This might be a little disjointed as I’m still processing it all myself. But I feel I need to get it out, look it over and see if maybe it makes some sense.
I know spiritual abuse happens. I know it happens in the church, by “in the church” I mean it happens within the walls of a church building. But to be completely honest, the Church does not abuse. The Church, capital C, Church does not because the Capital C Church is the body of Jesus Christ, His bride. And Jesus most assuredly does not abuse, nor does He ever, under any circumstance, condone abuse in His church or not. In any walk of life, secular or Christian abuse is not to be tolerated and Jesus does not tolerate it. Be assured that those who are abusive will be dealt with. I pray that they will come realize their sin and confess it. Because honestly I do not want to be in their shoes. Ever. I would much rather confess it and change my actions NOW than have Jesus deal with me on the issue. It truly is a scary thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. And abuse, I am sure, makes Him angry.
How do I know spiritual abuse happens in the church? Because I lived it. Yes, I am a spiritual abuse survivor. I spent many years, in fact almost all of my very most formative years in a church that held more to a list of do’s and don’ts than to just about anything. I have and still am discovering things I was taught as “what the Bible says” simply wasn’t true. I have heard pastors spout their own opinions and label it “what the Bible says!” and therefore condemning those who hear to live by their set of rules.
That’s legalism, plain and simple. Legalism: My forcing you to live by my convictions. When I deem you too ignorant to know what the Bible actually says, when I need to be so in control of everything, when I have a voice and power, I can use those to make you blindly follow me and my convictions.
Really it’s incredibly Pharisaical. Isn’t that what the Pharisees of Jesus’ time did? We read in the Gospels that they heaped up rules for men and didn’t lift a finger to help them. They were especially fond of rules regarding the Sabbath. Yes, the Sabbath was the holy day, the day they were to do no work, the day set apart to rest. The Pharisees took it to an extreme.
I’m sure it all started well enough. The intentions in the beginning were probably good. Maybe one man thought for him carrying something was “work” on the Sabbath so he decided for him not to carry anything. And then it all got incredibly out of hand.
Yes, people, it still happens today. I know it does. I hate that it does. But I’m not ignorant, nor am I blind to the fact that legalism and spiritual abuse are intrinsically linked.
Here is what causes my heart to constrict in agony though. When those who have experienced abuse in the church by those who are called to lead, to shepherd, to care for the sheep of God’s pasture, when they claim the Capital “C” Church is evil. When they can see no good. When all of the body of Christ does it wrong, is ignorant of how it should really be. When they tout and spout how much we are to just love everyone and we are. However their statements are decidedly unloving towards the church. We are, according to those, to love everyone outside the church but feel free to hate the person sharing the pew with you on Sunday mornings (or really whenever your church meets).
Fellow believers, this should not be. It is not okay to bash the Church. Yes, we have issues. Yes, we have problems. But tearing apart our brothers and sisters in Christ should not happen. Paul pens in the book of Galatians 5:14-15
“The entire law is summed up in a single command, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out of you will be destroyed by each other.”
The church in Galatia was living a life of legalism. Spiritual abuse ran rampant and Paul was calling them on it. What would Paul write to us today? I can’t say for sure but I think it would be something along those same lines.
We are all different people. We have different likes, dislikes, family histories, life experiences, thoughts, habits, personalities, gifts, talents. The way I live my Christian life, the way I love and serve Jesus will probably be decidedly different from the way you love and serve Him. It doesn’t mean I’m right and you’re wrong, or you’re right and I’m wrong. It means we do it differently. I pray for the time when we learn to embrace our differences, both in ourselves and the differences we see in other people, and love and serve Jesus together before a world that is watching and is desperate for what we have, yet shun it because they have no desire to be attacked by those who are supposed to love them.
Remember, love your neighbor as yourself includes those who share the same pew with you, or maybe they worship at the Methodist church across the street, or the Lutheran church down the block, the Baptist church around the corner, the non-denominational church around the block or the Catholic church across town.
We are all equally guilty. We are all equally susceptible to spiritually abusing those in our sphere of influence. We are all called to love. And how can we claim to love Jesus and yet hate our fellow believers? (1 John 3:10, 4:8, 20-21)