Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Have You Been Spiritually Hazed?

Winkipedia has this to say on the subject of hazing:
"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.

Further Reading:
Exploring Bounded Choice
Can't You See I'm Dying?


Quivering Daughters said...

Oh my goodness; I am so sorry for all you've endured within your cult. Mine wasn't a church situation, but I remember hours and hours of what seemed like "hot seat" criticism sessions while my parents belabored whatever the issue was at the time. My siblings watched or pretended to read while I sat, frozen and crying. Immediately afterwards I could never remember exactly what was said; and I always came away with the fact that I didn't deserve such wonderful parents because I was obviously so very very wicked.

The Cult Next Door said...

That is so sad- I can't imagine experiencing that kind of stress from my family.
The pastor put me through terrible torture- but at least I knew she hated me.
You had to endure abuse from the people who are supposed to love and protect you at all costs.

My memories are the same way- I can't recall exactly what she said when she started the tirade- just that I was SO evil and deserved to burn in hell for not listening to such a God-ordained prophet.

Provender said...

Spiritual hazing. That's a perfect way of putting it. People understand the concept of hazing. They don't often understand spiritual abuse. Good illustration.

Purple Hymnal said...

"Have you been "hazed" in an abusive church? Please add your experience in the comments below."

- Ministry preaching corporal punishment to the parents, and the parents being just gullible enough to buy into it. (Some were not, or they tried it, got sick of it, and quickly gave up. Those examples were in the minority however.)

- Ministerial visiting (often in "teams" -- with a favoured deacon or other trusty in tow) to check that the house was tidy enough, had no unclean foods, had acceptable reading material, was otherwise in good order and that the member wasn't "living outside their means", i.e., spending money that was to be sent to the church, or making long-term investments because "Time is short!" (This was an apocalyptic cult --- three-quarters of a century, and that Kingdom ain't come yet!)

- Many offertory messages preceding a "special offering" focused exclusively on that execrable parable from Acts 5

- Members' personal counseling sessions with the ministers would be recounted, in minute detail, before the congregation; the member was never named, but everyone knew who it was, and if you didn't, you would find out from the gossips after

- Those joining the church never found out about 2nd and 3rd tithes until after they started attending regularly and were baptized. First tithe was 10% of gross annual income, 2nd tithe was a second 10% to be spent on the Holy Days (with 1% of THAT going to the church as a "tithe of the tithe"), 3rd tithe was a further 10% every third year of seven (that the member had been baptized), and all the money went straight to the Apostle.

- Being criticized by "brethren" (and criticizing others yourself) for not being "truly converted" or "godly" enough.

That's just a small sampling. :-)