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Spiritual Abuse and Standing Ovations

I didn’t realize it was strange to some Christians to clap in the middle of a worship service until I was twenty. Clapping was an expression of gratitude common in worship services I attended as a child, especially at Christmas and Easter. I always understood the clapping to be a sign of gratitude for the experience, but in the churches, I visited there was a quiet reverence during worship. An awe and wonder signified not by more noise, but by silence and solitude. Worship wasn’t about anyone who led the service or led the music. Worship was about encountering Creator God who breathed life into humanity and wondering how on earth that could have happened.

This week, a Memphis megachurch pastor admitted to having being involved in sexually with a minor. His congregation responded with a standing ovation. Their response didn’t surprise me. I have stood clapping more than once in church and during worship. But something about this story didn’t sit right with me. While I admire this pastor’s admission in front of a crowd of people, there is something missing. Calling this a “sexual incident” rather than sexual misconduct against a minor, alleviates the legal ramifications of this pastor admitting to having committed a felony. This change of language was not an accident. This was spiritual abuse.

Admitting to something without accepting the full ramifications and consequences isn’t something we should be modeling as ministers. Instead, this partial admission exerts the power and privilege that he as the pastor of a megachurch holds. He holds the attention of thousands of people. He holds the respect of thousands of people and what he has done with that attention and respect is used it to make himself feel better about committing a crime.

This is the spiritual abuse that plagues our society making congregations feel as if they are the judge and juror of pastors’, polticians’, and president’s misconduct rather than our legal system and rather than God. If there are enough likes, if there is enough clapping, if there is a standing ovation than the wrong and hurt and pain that has been committed is ok.

It is never ok for anyone to harm a child, no matter the position, no matter the power, no matter the number of people they influence. It is never ok for a person in power to seek justification from an audience without submitting themselves to the legal process that governs our country.

This situation is an accurate picture of the country and culture we live in. We applaud spiritual abuse and people using their power and privilege to avoid the legal system because we believe we are the ones who know whether someone is good or bad and whether an act is right or wrong.

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise…

We’re quick to like and love and retweet. We’re quick to applaud when we are entertained and offer standing ovations when something surprises us. This is what our consumerist culture has taught us. This is what has infiltrated our communities of faith.

It’s up to us to learn the difference between living for applause and living for God.

 

Where I Come From

This December, I have been immersing myself in local authors. Most of these authors have written and recorded what it was like to grow up in a mill village. I didn’t know my hometown was so centered around mill life until I started working as a second-grade teacher. My principal took the time to take all new employees through the apartment complexes and neighborhoods where our students lived.

I remember when he drove through the mill village and how all the houses looked the same. He told us that since the mill closed down 5 years prior, the demographics changed from 80% white and 20% African Amerian and Hispanic to 80% African American and Hispanic to 20% white. He also explained that because the mill owners moved out from the area, the mill village became low-income housing, owned by someone outside of the state and very rarely maintained. In other parts of the city, mills were being renovated to office buildings or restaurants or commercial buildings, but in this part of the city, there was no renovation planned.

It matters where we came from both in our family history and in the culture and heritage of the place we reside.

Here are the stories I read:

Read about where you came from. Learn about the stories your city, your family and you are built upon.

The Power to Condemn and Spiritual Abuse

I’ve been condemned to hell more than once. I’ve been on personal prayer lists, Sunday School prayer lists, and prayer lists of communities of faith because I have “stepped out of God’s will” and “off the beaten path.” When I expressed a call to preach and pastor, it caused quite a few theological crises because as a woman I wasn’t supposed to be called to preach or pastor.

There are a couple of possible reactions that someone, like me, who presents a theological crisis to an individual or a community of faith, receives: acceptance or condemnation. If an individual or community accepts the “wanderer”, then the others within the faith community may also begin to question and challenge the teachings of that community causing more to wander away. If this “wanderer” is condemned by an individual or a community of faith, then the equilibrium is kept. Power is kept in the hands of the powerful. Followers are reminded of what happens when you step out of line: you become an outsider. The power to condemn is a purposeful use of language that maintains control and order.

The power to condemn is a purposeful use of language that maintains control and order while keeping power in the hands of the powerful. This is spiritual abuse.

Because I was born and raised in this theology, I know the line of reasoning. So, when I am condemned to hell, I don’t merely accept this conclusion but attempt to diffuse it.

“But I thought only God could judge or condemn someone.”

“That’s right, He is the ultimate judge.”

“Then, why are you condemning me to hell for answering a call to pastor and preach.”

“I’m not. I’m just…I’m just saying you need to be careful.”

“Ok, thanks, I will be.”

My response may sound flippant, but these encounters have been intense and painful experiences for me. In more than one instance after I have been condemned to hell, I have ended up in my closet crying and doubting myself and my call wondering whether I was indeed “off the beaten path” and “out of God’s will.” The reason spiritual abuse is so powerful is that it produces self-doubt, shame, and insecurity. It cripples those who have experienced it from being their true and whole selves.

If you haven’t condemned a fellow human to damnation and warned them of the danger of the path they are taking, it would be hard for you to imagine this conversation or interaction. But as someone who has both condemned fellow humans to damnation as well as wrestled with the inhumanity of that use of language, I understand the impact it can have.

As Hurricane Irma draws near, people are looking for something or someone to condemn; they are looking for a theological reason for Irma and Harvey to have hit where they have hit. “Ahh Orlando, isn’t that where the Pulse nightclub is?” I hope you haven’t heard these types of theological explanations for the disaster and devastation as I hope you haven’t heard them for you being yourself, but if you have, know that you are not alone.

I’m here “out of God’s will” and “off the beaten path,” ready to welcome you and affirm your courage and bravery in being who you are.