Found: Independence From Oppression

As America prepares to celebrate Independence Day, we need to remember that the people who gave us this holiday openly (and, thankfully) rebelled against and rejected the serial and unrelenting oppression they were victimized by for decades.

How is it that “the church” so easily forgets that Jesus came to “set the captives [oppressed] free”?

As I’ve mentioned before, God speaks condemningly about oppression and oppressors 84 times! Why, then, do those who claim to speak for Him refuse to follow His mandate to intervene and put a stop to it when it is happening among their own congregations?

Today, in honor of Independence Day and with permission of the author, I am sharing another letter from another adopted-daughter of The Most High who escaped her oppressor in spite of Christ’s Under-Shepherds who failed at their obligations…

Dear Friends:

Over these past years since I learned my marriage was an illusion I have had to heal both from the trauma of the profound betrayal by my ex-husband, and also from kindly-spoken words by many close to me in my church community who took an indifferent stance toward the rightness and the wrongness of what had actually happened. I heard, “We’re not on either side. We’re on the side of the marriage.”  “I’m not taking sides.  I have sin issues too.”  “We’re not taking sides. I will support you and my husband will support your husband.”

Each instance of hearing these words from beloved friends and Christ-followers dealt a blow so harsh to me that I remember every detail about the conversation. There was a victim and a perpetrator in my marriage. A crime was committed and it continued for years. The collateral damage was great. And yet, Christians could respond as though this was simply another case of marriage being difficult and no one really being right or wrong.  I lived the pain of these words of indifference many times over.

My Biblically-oriented church was inept at counseling us. Since I was desperate to save my marriage, and my ex-husband would settle for nothing less than keeping a toehold in his sin patterns, I was the one expected to acquiesce, accept empty words as evidence of repentance and change. This attitude taught by pastors inevitably influences those hearing their teaching. I too used to take a black and white attitude toward divorce and always believed there was something either party could do to save a marriage until I was confronted with my own situation in which I could do nothing outside of enabling sin to save my marriage.

One day I read God’s directive for what the church was to do in this instance. It is one of the clearest directives in the Bible. It’s right there in 1 Corinthians 5:11. “But I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality.”  Read on. This is harsh in order to give the offender every reason to turn away from recurring sin patterns that lead to death. It’s why we would scream harshly at a child who was about to run in front of a moving car. The Lord wants us to take these ongoing sins that seriously.

This journey started five years ago for me. I have learned and grown in the Lord. He has taught me to listen to Him and to take no human’s teaching as accurate without checking it against the whole of His word. There is only one source of truth. I know the myth of God valuing marriage above human beings continues. It is not true. Friends and families and pastors who are misguided and continue to counsel for saving a marriage above all are doing tremendous damage to people who are already victimized. What needs to be done is to follow the Lord’s direction regarding the immoral within the church and to enforce church discipline “for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5:5).

When I read the following from Gary Thomas my soul was warmed by the truth of it.

http://foreverymom.com/marriage/enough-enough-church-stop-enabling-abusive-men-gary-thomas/

May the Lord bless you in your service to Him.

Sandra

Blessed Independence Day.

Speak out against oppression everywhere, and especially in the church!

Sioli Deo Gloria

 

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Buried in Shame: Not Mine to Sing “Jesus Loves Me”

With permission of the author, I am posting a piece of homework shared with me during our counseling together.

People say that “intent” matters. Perhaps.

In my experience, “effect” matters more.

See, we are unable to fully judge our own motives and intent. Oh, we can mature in our understanding, but the effect of that is usually seeing how tainted by narcissistic self-interest even the most basic of our motives can be.

I sit here daunted by the task of writing this letter.

How does one carefully and genuinely unhook the barbs of shame embedded in one’s soul without damaging the underlying tissue, the heart?

I’m wounded.

It’s as if over the past year someone has swung a blacklight over my brain and the studs of shame stand out stark and glowing.  Signposts advertising that sin and abuse have lived there, grown and become comfortable. Developing deep root systems; small rumbles here and there belying their depth.

Time after time I’ve patted out the ripples, smoothed over the glinting barbs. Both consciously and not I’ve smothered them down in the dark out of habit, out of self-deception, self-preservation. Time and nature habitually worked their magic in the grooves of my grey matter. Thought pathways, synapses firing so second nature so deceptively normal, you would have thought I was born this broken way. Imprinted on my identity. Worthless.

The thing about shoving down pain and burying barbs is that they don’t dissolve and disappear. They fester. They build pressure and like a dormant volcano they bide their time to erupt through the fissures.

Swinging wildly between extremes, I found myself displaying daily, illogical anger to no purpose. A vague discontentment and unease colored even my happiest days. My patterns of thought and response continually turned darker. Whispers of worthlessness, stupidity, pointlessness.  Emptiness.

I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. I sobbed. I pleaded. I self-medicated. I ignored. Most of all I practically thought myself to death. Shame shapeshifted from guilt to helplessness to hopelessness and then to apathy and deadness.

I’m writing this letter to disavow the shame I’ve taken in and owned as my own. This toxic shame is not mine to carry and so I begin to give it back to you. I’m shoving it all in a box and dropping it at your front door. At your failure to sign for this package I’m nailing it to that old rugged cross.

My earliest memories are tainted with inadequacy. I always failed to move you. Like waves breaking themselves over the seaside cliffs, I’ve broken myself against the walls around you. I’ve shattered myself trying to please you, interest you, captivate you.

You set yourself up as supreme ruler. You exercised such power over my day to day life and yet cared so little for my nurturing. It takes more than caring for a child’s physical needs to really love them. To see them and respect them as an individual.

I give you back the shame that seeped into me for being a girl, a child, a convert, a sexual being. I give you back the hours spent in lectures, tears ending in worry and insecurity. The nights spent crying myself to sleep- I give them to you. I give you back the inappropriate conversations, the weird sexual obsessions with pristine purity, the pressure to believe absolutely without doubts. I give you back the crushing weight to obey in mind, body and soul, to submit myself to ignore my instincts. I give back to you the shame of continually feeling like I couldn’t and wouldn’t add up. The sickness. The aches and pains of continually trying to fit a skin I wasn’t made for. I give you back the sideways glances, the harsh words and rebukes and outright glares. I give you back the haphazard criticisms and the resulting awkwardness.

You take back the shame of your overactive, sexual drive and obsessions you grew around your own barbs of shame and they have twisted your soul. You take back your unhealthy views of women and men, and smothering views of authority. You take back the shame and embarrassment that colored years of my life. Most of all you take back the shame you brought on me and yourself for invoking God’s name and sullying His words and intent. That millstone is tightening.

I will not carry this shame anymore. I cannot. It isn’t in my true nature and it is not who I am.

You see, I have a great Physician God. Yes, His words are sharp, yet they are life giving. They have done surgery on my brain and heart. His words are like a double-edged sword, able to separate soul from spirit. They do wound; but only to ultimately heal. They disinfect. They bring the dead to life. His words have rescued me from the pit.

Never in my life have I felt this way. My numbness is slowing receding and a tingling has started in my extremities. Until now I’ve never had the confidence to bask in my Father’s love; in the past, I’ve always looked for the catch, the trick, the reminder of my inferiority. I’m learning to bask and to feel at peace. Sometimes it feels like I’m learning an entirely new language. Exhilarating.

Let me tell you, coming back to life has not been easy; it doesn’t happen overnight. The work is long and slow. It takes time to rewire a brain and the embedded heart responses. It takes time to recognize and uncover shame in all its shapeshifting forms. I do have a soul helper and He is doing most of the heavy lifting. Mostly, my job is to rest in Him.

I’ve been created to be loved by God. I am worthy of His love despite my inadequacies; in spite of my sin and humanness. I know this because He has told me. He has created me anew in Christ Jesus and I am His masterpiece. He has good things planned for me and He has planted hope in my soul. Hope is tenacious. It clings and stretches and grows deep. It is almost frightening how I’ve wholly lashed myself to this Hope. It is the only path left to me. Now that I know my rightful place in this world, and I truly know it, down in my bones- I can now walk away from the lies. I can sing and praise without feeling like a fraud or like I don’t belong. Of course I belong: I’m a daughter of the King!

I can now sing with utter confidence the song forbidden as a child:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Hopefully, this served to gently confront you with the truth in a way that will draw you closer and help reconcile you to Him – either as the harm-er or the harmed.

Soli Deo Gloria

*sigh* Pastor, STOP Being a Bully!

Overheard:

“You need to trust me and allow me to lead you. I expect unconditional support of the leadership of this church in all ministry environments.”

What?! Are you KIDDING me?!

This is cult-talk, not Christian Church talk.

This is bullying, not leading.

This is oppression, not Christian servant-leadership.

This HAS to stop!

If you are in leadership in the church and this is your attitude, you need to get on your face and repent, begging God to change your heart and protect you from His due punishment for oppressors (Malachi 3:5; see also Psalm 94:20,  Jeremiah 25:34; Zechariah 9:8; et.al.).

In fact, God has something to say about oppression and oppressors 84 times  in Scripture…it is SO not okay with Him!

Jesus gave us His example of leadership (see the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet, for example, in John 13, especially John 13:14, 15, 17).

In fact, Jesus admonishes His disciples (that includes you, pastor),

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” ~ Matthew 20:25-28

If you think your position in the church entitles you to “lord it over” (bully and oppress) those you are there to serve, better go back to Bible school – if you ever went.

You are there to serve, NOT to be served. You are to gently lead from in front, not drive from behind (that’s the role of the butcher!).

Also, there seems to be a great deal of confusion about what authority is and what it isn’t.

Other than Jesus Himself, NO ONE has any authority. Let me say that again…

“Other than Jesus Himself, NO ONE has any authority.”

  • Jesus: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18b)
  • Paul: “And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things.” (Ephesians 1:22)
  • Paul again: “For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1b)

Bottom line is this: NO one “has” any authority; they simply exercise the authority God in Christ has assigned TO A POSITION, NOT A PERSON.

Example: If you get elected mayor, you will exercise the AUTHORITY OF THE POSITION of mayor until you are no longer mayor. Once you are no longer mayor, YOU NO LONGER EXERCISE THE AUTHORITY of the position of mayor.

If you serve as a pastor or other elder, your exercise the authority of that POSITION, and it DOES NOT belong to you!

Oh, and this nonsense about “spiritual authority?” Go back and read Matthew 28:18 and Ephesians 1:22 – again.

And before you take Titus 3:1 out of context (“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”), this was part of Paul’s instructions to Titus on teaching the people in his congregation about how to treat THOSE OUTSIDE the church.

Also, your limited scholarship in dealing with Hebrews 13:17 needs to be repented of and you need to seek to understand what is meant, not just what is being said. It requires more than a “letter of the law” approach based on English translation:

  • Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (KJV)
  • Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (NASB)
  • Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (NIV)
  • The word often translated “obey”  is πείθω (peithō), and it means (among other things) “to suffer one’s self to be persuaded, yield to persuasion, to be convinced.”
  • In the very next verse, the same word is translated either “convinced” or “sure”, depending on translation (“Pray for us. We are sure…”NIV; “Pray for us, for we are sure…” ESV; “Pray for us, for we are sure…” NASB)
  • Even the go-to translation (KJV) for many hyper-headship and other oppressive authoritarians renders that same word in the next verse as “Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience…”
  • Some of the variants of this word are translated “But the ruling priests and the elders persuaded (epeisan | ἔπεισαν  the crowds …” in Matthew 27:20; “And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will bribe (peisomen | πείσομεν ) him…” Matthew 28:14; and “He also told this parable to some who were confident (pepoithotas | πεποιθότας) in themselves…” Luke 18:19).

It seems quite clear that the idea of “obeying spiritual leaders” is not consistent with what God’s Word actually teaches, doesn’t it?

For those of you who think that a pastor or husband or father IS the authority or HAS authority, you have been deceived. Throw that off. Not only is that a man-made construct, it is oppressive at base.

Christ’s leadership was a servant-leadership.

It was self-sacrificial, not self-serving ( “…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28).

It was for the good of us, not for the good of Him (Ephesians 5:25), and He had a passionate desire for God’s best for us, even if it cost Him everything (Philippians 2:3-11).

Pastor? Elder? STOP IT AND BE WARNED!

“Weep and wail, you shepherds; roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock. For your time to be slaughtered has come; you will fall like the best of the rams.”  Jeremiah 25:34

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.'” Ezekiel 34:10

“The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence [opression] His soul hates.” Psalm 11:5 (emphasis added)

For those who agree with God on the exact nature and character of their wrong, He provides forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). It requires a contrite heart to be truly repentant and confessing (Psalm 21:7; Isaiah 66:2).

Serve others as you have been commanded, or relinquish the position you are not entitled to because of your oppression. He will not long tolerate His sheep being oppressed.

Soli Deo Gloria

Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church

(Reblogged from The Gospel Coalition Blog)

by Jared C. Wilson

 

(NOTE: This is the kind of thing I have been praying for – no, BEGGING for – to see happen in the church for a VERY long time. His word-picture about the 3 doors parallels what I have often said: “When it comes to abuse, there is no ‘Switzerland’ – you either side with the abuser or the abused; there is no third choice.”)

Jason Meyer, pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, gave a powerful and important sermon this past Sunday.

In it, he defined things like “hyper-headship”:

Hyper-headship is a satanic distortion of male leadership, but it can fly under the radar of discernment because it is disguised as strong male leadership. Make no mistake—it is harsh, oppressive, and controlling. In other words, hyper-headship becomes a breeding ground for domestic abuse.

Meyer also addressed the issue of domestic abuse, highlighting three lessons in particular they had learned:

  1. Not all abuse cases are the same, even though they may share certain things in common. If you have seen one abuse case, you have seen one abuse case.
  2. We need to distinguish between two types of marital sinfulness: normative sinfulness and abusive sinfulness.
  3. There are spectrums and varieties of domestic abuse. A good working definition of domestic abuse is “a godless pattern of abusive behavior among spouses involving physical, psychological, and/or emotional means to exert and obtain power and control over a spouse for the achievement of selfish ends” (John Henderson).

Calling it a “draw-a-line-in-the-sand kind of moment” for the church, Meyer read a statement from the elders about domestic abuse:

We, the council of elders at Bethlehem Baptist Church, are resolved to root out all forms of domestic abuse (mental, emotional, physical, and sexual) in our midst. This destructive way of relating to a spouse is a satanic distortion of Christ-like male leadership because it defaces the depiction of Christ’s love for his bride. The shepherds of Bethlehem stand at the ready to protect the abused, call abusers to repentance, discipline the unrepentant, and hold up high the stunning picture of how much Christ loves his church.

The statement goes on to give information about whom to contact when abuse is occurring.

Meyer addressed abusers:

If you are an abuser, I call you right now to repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The only hope is on the other side of repentance—getting out of denial so you can own your sin. That is the only hope because if you confess it as sin, there is a sacrifice for sin. There is no sacrifice for denial.

He addressed victims:

If you are being abused, the bulletin gives information on next steps. Please let us help. God hates abuse, and so do we. We are committed to help. If you have come to us for help before and have been disappointed, please give us another chance. We believe that the tide of awareness has risen on all three campuses and that positive changes are happening.

And he addressed children:

If you are a child and have seen one of your parents abuse the other, it is not right, and it is not your fault. You are not to blame. We want to get you help as well. You may think telling someone will tear your family apart, but it may be the only thing that can bring your family back together. If you are a child and you are being abused, let us help. Don’t walk this road alone. Tell someone. Please tell the children’s pastor or your youth pastor or a Sunday school worker.

He then closed with an address to men in particular:

Men of Bethlehem, let me address you. I will lay it on the line. At first glance, it looks like there are three possible doors the men of this church can take.

  • Door 1: side with the abusersm
  • Door 2: take no side, or
  • Door 3: side with the abused and stand up to the abusers.

If you are tempted to open Door 2, please know that it is a slide that just takes you to the same place as Door 1. Doing nothing is doing something: it is looking the other way so the abusers can do their thing without worrying who is watching. Saying nothing is saying something—it’s saying, “Go ahead, we don’t care enough to do anything.”

I would strongly encourage you to read the entire sermon, which contains careful definitions of the various kinds of abuse and various principles about abuse. You can listen to the audio here.

For some resources on abuse, see Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s resources:

See also:

Manipulation, Part 1 – Gaslighting

Overheard:

“That’s not what I said and not how I meant what I said!”

This piece on “Gaslighting” is the first in a series about the oppressive manipulations tactics many of the folks I counsel experience on a regular basis.

What we will discuss in this series happens in homes, churches, businesses, friendships – all kinds of environments where hurt people hurt other people.

I pray you will find it useful.

*********

Gaslighting is a sophisticated manipulation tactic employing a specific kind of lying that people with certain character and personality defects use to create doubt in the minds of others.

The goal is togaslight make the target person doubt their own judgment and perceptions, and to create doubt in the minds of others about the believability of the targeted person.

Here’s where the term comes from, how it works, and what to be on the alert for.

In the classic suspense thriller, Gaslight (MGM, 1944), Paula (Ingrid Bergman) marries the villainous Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), not realizing that he is the one who murdered her aunt and is now searching for her missing jewels.

To cover up his treachery, he tries to persuade Paula that she is going mad, so he can search the attic for the jewels without her interference.

He plants missing objects on her person in order to make her believe that she has no recollection of reality.

He tries to isolate her, not allowing her to have visitors or to leave the house.

He tries to make her think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp.

If this sounds somehow familiar, you have probably encountered the form of psychological abuse known as “Gaslighting.”

Essentially, it describes methods of manipulation that are designed to make the victim lose their grip on the truth or doubt their perception of reality, in order to gain power and control over them.

Effective gaslighting can be accomplished in several different ways.

Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective – like someone stealing something that belongs to you and being so unwaveringly insistent that it really belongs to them that you give up.

Other times, vigorous and unwavering denial coupled with a display of righteous indignation can accomplish the same task – like being aggressive toward you and, when you stand up for yourself, vehemently accusing you of being abusive.

Bringing up historical facts that seem largely accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and using them to “prove” they are right – like rewording things you or they said so that there are too many little lies to try and fight that you don’t know where to begin.

Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting.

Anything that aids in getting another person to doubt their judgment and back down will work for the gaslighter. One of the scary parts of Gaslighting is that, oftentimes, the gaslighter seems to believe that what they are saying is true.

Gaslighting can be a terrifying experience. It can quickly put you on the defensive, manipulate you in to trying to justify your own actions or behaviors, when what you started out to do was challenge someone else’s wrong behavior.

A gaslighter’s prevarications may be presented so convincingly and with such conviction, that you not only doubt your own memories and sense of judgment, you also start to fear that other’s (who don’t know the truth and don’t see things from your perspective) will become persuaded to believe the gaslighter instead of you.

This leaves you feeling even more trapped, more confused, more powerless, and feeds a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

What To Do

  • ALWAYS keep yourself (and any children) safe FIRST!
  • Avoid arguing the “facts” with the gaslighter – they will not surrender to your view of things unless it serves their purpose (we will discuss this more when we look at “Assenting in Order to Manipulate”).
  • Remember that you are not responsible for the other person’s feelings or behaviors
  • Keep a journal (if you can do so safely) of these kinds of conversations when they occur. You will find the running record a powerful tool in reassuring yourself that you aren’t the crazy one.
  • Consider recording (again, if you can do so SAFELY) some of the interactions.
  • Have safe and perceptive people with whom you can discuss these things. A dialog with a trusted counselor, pastor, family member, or friend so they are aware of what you are dealing with can be very helpful.
  • Do the healthy best-practices you need to do to get out from under this kind of oppressive behavior. Calmly refuse to accept it, and absent yourself from the conversation when it starts.

There will be more coming in the days ahead.

Soli Deo Gloria