Over the last month, I’ve watched specials like Surviving R. Kelly and the abuse that happened to the Menendez Brothers. In both cases, when allegations first came to the surface, my initial feeling was that the media was stoking rumors and bringing down another talented black man, or that the Menendez brothers were running a scam by crying abuse. This was many years ago before the #metoo movement and other movements against sexual violence and psychological abuse that has created awareness. I’m so glad the cover is being pulled off of so much dirt.
I certainly believe these victims now. After years of enduring psychological games and misuse of authority, listening but being able to do little about numerous tales of spousal abuse in the church, unbridled pastoral authority, and childhood violence none of which was recognized by church leaders as abuse. Even on this blog, in comments, I’ve gotten responses from children that suffered abuse because of church teaching. I have interviewed people who agreed to be used for purposes of a book I’m writing who confirm the abusive practices and the lack of attention to these matters by church leaders. It’s not just my denomination, but across the board in various religions, we can see that cries against spiritual abuse go unheeded.
Recently, articles have surfaced about sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist denomination.
Abuse Continues Because…
1. Abusive behavior continues because there’s a greater concern for the image of church leadership that for either the victim or the perpetrator.
2. Abusers create a culture of agreeing with and protecting dysfunctional behavior. They either do this by force or threats of some kind. They rely on everyone in that system going along with their behavior. They depend on silence. So in church settings often they will hear you out very nicely, but they will not change what they are doing. They may even go along with agreeing to change for a space of time, but it won’t last.
3. Abusers are successful at manipulating good people. They are extremely adept at making you trust them. The abuser creates this other world where silence about their actions are expected and insisted on. I’ve seen a whole room full of people deny something I had just heard on tape. They were all present at this event but all denied that the even happened. How does that happen? They reframe things by calling intimidation, “keeping our family secrets,” “breaching confidentiality,” “telling all our family business,” “airing our dirty laundry.” All these are terms that mean don’t talk about the things that are happening. The abuser knows that it’s shameful and wrong so they want to control communication. They hope to keep you quiet to create an illusion of normalcy. With the abuser, if everything looks ok…it is ok. The connection between you and other people or contact with those outside their circle of control is dangerous to them.
I even had people sympathetic to the church to try to report my Facebook posts as appropriate. Why? Because the code is silence. I was not surprised. Christians who want to hear the truth, and want to see things get better, love what I write, those that don’t have a right to not read it at all.
Fear Only Goes So Far
There’s a fear though that boomerangs back onto the perpetrator.
Abusers are afraid of the people they hurt. The one weapon the abused have is breaking the silence under the right circumstances.
I know I’m not the only one. Over the years people have come to me as a minister and told me stories of spousal abuse and child abuse that is strangely not denounced. I know because I’ve been in the meetings where the woman is blamed no matter how guiltless she is.
The other day, my husband was reading a study about young women that think it’s not a big deal to be slapped or hit and how this behavior becomes something they expect in a relationship.
That’s the problem: detecting what is normal and appropriate, and what is not. Spiritual leaders seem to have a problem with the level of outrage that is appropriate for the actions. I knew of a case where a young boy was being beaten regularly by his church member relative and I protested to the Pastor that this needed to be reported to the state, but they wanted to handle it in-house. The closed system. The State thankfully ended up getting involved but not because of the church.
Sometimes people think abusive behavior is normal and it’s because in their own home systems they have seen violence and accept that as part of a “normal” relationship.
I remember an incident where several male ministers stated that they didn’t believe a rape victim that was in the news at the time. They were incredulous that I would stick up for her. They insisted that I didn’t understand the male body and that a man can’t just stop performing when he gets to a certain point. I was appalled at their ignorance and attitude toward sexual assault and explained to them that rape is not about sex as much as violence and humiliation and dominance. Some of them were men who read, college educated but wanted to agree with the Elders that expressed their views–it had become popular among them to turn on the woman. As with most damaged people, it was chilling to see inside their minds.