Friday, October 22, 2010

Hazing: The Fraternity Tatics of Spiritual Abusers

In 1978, Alfred University student Chuck Stenzel decided to join the fraternity Klan Alpine. To become one of the 'brethren',Chuck was given a bottle of wine, pint of whiskey and six pack of beer, locked in the trunk of a car with other pledges, and left in nine degree temperature.When the alcohol was finished, the trunk would be opened.

When the trunk was opened, Chuck was unconscious. He died later that night.

The fraternity denied responsibility of his death.

His mother Eileen determined to find the truth. Klan Alpine members, however, were reluctant to speak out of the 'code of silence' employed by the fraternity.Overcoming members' reluctance to speak out, Eileen eventually pieced together the story of Chuck's last day and determined to fight the oppressive tactics of fraternity hazing.

As I read the story, I was shocked at the loyalty of the frat members. They would rather that an abusive system live on to kill someone else rather than speak the truth of Chuck's death. However, at this point, I had an "Eureka!" moment. Hadn't I myself been part and parcel of a group who employed abuse and mind-controlling techniques similar to those of a fraternity?Hadn't I myself protected a Dade City church 'fraternity' with years of silence?

Thankfully, Eileen started a movement that abolished many college hazings.

She said:

"Subservience, ridicule, verbal abuse, intimidation, sleep deprivation, forced calisthenics, unfair tests are all hazing and should be reported. No one should compromise their dignity to belong to any group. If you are allowing yourself to be hazed, or looking the other way when someone else is being hazed, you are enabling this ugly practice to continue and jeopardizing the emotional and physical well being of others. You are the future of fraternity. You have rights and an important voice. This is a time of growth and personal development. You are in a unique position to strengthen your chapter, implement change and set a tone for the future. Only you can eradicate the cancer of hazing. You will face many challenges and choices. I implore you to do so with leadership and courage."

Eileen might have been saying this about belonging to a spiritually abusive group as well as a fraternity hazing.

Spiritual abusers have a gamut of practices to steal the dignity of their followers. In the church I attended, the pastor preached against associating with members who had left the group. She had 'spies' who would follow parishioners to 'make sure' the parishioner was not associating with 'workers of iniquity' (members who had left the church). She also closely monitored any visits a parishioner made to family members, inside or outside of the church.

Imagine how demoralizing it is for a forty year old to ask permission to go see his sisters and brothers or a fifty year old to have to 'check-in' with the pastor about inviting her parents over for supper.Yet, even following the pastor's every rule on reporting 'family associations', the parishioner still would have at least two church services a year in which the pastor would preach for two or more hours in general tones about the evils of family association. She was wily enough not to say names, yet the whole congregation knew who she was speaking to, and the 'guilty' parishioner knew the only absolution lay in his presenting himself to the pastor in front of the congregation for a lengthy prayer session or 'family spirit exorcism'.

These examples sound extreme and incomprehensible to a person who has never experienced the 'hazing' of a spiritual abuser.Yet parishioners consider this domination normal and acceptable for the 'fraternity' pastor has decreed it is so.

"Subservience, ridicule, verbal abuse, intimidation, sleep deprivation, forced calisthenics, unfair tests are all hazing and should be reported."
Parishioners of a Dade City church receive a check mark on all listed points for spiritual abuse 'hazing'.

The pastor would call night or day and her demands had to be immediately met.

Check for subservience.

Parishioners' dress, weight, and worship styles were mocked by the pastor and the 'in group'.

Check for ridicule.

Two hours of 'counseling' in which parishioners are repeatedly yelled at for being 'lustful' and have 'demons' cast out by the pastor yelling in one's face.

Check for verbal abuse and intimation.

Sadly, spiritual abuse victims have no one to which they can report this 'hazing' lifestyle.

Yet even more sadly, members who have not left the abusive church do not consider this lifestyle abusive. A bizarre loyalty to this church 'fraternity' not unlike Stockholm syndrome seals the parishioners' lips.

After enduring the aforementioned 'counseling' session, I would thank the pastor repeatedly for 'looking out for my soul'. Church services often consisted of parishioner's testimonies of how happy they were to be a part of the 'true family of God' and how they would be glad to choose this 'family' over their natural family.

None of the emotional damage of the pastor's tactics is ever acknowledge by the abused. He doesn't speak of it to 'outside' family or friends. As this is 'God's elect' fraternity, he desires to have it appear only in the best light. He realizes that 'worldly' associations would not understand 'God's cleansing' and would question 'God's mouthpiece', the pastor. Somewhere in his mind he reasons that he deserved the abuse, that it is God's way of cleansing him.

When a fortunate parishioner would gather the strength to 'break free' of the abusive church I attended, remaining members were counseled on the 'evils' (mistakes or foibles of character) of this abandoning 'frat' brother. This discouraged credence of the departed parishioner's story of abuse.In this, the pastor gained two victories: The 'escaped' parishioner was vilified and her oft repeated stories of persecution were given credibility.

On the blog Wittenberg Gate: Applying Scriptures to every sphere of life the author makes this observation of a new member's introduction in a controlling church:

"You may be given accounts of past problems in the church and explanations for why all this was the fault of others. For example, you may hear of a group of people who were in some sort of sin, caused a problem in the church, and then were expelled or left on their own. Manipulative people use this sort of technique in order to prepare you ahead of time when they expect you might hear of these problems from others. Later, when you hear of the complaints of a former church member, you may be predisposed, by the information you hear now, to think the fault lies with the former member. We tend to believe what we heard first when contradictory information is given.You may hear stories that glorify the pastor or other controlling person. You might hear of how he endured trials, especially the attacks of others, or stood alone for what is right."
And so the spiritual fraternity's control is complete: New members are anxious to be a part of what appears to be a group sold totally out to God. They may hear disturbing accounts from parishioners who have left but dismiss their credibility because the 'frat leader' pastor has warned the new member of the evils of these 'disgruntled' ex-parishioner: they didn't have the dedication to 'go all the way with God' and are driven by an 'evil spirit'.
The 'frat' pastor allows some time for the new member to luxuriate in the glow of the attention showered on them by church members and the energizing mentality of 'selling it all out for God'. The new member gives freely of his time and talents; not much is expected of him- for now. He notes that older members are sometimes harshly disciplined. He doesn't worry too much about it, though. His dedication to God is mentioned often in the services in glowing terms by the pastor and the 'inner circle'.

Suddenly, in the mist of this glory fest, hazing time arrives. His person hood and ties to family members are disclaimed by the pastor from the pulpit. He sits in shock as she rails on and on against him and his supposedly evil actions.

It's time to pledge your undying loyalty to 'God's mouthpiece'.The new member doesn't dare speak of his abuse to anyone outside the church fraternity. That would be questioning God and His 'Under-Shepherd'.

The new member resolves to 'suck it up' and take the abuse. After all, it's a small price to pay to be a member of 'God's elect' fraternity.


The story of Chuck Stenzel and Eileen Stevens' statement on fraternities can be found on the website:
The quote from 'Controlling Personalities in the Church' can be found on the blog:
image by crystal_trevor in photobucket

"No one should compromise their dignity to belong to any group."

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