Wednesday, 2 August 2017

When Church Leaders Act Like Abusive Husbands

In my last post, I mentioned that a board member of my ex-church once told me that I had a problem submitting to "godly" authority. I responded by telling him I didn't have a problem submitting to Godly authority. And he didn't like that. At all. I saw his anger. And I didn't care.

Because I knew I wasn't the problem.

My lack of submission wasn't the problem.

But it's only in the last few days, I've seen with clarity what the real problem was.

As I wrote in that last post, the issue of how the church has failed survivors of domestic abuse has hit the headlines here in Australia. And in following the conversations being held, the stories being told, and the responses and reactions of different people, I have seen more clearly into the realities of my own experience of abuse in the church.

And I've had a moment of revelation. An "aha!" moment.

The real problem in our church was not my failure to submit to "godly" authority. It was the failure of its leaders to serve as Jesus served.

In the stories of domestic abuse that I've been reading, the husbands all quoted scriptures to demand submission from their wives. The husbands claimed they had "godly" authority over their wives, and based on this supposed authority they thought it was entirely appropriate to demand that their wives submit to them, no matter how harshly or hurtfully they treated them.

Of course, what they failed to realise is that their use (or misuse) of scripture damns them, not their wives. Because the scriptural call on them as husbands is to love their wives sacrificially, not to sacrifice those they love on the altar of their own inflated egos.

In similar fashion, my fellow leaders appeared to believe they had the right - in the name of God - to enforce submission and to compel obedience from their brothers and sisters. They showed willing to inflict hurt on others in order to gain the desired outcome, and then berate them for being wounded. And in doing so, they displayed their own failure. Because the God from whom they claimed to derive their authority is the God who equates greatness with servanthood, not tyranny. In demanding servility from others, they failed to obey the one who said he came to serve, not to be served.

You see, the problem was not with my refusal to submit. I knew I had nothing to fear from submitting to Godly authority, because I knew that truly Godly authority would never act in a way that harmed me. The "problem" was that I wouldn't submit to abuse. People didn't like me naming it for what it was and, using the same tactics as those abusive husbands, they tried to blame me. Like an abused wife I struggled with that, and sometimes I even fought back, but that did not make me "the problem".

The problem was created by those who, in attempting to crown one man "king" in the church, failed to acknowledge the true King. It lay with those who, in seeking to "lord it over" others, failed to obey the words of the "Lord over all". It was caused by those who, in demanding submission from others, failed to submit to the teachings of Jesus who said, "Do you understand what I’ve done for you? You call me teacher and Lord, and you’re right because that’s what I am. So if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I’ve given you an example that you should follow."

That was the real problem in our midst. "Leaders" demanding submission instead of displaying servanthood. "Followers" who refused to follow.

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