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Spiritual Abuse and The Fear of the Outsider

I can remember distinctly the Sunday School lesson in which we talked about Catholics. Their church across the street was expanding and it provided a natural topic of conversation, but that conversation wasn’t one of excitement or shared enthusiasm for their community of faith growing. Instead, it was a conversation of wariness with a clear message: they were outsiders.

The prevalence of this belief in my upbringing made it confusing when someone pointed out that Catholics weren’t, in fact, another faith. They were actually more similar to Christian beliefs than many other faith traditions. I was confused even further when this person explained gently that other denominations were also not other faiths, but just different articulations of Protestantism.

Focusing on the similarities between our community of faith and other communities of faith would confuse the message that we were believers and everyone else needed to be converted to our faith, the one true faith. The fear of the outsider was palpable.

The outsider posed an untamable and uncontrollable influence. The outsider brought questions and challenges to the strict dogma that was taught. The outsider invoked compassion and partnership to solve problems like poverty and hunger and homelessness. The outsider inherently challenged the power and hierarchy that existed.

And so the focus on the outsider was one of evangelism, friendship with the hope of conversion. A conversion which would lead to membership only when this former outsider expressed belief in the dogmatic teachings. Infant baptism would not be accepted; only full immersion believer’s baptism. Homosexuality would not be condoned. Divorce would be strongly be counseled against in any and all cases.

The outsider was welcome as long as the outsider looked, spoke, and acted like an insider. This is spiritual abuse because it reduces humans to numbers. It allows all traces of inequality both economically and racially a simple theological bandaid: “They are in that situation because they are not true believers.” It keeps wealth and power and prestige in the hands of the elite and it teachers disciples of Christ to turn a blind eye to those in need unless they first are converted.

This is spiritual abuse and it has infected our society, our governing bodies, and our churches.

Let the Sun Shine In

After four days of thunderstorms, the sun is out this morning. The storms brought a breeze I thought wouldn’t return to Columbia again until September after last week’s 90 + days. Last week was so hot even the grand magnolia trees were looking withered as they tried to pull up water from their deep roots.

As I looked at those magnolia trees towering above me last week, I thought of people who are trying desperately to hang on in the midst of the blazing sun of the wilderness; uncertainty surrounding them in the form of sickness, the unexpected loss of loved ones, and unsure job prospects. Like these magnolias, the wilderness sun was asking them to pull up every last ounce of hope from their deep roots of faith.

And then the rain came. The clouds opened up delivering hope in the form of water. The reminder of our baptism. A vase of flowers. A text message. An unexpected dinner that didn’t have to be cooked, planned, or prepared.

These unexpected thunderstorms providing rain at just the right moment is how the magnolia will survive through this hot Columbia summer. These moments where we realize someone has been thinking about us as we are traversing the blistering sun of the wilderness is how we will survive as people of God. These small acts showering us with the hope as they sustain and restore our souls.