyes to how much rubbish has been substituted for the simplicity of following Jesus. Christian culture too often blinds us to the unadorned call to love God and love others.

Waking up was a process. It didn't happen overnight. At first, I grieved the loss of all that is seen as important in church culture - things like a 'position' in the church and an officially recognised 'ministry'. I had fallen for the lie that I needed these things to be effective for God and it felt like I'd had these things stolen from me. I wanted to love and care for others, but I wasn't allowed to.

Sometimes, waking up is a process...

To make matters worse, those who had ripped me apart emotionally in this way were being held up to me as shining examples of how I should be. They were right (& righteous!). They had forgiven. They had 'moved on'. I should be like them.

But I kept hoping for an apology from those who'd abused me. Wanting justice for the wrong that had been done to me. Seeking validation of my claims against others.

I wanted something from these people, but they wouldn't even look at me!

So when they judged me and shunned me - when they treated me like I wasn't there and looked straight through me - it just re-opened all the wounds they'd inflicted on me and rubbed salt into them.

And then I started to wake up. To open my eyes. To see that these people were victims of their own fantasy. They'd built up a world that didn't exist. Where everyone was happy and loving and forgiving and perfect. Where all you had to do was say the magic words and everything was all ok. They couldn't afford to have the fantasy exposed, so anyone who saw things differently was a threat to the illusion, and they had to be dealt with! (What a pity burning at the stake was no longer an option!)

It seemed to me that they had locked themselves in a cage and thrown away the key... and were now desperately trying to convince everyone (including themselves) that they were the ones who were free. And it occurred to me that if these people couldn't even face me to acknowledge my presence, let alone actually meet with me and deal with our issues, it wasn't me who had the problem.

As I watched the contortions and the pretence, it became obvious which of us had really "forgiven and moved on".

And it was when I realised I no longer wanted - or needed - anything from these people.

It was then that I realised that I'd woken up from the dream-world of church culture. I didn't need official platforms or the approval of 'church leaders' to love and minster to others. I was free to love God and love others... wherever and whenever. It stopped being a performance and became simply the way I lived. I realised that I was happy... and I was free.

And I pray that my friend finds that place of freedom, too!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Why Can't Churches Deal With Disagreement?

Yesterday I sat in the school car park being entertained by the behaviour of the man who had desperately wanted to be 'king' at my ex-church. He had to walk right past my car to get to his own, and I'm afraid I couldn't help laughing quietly at his determined attempts to appear unconscious of my existence. (On the upside, at least I find it amusing these days rather than deeply painful like I used to.)

For a moment, I contemplated winding down the window and asking him if he's ready to deal with things between us, but then I realised he'd probably just give his 'deer in the headlights' impression and walk away. I've pretty much given up hoping he'll ever meet with me to discuss (and deal with) the issues between us as I've come to believe he's not actually capable of entering that space.

Needless to say, I found it extremely interesting to read an article this morning which talks about the need to make difficult conversations a part of everyday 'church' life.

Churches, Covenants & Hard Conversations.

The author, John Pattison, talks about the wedding of friends which he recently attended. He shares:
"When they got married, my two friends made a covenant with each other, before God and their community. That covenant doesn’t exempt them from difficult conversations — it sanctifies those conversations. The covenant relationship binds them together, even during the inevitable hard times. Their covenant keeps them mutually accountable to the health of the relationship. And it makes it safe to disagree, even profoundly disagree…because they know the other person isn’t going anywhere."
He then suggests that this same approach is what we should be aiming for when it comes to relationship in the church family - that "having hard conversations needs to be part of the day-in-day-out life of a Christian community."

This is obviously a man who understands the importance of engaging together, even when it's uncomfortable. And he comprehends the necessity of the church being a safe place for that to happen. I felt like standing up and applauding!

Because sadly, my experience in various churches has generally been typified by the "my way or the highway" approach. It's certainly what happened in my ex-church where I was 'advised' to submit or resign. What they were saying in effect was, "You either shut up, or you leave. There's no place in this church for anything other than compliance with our will." And as this seems to be a fairly common reality, I can only lament that John Pattison's view of things seems neither widely shared nor highly regarded in the institutional church.

But it also leaves us with the question of why churches can't seem to deal with disagreement? Why do they too often mistake uniformity for unity? And why do so many seem to worship this supposed "unity" at the cost of relationship?

I am not suggesting I have the answer to that dilemma, but I do wonder how much it has to do with the fact that the IC system perpetuates the mindset that "some animals christians are more equal than others"... and that it's the 'more equal' ones get to set the agenda. Thoughts?

(Just for the record, when the author uses the word, "covenant", I am reading a heart attitude, not a legal document.)

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Life After 'Church' Abuse

He leads me beside still waters...

It occurred to me this morning that Monday this week was the third anniversary of my resignation from 'church leadership'. The night before, I'd attended what turned out to be my last-ever elders' meeting. At that meeting I was told that my choice was, in effect, to submit to abuse or resign. Although I went to bed that night, I just couldn't sleep. And so, in the early hours of the morning, I got out of bed and emailed these words:
"When I originally stood for eldership it was out of obedience to the Father. I believed He had called me to bring who I was and what I do to the table to bless and serve [ex-church]. I also believed that we were elected as a team, accountable to each other and to the body; that we all had unique gifts and callings which were valued by each elder and that together we became so much more than just the sum of our parts. Over recent months I have increasingly felt that what I bring is no longer received or valued, and that trust and accountability has been lost. 
In the midst of this, I have never been more confident of the Father's call on my life. As I shared at the board meeting, God has been confirming again and again who I am and what He has created me to be and do. I know what He has laid on my heart and have seen good fruit come from my engagement in that. My validation comes from the Father and not from holding a position or title so, as I now believe I have the Father's release to do so, I am tendering my resignation from the eldership of [ex-church]. I remain committed to Kingdom relationship."
At the time, I genuinely believed that if I did what they wanted, then things could be worked out. Maybe by stepping aside people would feel less threatened by what I was saying. But the questions I'd raised could not be un-asked, so it seems that in their eyes I was the threat.

I learned the hard way that there is no room for the Kingdom where the mentality of empire-building (and king-making) has taken hold.

And as they say... the rest is history...

So why am I sharing this? Because (as I've said before) my experience is not unique. While the details may vary, the basics of my story get repeated every day - played out in churches of all types all around the world. And real people suffer real heartbreak - damaged by the very ones who'd promised them love and healing.

And to all those who are still living the nightmare, still doubting that they'll ever feel whole (or smile) again, I want to speak hope.

When I wrote that letter three years ago, I was too traumatised by all that had come before to be able to see clearly, and I had no idea what would happen or where I'd end up. I certainly had no inkling that it was actually a step towards a new life of freedom and wholeness.

And yet, reading it again after all this time, I see clearly that I was already on the journey. That I was already being guided towards the freedom and abundant life that Jesus promised - but which had always seemed to allude me.

It all felt too much like defeat and loss and betrayal, so I had no idea then how free and alive and whole I would come to feel! Yes, it took time. Yes, it got worse before it got better. Yes, I'm still journeying. But, these days I know a peace and rest within myself that I wouldn't exchange for the world.

At the time I thought I'd lost the things that represented the pinnacle of my faith life, but in reality all I had lost was a load of man-made 'religious' rubbish. I finally 'get' what Paul was talking about when he said, "everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him." Philippians 3

I lost a 'title', but Jesus had told us not to take them for ourselves. I lost a 'ministry', but ministry can, and does, happen wherever and whenever I find myself engaging with others. I lost 'relationships', but it seems they had been based on my performance and compliance to other people's agendas. I lost 'love', but it had only been conditional, so it wasn't real in the first place.

None of the things I 'lost' were of any value after all. In fact, they'd been as unwholesome as garbage, as noxious as sewage.

What I have discovered and embraced since then has been priceless. Because I've found Life* - free, abundant, joyful.

So if you've just been 'thrown under the bus', or if you've been on the journey of healing for a while and some days despair of ever being truly free, please hang in there. It won't always be like this. There is hope. You can make it.

Because however long and hard the journey might be, there really is Life after 'church' abuse.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Are Celebrity Christians Above 'The Law'?

In the 2000 movie, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, the two cartoon characters are arrested and brought before 'Judge Cameo' who, as soon as she recognises them, dismisses the case against them stating that "celebrities are above the law".

Now, in the context of the film, it was funny - even while it took a clever jab at the attitude that condones and excuses the bad behaviour of the rich and famous. No matter what they've been accused of, no matter how they've behaved, they are not to be held to the same standards as the 'common' man - simply because they are famous!

But in real life, that attitude is far from funny.

And when the 'celebrity' involved is the head of a mega-church, there's nothing at all to amuse us.

Yet, sadly, Hillsong's 'Fearless Leader' Brian Houston recently provided another example of this very attitude.

After implying that he had decided to cancel his planned interview with Mark Driscoll at this year's Hillsong Conference, it then became apparent that he had merely been playing semantics to avoid a legitimate protest of his actions. The interview went ahead - it was just pre-recorded rather than live - and it was screened on Day One of the Sydney conference!

Brian Houston's words and actions were, at best, disingenuous, and some people might say that they were deliberately deceptive - that Brian Houston lied to silence the protest and to avoid any accountability for his actions.

People have been protesting Mark Driscoll being given such a high-profile platform (by a 'celebrity' leader) when there are still so many unresolved issues, so many unanswered questions and so many unreconciled relationships left in the wake of Mark's own celebrity leadership. Some people suggested that it would have been more appropriate to be interviewing some of the 'bodies' Mark Driscoll had thrown under the Mars Hill bus rather than being seen to lend legitimacy to a leader who had caused so much pain and heartache to his brothers and sisters.

But regardless of whether we think the interview should or should not have happened, there is one significant question to be asked, "What sort of message did Brian Houston's actions send?"

I don't know what he was thinking or what motivated him to take the action he did, but I do know what message I received from his behaviour. That somehow, this man thinks he is above the standards of honesty and integrity of an 'ordinary' follower of Jesus. That he feels entitled to be arrogant and dismissive of his brothers' and sisters' pain because he is a leader, a 'somebody', a person of greater prestige and importance than those lesser mortals.

That is exactly the same sort of attitude that many experienced first-hand in their interactions with the subject of the interview, Mark Driscoll.

And the tragedy is not only that this attitude seems to be rampant within so much of the leadership of the institutional church, but that those who follow these 'celebrities' see nothing at all wrong with it. Scores of people commented on social media, blindly supporting the leaders of both Hillsong and Mars Hill. "Don't question our leaders!" was the constant cry. "We idolise these men and they can do no wrong," was the implication. It sounds horribly reminiscent of the Israelites' foolish demand for a king!

And yet, according to Jesus, celebrity has no place in the Kingdom. Those who would be 'great' are called to be the servant of all, and the lives of those who would 'lead' must be above reproach.

Does that sound like the celebrity culture we have created and called 'church'?

Friday, 3 July 2015

In Which I Am Grateful For My Loss!

This past week, with social media bristling with the noise and reaction to the American Supreme Court's decision regarding same sex marriage, my strongest emotional response has been one of gratitude for being hounded from the IC (institutional church).

That might sound strange... but I can explain.

You see, I spent most of my life in the IC and it taught me well. It taught me that there was a right way to think and a wrong way. It taught me that there was an acceptable way to behave and an unacceptable way. Most of all, it taught me to fear.

To fear anything that was outside the prescribed and approved thoughts and behaviours.

And so with fear and outrage running hot across the internet, and memories of how I, too, used to live in that space flooding in, I was overcome with gratitude for the freedom and rest I've discovered since IC and I so painfully parted ways.

I didn't have to react to what the newsfeeds where screaming at me. I didn't need to fear the sky was falling in. I didn't feel obliged to jump in and 'defend' anything.

I just sat with God and relished his love and his peace, knowing he was immeasurably bigger...

Friday, 12 June 2015

When Church Leaders Act Like... Christians!

The good news:

Matt Chandler & TVC apologised for subjecting Karen Hinkley to 'church discipline'.

The bad news:

It took so much blood, sweat and tears (& bad publicity) to achieve this result.

The worst news:

Everyone is taken by surprise by a church leader acting with humility and compassion.

As one reader commented:
"Here is a guy teaching them about Jesus week after week (and the leaders set themselves up as specially annointed to lead) and when something like this goes public people are thrilled when they FINALLY, after so much publicity, act in a Christian manner."

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Empty Apologies from 'Leaders'

One evening, in the midst of all the crap that was happening at church, I was driving to our elders meeting and thinking that if elder J wanted pre-eminence so badly that he was prepared to tear us all apart to achieve it, then I'd just quit and let him have what he wanted.

Imagine my surprise when, early on in the proceedings, J said that he wanted to apologise for 'overstepping his authority". I was dumbfounded. Was it possible that he was really acknowledging the damage he was doing in the name of his own ambition? Had he really repented?

Well my hope was short-lived to say the least.

No, apparently he was just doing what he'd been told to by board member M. There was no sincerity in his 'apology' at all, and it soon became apparent that neither of them thought J had done anything wrong - they were just hoping that if an apology was issued, it would shut us up.

Worse, they then played the, "we've apologised" card which meant that any further protest regarding J's behaviour simply showed how 'unforgiving' we were.

Some time later, after being told how much time J and his wife had had to spend dealing with the "words of iniquity" which he said had been spoken over them, I asked if he'd dealt with any of the 'words' he and his wife had spoken. He just yelled at me angrily about "praying mercy" for the elders. (Whatever that was supposed to mean.)

The same thing happened when board member D 'apologised' to me months later. In his book it was a done deal, so when I asked him how he was going to try and make amends for the consequences of his behaviour, he accused me of abusing him.

The tragedy is that this seems to be a standard play in the 'christian leaders' rulebook. Say some things that include the word 'sorry', maybe talk of 'lessons learned', and off you go - free to continue in exactly the same way you did before.

In the past few weeks alone, there have been ample opportunities to observe this phenomena at work in the western church. My question is, "How many times do we need to see this before we understand!?"

Saying sorry means nothing unless your behaviour changes. This goes for all of us, but for 'leaders', aren't they supposed to be... well... leading in this?

Yes, there is grace.

Yes, there is forgiveness.

But no, that doesn't mean abusive, controlling leaders should continue to be 'in ministry' when there is no evidence of actual repentance! (And it's highly inappropriate that they be given a standing ovation for saying they forgive the very people they've abused!)

I know I've written on this topic before, but when a reviled tax-collector knows more about what repentance looks like than those who claim to be in charge of God's church, then something is seriously wrong!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Kings and Other Despots

Back in the day, there was a concept known as the "Divine Right of Kings". This meant that if you happened to be lucky enough to be born into the right family, you got to rule - no questions asked.

You got to do and say whatever you pleased and no-one had the right to challenge you. You got to dictate to others how they lived and what they believed.

You had God himself in your back pocket!

Today, there are still some people who think they are entitled to power, privilege and respect with no questions tolerated. Many of them call themselves "pastors".

The only difference I can see is that these days dissenters aren't beheaded.

They are hounded from churches and shunned. They are discredited and silenced. And they are threatened with legal action.

And for too many people, this is normal christianity!

But as the exposure of scandal and abuse in the 'church' increases...

and the appalling hubris of 'pastor' after 'pastor' is revealed... 

I think about the only King who truly had 'divine right' on his side. 

And I thank God, that he chose to give up that right.

That he chose to humble himself. 

That he chose to serve.

(Luke 22:24-27)

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Doing The Best I Can

I had a difficult conversation with someone the day my sister died. I wanted them to understand the reality I have lived with since spiritual abuse drove me out of 'the church'.

So I tried to explain that I was not only facing the grief of losing my sister prematurely. I also had to deal with malice from my sister-in-law in the midst of that, because she had sided with the church leaders who'd told me to submit to the "godly leader" who was bullying and abusing me.

And she has refused ever since to deal with the crap that is still between us.

As I wrote last August when my mother died, even though I keep forgiving, I have to live with the ongoing realities of being reviled by others, including members of my own family.

And it hurts. And it keeps on inflicting fresh hurt! And most people just don't 'get' that.

So please don't lecture me on how I should respond. Please don't throw a bunch of christian cliches at me. Please don't quote scripture at me or insist on praying at me without my consent.

I understand my pain makes you uncomfortable and it doesn't fit with your neat theologies...


I am doing the best I can. I still love God. I keep forgiving. I am dealing with the crap.

So please give me the space and time I need. Please show some compassion. Please be secure enough to just listen. And love. And trust me to God.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

A Letter to Tony Jones

Dear Tony Jones,

This morning I came across link to a letter from your lawyer telling your ex-wife, Julie McMahon, that she should remove any comments she may have made on the various social media sites which are mentioned in said letter. So I was very surprised to see this blog post I wrote and this one being listed in that letter.

Mine is a very minor blog in the scheme of things, and I'd be surprised if Julie is even aware of its existence. She has certainly never commented on it. So it puzzles me why my opinion pieces are even listed there. If there are no comments that need removing, why are my posts mentioned at all?

Some people might infer that you are trying to control the conversation regarding the experience of your erstwhile wife.

Some people might assume you want to expunge from the internet anything that refers to you in less than glowing terms.

Some people might even suspect that you are seeking to silence people who are protesting the silencing of people.

How ironic that would be!

I, myself, would never have even heard of you if it wasn't for the fact that the behaviour described in some of the posts I read sounded so familiar.

You see, I experienced bullying and abuse at the hands of 'church leaders'.

When I objected, they tried to silence me. When I said something was wrong with that, they tried to shut me down completely.

So I get a bit twitchy when I see people being silenced. And these days I say something about it.

Yours inconsequentially,
Living Liminal

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Deafness of Tony Jones & Friends

Why is it that Tony Jones & Friends seem to have adopted this pose?

Many people were disgusted when Rachel Held Evans, who had previously loudly denounced abuse of power, deleted multiple comments questioning her seeming support of Tony Jones. She assured everyone that she takes "abuse allegations very seriously" and that she'd made a "diligent investigation of this situation" (i.e. abuse claims by his ex-wife, Julie McMahon).

(Of course, some weeks later she did say, "I don’t want to overstate my knowledge of this situation... I have spoken with neither Tony nor Julie..."!?!)

And after writing a glowing review of Jones's latest book on her blog, Nadia Bolz Weber found that her husband had apparently accidentally deleted the 800 plus comments thread that had been generated there. Fortunately, they can still be found on Disqus ;)

Now Peter Rollins, who applauded the resistance against "ubiquitous, normalized violence operating in disavowed ways" in other contexts, has written a blog post which appears to be a defence of the abusive, narcissistic behaviour of Tony Jones.

And it seems he is joining the 'I'm Not Listening' club.

I left the following comment on his Facebook page:

I also tried to leave a comment on the blog itself, but it was failed (twice) in moderation. So I returned to Rollins' Facebook page and added it:

It lasted a whole minute before it was taken down, along with the original comment. As well as that, I  have been blocked from making any any further comments on his page.

So it would appear that this is standard behaviour for anyone (professionally) connected to Tony Jones. Avoid questions, delete comments, ignore the abuse.

I know what it is like to have to speak out about the toxic behaviour of people close to me. I know it seemed at the time that in doing so I'd lost everything that was important to me.

But I now realise that I had actually been set free!

I feel sorry for those people who are too afraid to hear the truth, let alone speak it. Their deafness is self-inflicted and they are enslaved - trapped in a cage of their own design.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Quick-Fix 'Repentance'

In his article, "Three signs of repentance every church leader should learn"Dr Phil Monroe addresses the question, "How do you know when an abusive person is adequately repentant, and therefore, capable of providing a safe environment for others to live in?"

"The answer," he says, "is found in the fruit they produce."

I would have thought this was fairly obvious, and yet I was castigated by a 'church leader' for asking to see fruit which lined up with the words he had spoken to me.

Several months after we'd left our church I asked board member D if he'd be prepared to meet with me. I was really hoping that we might be able to restore some measure of relationship between us.

Things were very strained between us as we met, but I really did want to restore relationship with this man and his wife, so I kept persisting - repeating the fact that the behaviour I'd experienced from him was, indeed, abusive. For some time it seemed we would get nowhere with the discussion. So when he suddenly looked at me in horror and said, "I spend half my time counselling people who've been abused by the church. I never thought I'd be the one to abuse", I was astounded, to say the least!

I looked at my husband to make sure he'd heard the same words I had, and sure enough, he was looking as stunned as I felt.

After that meeting, assuming that what had occurred was the starting point of a journey of restoration, I wrote to my brother. As he had told me he based his judgement against me on board member D's words, I wanted to ask him if D's current words made any difference.

Well, that was a mistake! According to D, I'd violated a private and sacred work of reconciliation by sharing what he'd said... or even that we had met at all. On top of that, he now claimed he'd never spoken those words, and he denied any responsibility for other people's actions - even when those actions were taken because of things he'd openly said (and preached) about me.

The icing on the cake was when he claimed that by saying his actions had had some pretty ugly consequences in the church, I was abusing him!

Now, this was my personal experience, but I see the same thing being played out by leaders and their followers all the time. The leader says a 'sorry' of sorts but never actually owns what he's done wrong. He makes no attempt to rectify the situation and there is no change in his attitudes or behaviour. He just keeps rolling on with his 'ministry', acting oh-so-wounded if anyone questions this, and playing the victim of the piece. And his loyal subjects defend him by attacking anyone who voices any concerns about this - condemning the very people who are, more often than not, the real victims.

Just look at the reaction when a petition was started asking that Mark Driscoll not be given any sort of platform at the 2015 Hillsong conference. There have been plenty of calls for grace and mercy and forgiveness from his supporters, but no recognition of the lives he's devastated, and certainly no suggestion that MD should produce fruit in keeping with his 'repentance'. The strong message is that he's said the word "sorry", and now he should just be allowed to get back to what he was doing before. Despite the fact that, by his own admission, there's at least a pile of dead bodies, if not a mountain, under the Mars Hill bus.

Grace and mercy and forgiveness are good and appropriate responses to sin, but they do not negate the need to see the fruit which comes from true repentance, especially where the offender has used his power and authority to abuse a fellow human. If you have been in an abusive relationship of any sort, and your abuser uses the word "sorry", please know that it is entirely reasonable to expect proof of that 'repentance'!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Why You Are The Problem

It was a few days before the meeting at which the board's official 'advice' was to be handed down to me. By this stage, it was pretty obvious what that advice would be. As they'd spent the past 3 weeks being 'unavailable' - far too busy doing 'important things' to talk to me - it didn't take a genius to work out I was being hung out to dry.

I was sitting in the lounge room of elder R because I wanted to talk to him before I got officially shafted by the board. I was hoping (in vain!) that if I shared my concerns about the behaviour of elder J and his wife, and the board members backing him, that he'd realise there was something seriously wrong. I told him that if we'd been in the workplace, instead of a church, I'd have a good case to bring a charge of bullying against elder J.

Without blinking or missing a beat, elder R replied, "And he'd have a good case against you, too."

I was stunned! Elder R had not been privy to J's bullying behaviour towards me because it mostly happened in private encounters. But beyond that, he hadn't even been in the same country for much of that time!

So if he had anything to say about the way people had been treated, it was because he'd listened to, and accepted the accounts of, the one doing the bullying. (In hindsight, I've realised what a political animal elder R is, and how well he plays the game to win. He was never going to back the 'losing' side.)

Months later I phoned R in desperation. My husband and I had hit a crisis point over the elders' latest refusal to deal with things, and I was absolutely frantic. Despite my obvious distress, elder R calmly informed me that he was not in town and couldn't help us. No word of concern for us. No effort to make sure we had someone else to call on. No hint of taking any responsibility for the agony we were in. Apparently, he just didn't give a toss.

Eventually, I swore at him and told him he cared more for 'his' church than he did for the people in it. And with that I served myself up to him on a silver platter. It was exactly what he needed to prove that I was beyond the pale - emotional, irrational, fit only to be ignored. And he's never spoken to me since.

But despite my highly emotional state and my 'bad' language, I spoke the truth that night. By his actions, this man showed more concern over protecting the reputation of his church than he did over the lives being torn apart by it. It seems we were just collateral damage. No biggie.

It is a dangerous reality that christians - leaders especially - like to play God by creating 'church' in their own image. And then they find themselves having to defend that image against all comers - sometimes even to the 'death'. They don't necessarily set out to hurt people. They don't plan from the start to sacrifice others on the altar of their church's 'success'. But it happens nonetheless!

Jesus said he would build his church, but man has usurped that role. (Apparently some men think they can do a better job of it than Jesus.) And just like Victor Frankenstein's attempts to breathe life into a collection of dead body parts, they've created a monster. Ironically, they all too frequently become slaves to it. They must serve it at all costs. And tragically, that cost is too often paid for by others.

Because this monster demands not just obedience, but subservience; unquestioning allegiance; unswerving loyalty; blind faith.

It's an unthinking, unfeeling beast. It knows only one 'right' way, so you'd better have the correct answer every time. Make sure you submit to its every whim. Conformity and uniformity are your only hope.

When someone stands up and asks a question, or expresses a doubt, or suggests a different way, they must be dealt with. God forbid that anyone should stop to listen to these trouble-makers. They might start to see the monster for what it really is! These rebellious, un-submissive backsliders must be silenced.

And the easiest way of doing that is to deflect your own guilt onto them. If they question the wisdom of doing things this way, question their wisdom. If they say they've been bullied, accuse them of bullying. If they react out of their pain, use it as proof of their guilt.

The monster-makers cannot afford for one minute to see what it is they have really created (or how far it is from the picture Jesus painted), and so they must lay blame at the door of anyone who points out the monster's existence. These 'trouble-makers', these 'bitter, unforgiving' people, these 'false prophets and jezebels' are fed to the monster feet first. Judged, denounced, shunned.

But those who've created the monster can't escape it because they dare not acknowledge it exists. To do so would be to shatter the illusion of the greater good and expose the ugliness that lies behind. They'd lose their reputation, their position, their power. And they can't let that happen because they've convinced themselves that they must have those things so they can do great things for their god.

And so they fight to win because they must. They're on a mission from God and they can't imagine why people are so difficult. They are the anointed ones and if only everyone would just submit to their authority their church would be able to do the great things they dream of doing. They can't have these rabble rousers stirring up trouble - they must protect the flock. They're just trying to serve God, but these trouble-makers keep distracting them from their glorious mission. If they can only deal with these agitators, everything will be perfect.

So relax. No need to struggle or be angry. It's nothing personal. You're just being sacrificed for the good of the monster... um, church!

Friday, 17 April 2015

I Have Trust Issues

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me about whether I was thinking about finding another church to attend. I hesitated, talked around the question for a bit, and then I was finally able to admit out loud that I have trust issues when it comes to church leadership.

There was a time when I would automatically trust someone because they said they were a christian. That went doubly so for anyone in leadership in a church. Stupidly, naively, I bought into the idea that christians in general, and christian leaders in particular, could be trusted.

As much as I still sometimes feel angry at myself for that stupidity, the fact is that I did believe it.

And I learned the hard way that it wasn't true.

And in the aftermath of that disillusionment, I have now been able to admit that I have been left with a distrust of church leaders.

Minions Facebook Page
I am willing to trust someone if they prove they are trustworthy. But titles, positions and even what people say are no longer enough. If attitudes and actions don't match up with those things, I'm keeping my distance.

Once bitten, twice shy.

That doesn't mean I'm bitter. And it doesn't mean I'm unforgiving. It doesn't even mean that the wounds I received haven't scarred over. It just means I've learned from what I went through.

I'm still willing to be open. I'm still willing to be loyal. I'm even still willing to be vulnerable.

But I won't trust automatically. And I won't trust blindly.

And I won't go back into a religious system which has proved to be so unsafe. Because it places one man (or woman) in a position of power and authority over their brothers and sisters. And I've never yet met anyone who doesn't eventually let that power go to their heads.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Dangerous 'Christian Leaders'

Until they were 'accidentally' deleted, I had been reading some of the 800 plus comments on a blog post lauding the most recent book of Tony Jones, a 'christian leader' who is surrounded by controversy regarding abuse allegations.

This is a man who left his wife and children to live with another man's wife. This is a man who has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is a man who is acclaimed as a 'leader' of  the'emergent' church.

A few days prior to this, I was reading about the launch of 'christian leader', Mark Driscoll's new ministry platform.

This is a man who headed up the "most abusive, coercive ministry culture" that one pastor had ever been involved with. This is a man whose own elders called for him to step down. This is a man who openly boasted about throwing people under the bus.

Naked Pastor

And all the while I think about the fact that the elder who bullied and abused his peers in a bid to be top dog in my ex-church has already left to start his own so he can really be in control. This is a man who amply demonstrated he valued position and power more than relationship - and he has started his own church.

And he learned his 'leadership' style from his previous church where the pastor has damaged people for years with his "my way or the highway" approach. This is a man who was willing to see an entire congregation of people to leave the church rather than let them pursue their own vision.

And I think of the man who I turned to for help when I was being bullied and abused by my peer. This is a man who told me that I should submit to the 'godly leadership' of my abuser, and if I couldn't do that I should resign from leadership myself. This is a man who has his own itinerant counselling ministry!

Does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture?

Does anyone else question the fitness of these men to be 'christian leaders'?

Does anyone else wonder how many people have to get hurt before someone calls a stop and faces the reality of how much damage 'christian leaders' are inflicting on people?

Does anyone else care how many have been so badly hurt that they have turned away from their faith - mistakenly believing that the way these 'leaders' act reflects the heart of God.

Does anyone else fear how many more will experience this trauma in the future simply because no-one is willing to listen to those who are crying out, "Stop it, you're hurting me!"

These 'leaders' keep sacrificing people in the name of their gods, and not one seems willing to lay aside their position and their reputation and see how their behaviour might be damaging the people around them.

Wake up guys! You are not safe to be around!

Lay aside your reputations, your politics, your positions of power, and listen to your victims. All those you've damaged; you've ostracised; you've abandoned. All those you've run over with your bus and left bleeding by the side of the road.

Stop and see the damage you've inflicted. And then do something about it.

Not "I'm sorry you are hurt" apologies.

Not "mistakes were made" confessions.

Real, honest, raw repentance is what you need.

For God's sake, find it!