Spiritual Abuse, The Shack, Paul Young, Brenda Campbell, Spiritual Recovery
I’m happy to share a post from my friend, Brenda Campbell. Brenda is also a long-time friend here at SSB, and she has a tremendous heart for those who have been harmed and also those who are stuck spiritually. She has gone on her own journey, and like many of us, has explored ways of making Jesus alive again after being let down by leaders in the church. In Brenda’s post below, she shares how Paul Young’s The Shack helped her spiritually. In full disclosure, although I own the book, I have never read it entirely, only skimmed it with the intention of reading it.
You can be sure I have read and heard lots of criticisms about the book – that it is not doctrinally sound, that Paul Young is New Age, etc. There are a lot of spiritual bandwagons in Christendom. I don’t like to get drawn up into hype – either pro or con. But what I like to do (when I have the time) is to take a closer look. I like to read the original source, and then opinions from both sides, and see how it lines up scripturally. I then decide which complaints or criticisms have merit. In other words, I try not to be quick to come to conclusions, but evaluate based on my foundational beliefs, what I see in Scripture, etc. I take what passes my test, and throw out the rest.
This post is not a promotion of The Shack per se. I cannot promote it if I haven’t read it. But I can invite you to read Brenda’s words. She found the book helpful for her in her spiritual journey and thought it might benefit others who have been harmed by people in the church. So, as with everything, read Brenda’s words, read the book, and see what you think. Is it really heretical as some claim, or is there something worthwhile, or even life-changing for you as you learn to look at God through different lenses? Let me know what you think! ~Julie Anne
Recovering from Spiritual Abuse and Discussion about The Shack
A survivor of abuse, based on parenting techniques derived from Bill Gothard’s principles, recently shared the graphic, enduring and heartbreaking toll that abuse has taken on his life. Aside from the emotional and physical repercussions, the spiritual damage seems insurmountable, as it is for many survivors. How does one trust a god who condones and even encourages such horrendous behavior? Why would we even want to hope that such a god exists? We struggle to believe that this god could possibly love and frankly, we are not sure that we even want him to. After all, he sanctioned, condoned or appointed our abuse!
Spiritual Sounding Board has become a safe place for survivors to gather to share support, insight and yes, outrage. Julie Anne has become a modern-day Joan of Arc, fighting on behalf of those who are wounded and marginalized by religious systems that dare to justify their behavior as god’s will. She continues to expose what is sometimes hidden and to call out groups and leaders who continue to abuse in god’s name. Because of her influence and tenacity, SSB is a haven as well as an advocacy group.
What has been noticeably absent from the recent discussions, however, is the work of an abuse survivor who was raised in the highlands of New Guinea. The son of an angry father who did not have the “parenting gene,” he was sexually molested by members of the tribe his parents were ministering to and then later at an MK Boarding School.* He grew up disconnected from god, from himself and from others and his enduring wounds often caused him to wound others, even though he was in ministry. He states that he knew how to hide knives in words and he did it frequently.
His life, ministry and almost his marriage came to a screeching halt in one 24-hour period due to the hurtful choices he had made. The crisis proved to be a turning point and he committed to tell the truth about his past and to deal with the pain, addictions and alienation that abuse had created. At the end of an 11-year period of healing and reconciliation, he wrote a little book for his children, at his wife’s request. His purpose was to communicate the things he had learned about God during his recovery. He never anticipated that it would be published, be on the New York Times best-seller list, or become a major-motion film.
While many in religious circles dismiss Paul Young’s work and have worked tirelessly to discredit and disparage him, he offers a refreshing and much-needed view of the God who loves and yearns for connection with us. He has written two additional novels that continue to challenge the conservative evangelical view of God and the place of women in the home and church (see his novel, Eve). Lies We Believe About God is his first non-fiction work and it “exposes 28 commonly uttered things we say about God as lies that keep us from having a full, loving relationship with our Creator.” [http://wmpaulyoung.com/lies-we- believe-about- god/] More recently he is featured on TBN in a series titled “Restoring the Shack.” It is worth checking out even if you have a hard time tuning into Christian television!
For those of us impacted by spiritual abuse who are rightfully wary of the god who abuses, Paul’s work is critical. As an individual who has struggled with the fallout of spiritual, physical, emotional and sexual abuse within a religious context, he understands the depth of pain that we experience and offers a fresh but thoroughly Biblical view of Papa God. He is not a God who is absent, judgmental or just waiting for a reason to punish us. He does not have a low view of humanity but rather joins us right where we are. He created us for relationship with him and with each other. Abuse destroys that essential connection and healing Source on every possible level. Sexual abuse has been rightfully named a “Soul-killer” and when it occurs within a religious context, the impact is far greater than one can imagine.
Through his novels and now his non-fiction work, Paul challenges beliefs we have been taught as absolute sound theological doctrine. In order for abuse to flourish within religious contexts, untruths about God and what he requires are a pre-requisite. Exposing those teachings as false may help create safer environments where abuse is not tolerated but more importantly may help those of us so deeply impacted begin to heal and reconnect with God. The beliefs he challenges include:
1. God loves us, but doesn’t like us.
2. God is good. I am not.
3. God is in control.
4. God does not submit.
5. God is a Christian.
6. God wants to use me.
7. God is more he than she.
8. God wants to be a priority.
9. God is a magician.
10. God is a prude.
11. God blesses my politics.
12. God created (my) religion.
13. You need to get saved.
14. God doesn’t care about what I’m passionate about.
15. Hell is separation from God.
16. God is not good.
17. The cross was God’s idea.
18. That was just a coincidence.
19. God requires child sacrifice.
20. God is a divine Santa Claus.
21. Death is more powerful than God.
22. God is not involved in my suffering.
23. You will never find God in a box.
24. Not everyone is a child of God.
25. God is disappointed in me.
26. God loves me for my potential.
27. Sin separates us from God.
28. God is One alone.
Many avoid taking a look at Paul’s work out of fear of being led astray or of heresy. And we are not alone—his own mother initially labeled him a heretic! The voices and warnings of many theologians ring in our ears. It is critical to remember, however, that doctrine is based on interpretation of Biblical passages and interpretation is never without bias. Young’s views are not derived from his ideas alone but on all of the Scriptures in their original language rather than the traditional translations. Doctrine should be faithful to the big picture that the Bible presents—the narrative it provides that tells us who God is and what He desires from humanity. Young’s views are derived from the big picture rather than simply exegesis of a specific passage. He is a student of Church history and writes about how our view of God has changed rather dramatically in the last century.
I’ve been grappling with Young’s ideas for seven years or more. I have read and re-read some of his work, have studied the issues myself, have watched numerous YouTube videos of his teaching and have come to the conclusion that he is sound and that his view of God is accurate. This has changed how I view myself, my relationship with PapaGod and most importantly, how I view and interact with others. As an abuse survivor, reconnecting with the Source of healing and love is critical. I challenge SSB readers to go check it out for yourselves. Grapple with his ideas, wrestle with them and see what happens. The most horrendous outcome of abuse that occurs within a religious context is disconnection from God. Paul’s work offers a refreshing and much needed way back.