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Where there is no counsel, the people fall;
But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
I was reading through the replies on the Homeschoolers Anonymous article – wow – there are so many responses, nearly 400 now. It turns out that I had skipped this one by Gary and it articulated what has been going on in my mind as well:
So, I am wondering how all our Baptist preacher’s unpleasantness can be turned to profit. Are we to take him as something of a warning as to what kinds of so-called pastors to stay away from? Can his behavior somehow be held up as an example of how abusive “pastors” abuse? I mean, he won’t participate in conversation with Ed, and he won’t condescend to respond to my challenge to provide specific examples to substantiate a critical, dismissive, general statement he had made. Is this part and parcel with the tendency of abusive pastors to ostracize and marginalize? He insults, mocks, criticizes, and shifts blame. He seems particularly unwilling to listen to or even try to understand another person’s point of view. He is above criticism and reproach. Are these all characteristics of abusive so-called pastors? Seems to me we may have something of a case study on our hands. ~from Gary W.
A lot of people spent their precious time reading and responding and some might say it was a waste of time because nothing got resolved. Perhaps R.D. and I did not resolve our disagreements, but there was a lot of fruitful discussion. I think Gary W. is right – we can learn from it – not only using R.D. as an example of looking at how he communicated with us, but we can also look at ourselves and how we reacted emotionally privately and how we responded publicly. There is valuable insight here and I don’t want to miss these learning opportunities.
So, let’s do that. I want to share some of my observations and I’d love to read yours. Yesterday morning, I re-read many of Ed’s comments and discovered that Gary W. was correct. R.D. mostly ignored Ed’s questions directed to him. Ed asked pointed questions about R.D.’s theological beliefs with respect to how those beliefs played into his replies to me. When R.D. did answer Ed, it was often only a snide remark, without addressing the questions. Now, after rereading the replies, I’m wondering if that was intentional. By the way, R.D. very well may be reading this and I’d like to extend him an invitation to continue in the discussion.
Another point that Gary W. made is that it seems R.D. presented us with a case study for abusive pastors. I will not say that R.D. is an abusive pastor based on our interaction here. I do have some concerns, though, in observing how he communicated with me and others. The interchange which extended over several days presented us with an opportunity to carefully observe reactions and replies. It is also important to note the non-responses. Those of us who have been reading abuse stories know that silence is indeed a response, don’t we?
Let’s take a look at the initial statement that raised our concerns. R.D.’s first reply on the blog invoked an emotional reaction in me. Without the common courtesy of introducing himself as a first-time commenter and explaining where he was coming from, he posted this:
H. A. is offering up a critique of home-schooling based on unbelief, but the critque itself has been made by home-school leaders themselves already, though they let the Word of God be their corrective.
I immediately sensed his dissatisfaction that I was connecting with the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog. But since I wasn’t sure where this new reader was coming from or where he was going with that comment, I followed with another question for clarification. Feel free to look back at the conversation.
On R.D.’s 3rd comment on the blog, we see his first snarky comment directed to me:
So what if this person is not healed? Really? So what? “Heal” was your word. Yes, ma’am, it sounds very flippant indeed.
Some may remember Fred Butler who visited on my blog last summer. I couldn’t help but reminded of Fred when I read R.D.’s replies. Fred’s presence on the blog and ensuing bantering got so heated that a few people sent e-mails requesting that I not give him a platform on my blog. This was a bit of déja vu for me and my e-mails indicated that others were reminded as well.
RD’s 4th remark directed to me begins with condescending sentence:
Julie Ann, at one point you seemed to claim some level of allegiance to Jesus Christ.
As I read that, emotions were building in me. It felt like he was playing the “you-are-not-behaving-like-a-Christian card.” In my next reply, I publicly disclosed that JA – the redhead – is a woman with real emotions which were heating up, and added my first snarky snap back at the end of my comment:
Julie Ann-with-an-E (and I only say that on my blog when I’m irritated)
It wasn’t long before in R.D. pulled the “authority” card, claiming that he’s been doing this longer than I’ve been alive (and I’m 48 years old). That’s a long time, long enough to have appropriate etiquette and reasonable communication skills, one would think. Before long, he was asked by another reader if he was a pastor? Two days after his initial comment and much discussion, he finally disclosed to us that he was a retired, but active pastor. That’s where things really changed for me. He was not my peer anymore, but this was a man in a respected position of authority. Remember, he had already implied that I ought not be “partnering” with the H.A. blog. Red flags were also going up all over the place for me and reading responses of others confirmed it for me.
My emotions are always on alert when reading heated dialogue. The #1 goal is that this place remain a safe for those who have been hurt by abuse. It’s one thing to discuss spiritual abuse amongst ourselves, but a whole other thing to discuss spiritual abuse topics with someone we may perceive as a threat. The beauty of the blog is that it gives us the opportunity to test things in a safe environment. Together on this blog, we create a community, just like church is a community. But this blog is different in that you always have a voice (the name Spiritual Sounding Board was aptly chosen).
This dialogue continued over several days and the level of emotions ebbed and flowed, sometimes feeling like we were making progress, other times, not so much. There can be many reactions to conflict and we had the full range of them here. Some chimed in that the conversation was lacking love on both sides of the argument. There was discussion about the direction the conversation was headed. One person said she felt scared by R.D. In both Fred and R.D.’s cases, readers sent me e-mails discussing the tension. Some people clearly stated their opinions as to what they saw as the primary problems. And we can never discount our silent readers who are certainly observing and making conclusions in their minds.
Blog reader “Scared ” acknowledged that she was scared of R.D. I loved that – not that she was scared, but she was bold enough to admit it. As she posted, her scared voice was just as powerful as R.D.’s! She was on an even playing field with him as she spoke here. She didn’t dismiss her feelings, she accepted and stated them, which consequently opened herself and her feelings up for discussion. That was a risk she took and I loved the supportive feedback she received.
Another point that Scared made was that she felt “safe” to voice her words. She knew that we would have her back. She’s absolutely right. We do have her back. At SSB, we will always defend victims and especially victims who for whatever reason have no voice.
There was one person who clearly did not care for the direction or tone of the discussion, who felt it was going nowhere and disintegrating. I mentioned that everything was fine, that we were “wrestling” and then said I didn’t want to debate her on the subject of whether we should keep debating or not. She said she would leave rather than debate. That’s perfectly fine. She’ll be back when the coast is clear. Everybody has their comfort level as far as how long a debate should go on and when it’s time to intervene. I respect that.
Some may wonder why I allowed R.D. a platform to continue. For those coming out of an abusive environment, they probably wouldn’t have seen this kind of dialogue at their church. It’s helpful to see how people ask questions, challenge and respond to someone coming from an authority position. Some have been in churches where the pastor is up so high on a pedestal, you were taught that you simply did not ask questions, so this exchange with a pastor might have seemed very foreign and perhaps shocking. Do you see why this is important? R.D. will not likely be any of our pastors, but we can see how he treated people as a case study as Gary W. suggested. Sorry, (no offense, R.D.), but this place is first and foremost a place to learn about spiritual abuse. I did not set the trap. When R.D. came here, he came on his own initiative wanting to set me straight, which should have been the first warning flag right there, huh?
So anyway, this was great. This is what should be happening at any church: careful observation. It is important to give the benefit of the doubt and we are called to love, first and foremost, but if we are seeing clear warning signs and red flags, then we must not dismiss them, but carefully evaluate whether this is a healthy church environment or not.
Finally, “Scared” sent me a poem she wrote after participating in the discussion. Sometimes the things people read here are taken to heart. I was so happy to read this poem – you guys don’t even know. Here is part of her e-mail to me:
Hi Julie Anne:
My pen had its revenge this afternoon… Now, at this point I can not say revenge out loud, but the Lord is so good at killing us with His kindness, that I got it out of me by writing about the hero’s on the front lines fighting for hurting people! You are one of the voices that is helping me to find mine again.
You were patient with him. You are the gate-keeper for your sheep at your blog, and he might or not have been a wolf in a sheep disguise, only Jesus knows for sure, but it was cool for me to watch you defend the sheep. Prayers! ~Scared
I’m really excited to share this because what Scared experienced is a group of people who stood up for her and had her back. It was delightful to read the replies to Scared when she admitted she was scared. It may seem like the poem is directed to me, but it’s really not, it’s about you and me together – a group effort here of mutual respect, validation, and support. Thank you, Scared, for sharing this heart-felt poem!
The Porous Ones
Here’s to the compassionate, the ones who give grace to those that have suffered spiritually, physically or emotionally. I want to name them the Porous Ones.
Their pores are open to the suffering of others, they could be no other way… Life, abuse, or suffering, something in their story has broken them open.
They dare name the realities of the contradictions in their own souls rather than its ambivalence or doubt. They cannot pull a happy face in the midst of the peppy church crowd.
They are the ones who are flooded with sorrow and sometimes righteous anger as they ache for the church and the world to be a kinder place. They fight for the oppressed. They know they are aren’t perfect and they admit when they have blown it.
They are my heroes. They don’t say: “Peace, Peace, when there is no peace,” or in other words, “You can cure your wounds by pretending they are not there.”
You won’t hear any of that fake-it-til-you-make-it, name-it-and-claim-it kind of nonsense out of them.
They stand back and consider what God had to say: ‘They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.“Peace, peace,” they say,when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.’ Jer. 8:10-12
The porous ones are not afraid to admit to depression, anxiety, loneliness, hurt, or struggle. They have empathy for the ones who cry out as Job did: What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Job3:24-26
All those unacceptable dark words, oh, so raw and real, that some leaders call unbiblical. (As if the prophets didn’t have it out with God now and then.)
Bless the porous ones who comprehend the bleak vocabulary that the victims use when they speak out of their broken humanity.
They are the ones I want with me when I bleed with grief internally.
I suspect they would never dream of telling me to pretend that it doesn’t hurt, or it is time to get over it, or that I’m not being a good witness and to always keep in mind, that I will ruin my testimony by striving with my maker, because that can never be undone.
As if God needed anything from me! Wink.
Yes, He uses our hands and feet to serve His body: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” Acts 17:24-25
They know the human condition, all of it, the dark side of the heart, the poverty of self. They can also see the other side of the spectrum. They have embers of hope that one day beauty will rise out off ashes, because it is written: He will make all things beautiful in His time. READ: In His Time: “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night”. Ps. 90:3-5
The Porous Ones first struggle and then accept the mystery of His words: “My ways are not your ways, my ways are higher” as they tremble to Trust in Him with all their hearts. They try their best to not lean on their own understanding when in a dark night, but they know that is easier said than done because the mind wants to figure it out.
They can spot a boisterous ego when it clamors to be heard with demands or to be obeyed when giving a biblical sermon. The Porous Ones know that this is not grace.
Oh and yet the pain of being a Porous One, the agonies that they have tasted in their own story, yet there they are, offering unrelenting compassion because of where they have suffered, lived, and learned.
They offer a shot in the arm to those who cannot darken a church door, who are paralyzed or crushed by spiritual betrayal, from their so-called Shepherd.
They listen and let you be where you are at until God restores the years that the locust hath eaten. They don’t make promises that complete healing will happen on this side of heaven. They don’t time-stamp your repentance; they know this is the Holy Spirit’s work.
They are aware of their need for “New mercies every morning” and sometimes they weep when they sing Amazing Grace…
I have a hunch that some of these victims know Jesus up front and personal, even though some of them don’t think they do. Because of where they have traveled, sometimes in the repetitive circles of their failures, wounds and doubts abound as the confusion loops round and round.
And in that circle of “named” struggle, the Porous Ones will one day dance with passionate joy with the victims who just couldn’t understand on this side, that they were always forgiven, loved and celebrated by God who delights in mercy, and doesn’t despise weakness. For it is when we enter our weakness that Christ promised to be our strength.
They remind me of King David, a man after God’s own heart. Flawed, passionate, and like David, we too can tell God the truth and not be rejected by Him.
God is after our hearts. Some hearts need to be restored and recaptured, then perhaps morals will shift, anger will subside, the hurt wont be as acute, but it is in His Time, and even then they will never forget what was done to them.
Until that day, “When we see Him as He is, (that is when) we will be like Him” meanwhile here on this side, I wait in anticipation for the fulfillment of the promise: Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Phil. 1:6