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.