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!