How Churches Painted Themselves Into a Corner (And How Equality Can Get Them Out)

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We looked in the last post of some of the reasons that churches across the doctrinal spectrum have been slow or reluctant to help the 1 in 4 women of faith in their congregation who are in destructive relationships.

Churches derive their power from their claim that they represent Christ’s message on earth.

Their history is one of organizing and transmitting the legacy of Jesus Christ in the world.

Jesus is presented as the Savior, the One Who, once followed, takes our heavy burdens upon Himself and provides a never-ending source of support, love and forgiveness.

Indeed, the claim is that once people accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they will be redeemed – made new. A transformation is to take place. A new birth, a new creature is now operating in the world.

What happens to the church’s message when this doesn’t happen?

In the slide toward political power and social approval, churches left themselves without recourse when members fall short, not in small human foibles, but in gross behaviors which even non-believers may not condone.

Such is the current fallout with sexual abuse and other extreme violations of human dignity. Discussing views on how the church got sex wrong will be held for another post, but the dilemma the church faces over members who fall below a decent not to mention Christian claim to character is a major challenge.

If the standard of character transformation is no longer a sign of accepting redemption, the church is left with the watered- down tea of social pressure and lip service.

When not just members but leaders are shown to have fed upon the fold rather than nourish them, the party line is left with nothing but condemnation. Sin becomes the focus and not relationship with God. Cries of “kick them out” arise. There is no mercy for the twice-sinned. Members turn upon each other. Traumatic house- cleaning commences.

The application of forgiveness of sins becomes problematic when narcissistic manipulation protects the predator and condemns the victim. This is the reverse of what Jesus taught. Protecting the institution becomes more important than genuine repentance but this is only cliff hanging.

The church is left with the dilemma of admitting they have been a sham show or closing ranks. What would Jesus do?

Here we are left with His disdains for the hypocritical religious leaders of his day. He did not mince words for them and instead preferred people who knew they were in trouble, needed help and were grateful when they got it.

Mock repentence in order to hold onto to position and power are not Christ-like. When churches encourage a view that we are better than those who are unsaved, they have painted themselves into a corner if the betters are less than the lowers.

The window out of the corner is to abandon the false foundation and start over.

The foundation crumbled when a static rather than a dynamic view of salvation was used to build.

In the static view, salvation remains outside the person and he still remains a worthless person, relying on Jesus outside of himself for viability. Eternal groveling is required. “Rejoicing” in what Jesus has done for me or to me, not in me, is the membership card. It becomes a system that praises suffering and death. Emotional pathology can be encouraged as pain becomes pleasure. There is glee in righteous gore.

In the dynamic view of salvation, Christ within is the hope of glory. An original worthlessness is not required to grow into a fullness of life. Indeed Christ is followed because of higher dimensions of being human. God’s Spirit lives in each person and is pleased with growth and development, harmony, peace, and continual well-being. God is not anti-human. Christ shows what is possible and invites people to do it.

In this view of salavtion, church members are not focused on social status and political power (externals) and concentrate on the power of  compassion for fellow human beings who hold Christ within (internal). They don’t hire “professional Christians” to do their faith for them or tell them the right way to do it.

That’s what Jesus did.

The church must not go away sorrowful, like the rich young ruler, when asked to follow Jesus. Nor should they organize around  power which becomes the lure for scam artists. Rather they must reclaim gender equality in leadership and use consensus to create community so that everyone is empowered and no one is excluded. There are models, such as recovery groups, that emulate the early house churches.

Being human is not what backed  the church into its corner. Pretending superiority is: members better than outsiders; men better than women. A static view of salvation leaves people fighting over manna. It is horrible to see a church torn apart as finger pointing becomes more vicious. Hurling attacks about who is the “genuine” follower is not the path of peace. Neither repentance nor forgiveness are acts that can be commanded on schedule.

Once trust has been betrayed, it is better for the hurt and the ones who hurt to receive therapy and healing and maybe not together. Often the church will have to disband. It takes time. If we are graced, a genuine group of people who want to follow Jesus will reemerge. Love is the doctrine.

The 30 pieces are never worth it.

The Battered Women of Faith: Reality vs Myth

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Do you wonder why church leaders or members don’t help the 1 in 4 abused women of faith in their congregations? Here are 4 possible reasons.

Myth One: She’s weak.

Predators are drawn to idealistic, strong and caring women. The church can be a field day for them to find potential victims. Believing women want to help others, relieve distress, give (too many) chances, and share their resources.

Rather than being weak, the Christian woman’s ideal of forbearance or perseverance will keep her trying to figure out how to change herself or help her abuser.

Those who criticize her for these strengths are not taking into consideration that these are the very traits she has been raised to display and are overlooking the fact that the church does not support her being any other way. Instead they are more likely to tell her to repent.

Myth Two: She’s Unintelligent

A mature faith is not blind but too much reasoning and questioning is not encouraged in some dogmatic churches. Indeed, believers are urged to “lean not unto your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5) or “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways  my ways, says the Lord.” (Is. 55:8) 

Abusers or controlling church leaders are quick to discourage a woman from questioning. Indeed the above verses can be used to discourage her from questioning her husband or pastor.

A woman has to defy what she is conditioned to do in many churches. She has to question, trust her intuition and inner voice, and grow in her faith in spite of resistance from members or leaders as well as her abusive husband.

Myth Three: She just needs to be a better Christian wife.

Domestic violence is not a marital problem. It cannot be healed with marital counseling. It is the deliberate subjugation of a person to mistreatment by a narcissist. He only uses God, faith or the Bible because he knows it’s important to his victim. It’s another tool. He is not trying to follow any of the faith demands he is screaming at his wife to follow.

Pastors who are more concerned about saving the marriage or advocating for the husband  more than the safety of the woman are playing the predator’s game. The doctrine of wifely submission will be used against her in counseling sessions.

Domestic violence may occur within a marriage but it is not about the marriage.  The woman is a hostage in her home. 

 Domestic violence is a man’s problem. Any other approach that focuses on her changing misses the mark. She has not failed in her marriage. In fact she is probably overdoing in trying to comply with unreasonable demands that dismiss her as worthy of the most basic humane consideration.

Myth Four: She can always leave.

Churches who are afraid to allow for divorce are more  interested  in their church’s reputation than solving this problem.  They have painted themselves into a corner because divorce is often the only reasonable action.

Going no contact with an abuser is necessary since he interprets any contact as an opening for mistreatment. This is an identifiable diagnosis – Narcissistic Personality Disorder – and the Bible is not an adequate one-size-fits-all solution in these cases.

Members who continue the conspiracy of silence, shun the woman, or want to enforce Bible study and  repentance are only re-traumatizing the abused.

Those who ask why she doesn’t leave are the very ones who will not help her. Understandably they do not want to bring violence into their own homes. But there are many ways to support women short of  taking her in.

Redemption from Biblical Battering: Your Path to Faith-Based Freedom is one of those ways. Using it or similar resources to guide a small group study or having it on hand to give to distressed women is an effective way to open and continue a conversation to help. Holding men in the church accountable is also a first step.

Another way is to refer the suffering woman to Suzanna’s Sisters, a secure Facebook group where women can communicate with licensed counselors who understand  religious domestic abuse or survivors who have been where they are for support. Contact the author for access or to schedule a presentation or training.