Friday, May 15, 2009

Not Of My Making: Saturday Blogstop By Author Margaret W. Jones, Ph.D

As I stated in the previous post, reading Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches encouraged and validated me in my journey out of spiritual abuse.
On completing the book I had several questions for Margaret. Read our Q&A below:

In the chapter Apologies, you describe a conversation between yourself and Rev. Karen in which she alternately accuses and then abruptly agrees with you about an article you sent to several people as well as about a conversation between yourself and a woman named Jessica.

I see in Rev. Karen shades of the toxic pastor of the cult I was in: always controlling the conversation between parishioners in a disagreement. The offended party was required to 'counsel' with her. She would then go and speak to the 'offensive' party alone. There was never a conciliatory meeting with everyone present. In that way she 'controlled' the disagreement for her own purposes: to keep tension and discontent seething in parishioner's relationships.

"Rev. Karen was in the middle, controlling and directing communication. We were never going to resolve things this way."

If someone finds themselves in a 'controlled' disagreement (where an authority leader is manipulating the circumstances to gain power by the situation), how should they try to proceed with reconciliation?

There is little you can do unless the person who has gone to the pastor is willing to speak to you directly. I tried to get people to meet with me but my efforts were thwarted probably by Rev. Karen. In my family of origin almost all communication between my older siblings and I went through my parents. We are not encouraged to communicate directly with each other. When my eldest sister and I realized this we decided we would begin calling each other directly. This decreased my parent’s power and improved my relationship with my sister. The key here, however, it was a mutual decision between my sister and me. As adults we also had sufficient power and freedom to take action. In the more closed, controlled environment of Immanuel there was nothing more I could do. I regret not walking away sooner.

In my experience and the accounts I have read of others' spiritual abuse, a sure sign of a toxic/abusive church environment is when 'bad behaviors' (i.e. gossiping, back-stabbing, demeaning words and actions) are encouraged by the church leaders. The 'bad behavior' subjected you to emotional and mental torture and eventually bullied you out of that church. If a parishioner finds himself the target of such behaviors, what advice would you offer?

Without the support of the church leadership there is very little you can do. It is analogous to bullying in schools. While there are things the victim can say and do to defend themselves more effectively than I did, without leadership support it is like trying to climb Mt. Everest without a base camp. The painful reality is that you most likely should leave and find a church that not only preaches the gospel but also strives to walk the talk.

If you choose to stay and try to resolve things, don’t go to church alone. Make sure you have an ally with you. Bullies are less likely to attack if they think you have a supporter. If people say things to you directly, that gives you a chance to defend yourself. Learn what to say. Own your beliefs, use humor if possible, ask questions of your attacker. On there is a manual for kids that are being bullied. It is useful for adults too. Also on a CD he sells there is a track called Izzy’s Game. It is worth listening to. You can also try to speak directly to the person gossiping about you. Finally, read your church’s constitution and figure out what your rights are.

Many 'churched' people are uncomfortable when someone shares their tale of spiritual abuse. Do you think it might be that they feel it gives God "bad press"?

No, I think they are worried it gives their church and themselves bad press. It is also a case of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. They have certain beliefs about being churched and here comes this person talking about how poorly they were treated. It doesn’t fit their beliefs about church so they reject the messenger. That way they don’t have to modify their behavior or beliefs. There is a good discussion of this in Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. In the chapter on spiritual healing, Bishop Robinson writes:

'Within a church community … The abuser will invariably be a person of power and will have a far stronger position in the community than the victim. This means that the abuser will be far more important to the meaning-making of the members of the community than the victim is. Making meaning of life is a long and arduous process and people do not like to see it upset. All too frequently their non-verbal, and even verbal, message to the victim will be, ‘We were content before you spoke out. You are a threat to our very system of meaning-making. Go away, leave this community and lest us go back to our former certainties.’

This really isn’t any different than what the victim goes through. The victim must reassess beliefs about the world, friendship, God etc. The difference is that the victim cannot resolve the dissonance by saying he or she lied because they know the truth of what happened to them. Bystanders can dismiss the victim as a liar or as someone who mentally deranged and unstable. A luxury the victim does not have.

I have benefited greatly from reading Not of My Making - I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Click on the title below to receive 35% off of Margaret's book:

Post your questions or comments for Margaret at or below in the comment section.


Anonymous said...

In a church arguement, where do you draw the line between "turning the other cheek" and standing up for yourself?

Margaret said...

I do not believe God expects or wants us to be doormats. There is a difference between passivity, aggression and assertion. Jesus was very assertive with Pharisees and others. Allowing others to gossip and mistreat others is not good for anyone.

Anonymous said...

...nowadays for what i know if a pregnant woman or a man on crutches stand through a bus ride, it is ok by the strong woman or man sitting in a near by seat because that is what she has chosen to do...people don't carry you anymore...may be they can't afford to because they are not carried anymore than I am...I have to love myself first.

I wonder what would Gandhi, Martin Luther or Jesus do in todays' world...would they stand by the road and be watched because that is what they have chosen to do for themselves!

Anonymous said...

I argued with a feminist professor about a Joker who created art in the king's garden. Who does it belong to the King or the Joker, how do you divide the two without disintegrating art...the wood is already disintegrated by the Joker, what right did the Joker have to do this to King's garden?
Aren't we all jokers in the God's garden, if God can't speak to us without the custodian, and the custodian word is God's word then the Joker has no right on the garden! I know about talking through parents with my siblings...I know that shame and deception when your siblings won't trust you because the God in the house arranged the house his way..if I stay on my track I may just be another calamity in God's garden instead of an art.

Margaret said...

Anonymous, I am confused about what you are trying to say. I believe that I should stand up for the pregnant woman or elderly man on the subway car. I appreciated when a woman did that for me when I was carrying my first child. I can't say what Gandhi would say about today's world. I assume Jesus and Martin Luther would see the world as corrupt today as it was in biblical times. We are to be in this world but not of it. I am striving to live a good and moral life. I make mistakes like everyone else.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering about the top down approach for religious entities to reach out to is confusing to me when you ask about turning the other applies for those who are victims, who are bystanders & those who bully...turning the other cheek is what I don't believe in anymore...but it makes me wonder how far have I and our society come from being helpers to bystanders...for if I don't turn the other cheek I will be a spectator...perhaps even a bully...take for example what happens at work, when bosses demand physical work from employees when it is not in their job description, if I don't intervene and get sucked into the charade I will be a bystander. I was looked at when I stood up for myself & was sucked into other demands doing standing up last time. Same is true for the pays we get, I talk & get fired or stay mute & get the slave wages, nobody stands with me, I can't even stand with someone else because unions don't work anymore for the people I guess, it only benefits the top two negotiators. If I had not spoken about my own abuse with my parents my abuser would have carried on, he still does even though I spoke about it, and my parents won't support me, but asked my siblings to watch on me & speak from my behind, they wouldn't trust me then...I didn't budge, I kept making my doesn't help me anymore than fighting the same battle again & again...I could be doing other things with myself than be preoccupied with proving my innocence...Gandhi wouldn't survive todays world just like he didn't survive would be rude to comment on his living today...I am not sure if turning the other cheek is an option anymore..

Margaret said...

I have heard different interpretations of turning the other cheek. I don't know what to tell you except I believe in asserting myself while trying not to harm anyone else. Most Christians are not pacifists. Reinhold Niebuhr, a famous social theologian, in his essay Why Christians aren't Pacifists points out that pacifism has its own moral dilemmas. I don't think the world is any worst than past generations. I am not sure how one turns the other cheek when attacked except to use only the force necessary to protect oneself and ones family from harm.

The Cult Next Door said...

"Touch not my annointed" was a Scripture that the pastor of my ex-cult used over and over to validate her position of control.
She promised God's judgement to anyone who dared to question her authority. All in all, it was effective means for keeping people enslaved to her.