"Hazing” refers to any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person's willingness to participate. In years past, hazing practices were typically considered harmless pranks or comical antics associated with young men in college fraternities.
Today we know that hazing extends far beyond college fraternities and is experienced by boys/men and girls/women in school groups, university organizations, athletic teams, the military, and other social and professional organizations. Hazing is a complex social problem that is shaped by power dynamics operating in a group and/or organization and within a particular cultural context.
In the context of “any activity expected… [to join] a group…that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional…harm” I endured hazing for two plus decades. In my perspective the dynamic was a power play of a narcissistic woman to see how far she could degrade without protest from the “hazee” or the surrounding crowd.
For example: a church member spends a holiday with a family member outside of the church with whom they share a relatively strong bond. Upon the next church service, the pastor would stand to her feet and say God had revealed a “rebellious spirit” to her: like Achan and the hidden gold, there was sin “hidden in the camp”.
Whenever she made that announcement, my heart would beat faster, my mouth would go cotton dry, and often I would sweat a vile smell from sheer fear.
She would then begin to vaguely list the symptoms of the afflicted person. Each church member had been assigned evil character traits by the pastor. If she spoke of a family spirit or someone that was always tired (I had an auto-immune disease- fatigue is a normal symptom) I knew my number was up: God through her was about to check my loyalty by public ridicule.
The pastor would rant and rave about my last year’s worth of mistakes, real or imagined. Then the congregation would stand to their feet one by one and say how that if they were blessed enough to have God reveal spiritual danger through such a wonderful mouth piece, they would fall to their knees and repent. Kind church members would talk about their last experience with God’s cleansing. If you were lucky like me you got to sit by one of the pastor’s favored people and have loud “AMENS” yelled in your ear as the pastor revealed the worst of your offenses to the whole church. It was bitter humiliation to say the very least.
I knew the only way to stop the emotional torture was to stand and admit to every offense she had listed. Many times she would have the guilty party come forward and have the evil cast out of them by prayer.
The final humiliation was to publicly thank her for the emotional abuse and call it a gift from God.
And her hazing had accomplished what she intended: her power over the group had been re-enforced, I was debased in my own eyes and the eyes of my peers and not much of a threat to the system, and the on-lookers would be loath to find themselves in such a situation by attempting any family visits.
She had many such tactics to ensure her twisted authority, such as instructing family members, even husbands and wives to distance themselves from the offending party.
Hazing, in my mind, is a great tool for an abuser to keep their place of authority right where they want it: right on the neck of the hazed church member.
Have you been "hazed" in an abusive church? Please add your experience in the comments below.
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