My suggestion in the previous two posts is that the church has brought in the Power structures of history and surrounding social structures. Yet the church is meant to be unique in many ways. Among those, we are supposed to turn power upside down.
We have trouble with this. I have a(n) FB friend who has been challenging a guy named Creflo Dollar (a religious TV personality… heard of him… haven’t heard him). It seems this guy is trying to get people to send him money so he can buy an airplane (as a missionary struggling financially in ministry, and knowing many worthy missionaries in an even worse state than myself… this, rightly I believe, offends me.) Curiously, apparently the wife of this Mr. Dollar is saying that people that challenge her husband are under God’s curse. I don’t know the story first hand (repeating what I was told). But if that is true, that seems to be a serious unwillingness to have use of (or perhaps abuse of) power challenged.
But the church should really be different.
1. It is to be countercultural. In other words, the church is not supposed to fail in the direction of mimicking local culture, but neither is it to gainsay the local culture. The surrounding culture typically supports a certain structure that defines the esteemed and the ignored. The church should empower the ignored, and honor the disgraced. It should also humble the esteemed and the powerful.
2. It is to be mutual. The church is made up of members where the power relationships are multiplex and even. That is, church members are supposed to honor one another, bear one another’s burdens, exhort on another, receive one another, and submit to one another. Jesus modeled it, and we are to practice it.
3. It is to be accountable. We all need people who hold us accountable. One reason I like the congregational structure in churches is that the power is shared by congregation, and is dispensed to spiritual leaders while holding them accountable. But for those that don’t have that structure, or where this accountability doesn’t work, there needs to be outside accountability. We once were part of a church without a good accountability structure. The accountability structure ended up being police tacking a tax lien on the house of the pastor. While this may work, it is ideal that a better structure was in place. My wife was part of an NGO where the head began to wield power in a manner that was not healthy for its members. Fortunately, there was a board of directors who were able to hold the leader accountable.
EVERYONE needs to be held accountable. The greater the power, the greater the temptation to abuse, and thus the greater the need for mutuality, and accountability. Only God is not accountable to anyone else, and even for God, based on the prophets in the Bible, it appears He does not mind being questioned or challenged.
Below are the 5 presentations I have done so far on Spiritual Abuse. They are (intentionally) a bit redundant at times. Some things need to be resaid. A much more detailed article is added written by a different person (submitted to Slideshare by “arulmraj” but I am not sure if M.A. Pragasam is the author or not). It is much more detailed and I think some might find it fascinating.
I am left with a belief that these numbers on poorly advertised presentations from an (admittedly) obscure compiler suggests that this topic is a BIG concern. Oh sure, it could be that the hits are from fully secularized individuals who, to feel good about their god-free life choices, like to look up pages on people who have made different choices and suffered for them. I believe that most of the hits are from people that are people of faith (or people who were of faith) who have been hurt by those who were called to help.
Many of these abusers were created not born. That is, they did not start out as abusers, or abusive. They may have even started out as sincere individuals. But they became part of a flawed structure or hierarchy. The hierarchy may have been of their own creation, but the initial intent of the structure was not to abuse.
Saying the problem is “sin” is too simplistic. Not that it would be wrong to say the problem is sin. But sin is always with us, so we aren’t addressing the problem in a meaningful way.
It seems to me that we lack a good theology and methodology for dealing with the issues of Power and Control.
Many Christians I have talked to seem to have a 16th century perspective of power and control. If one has the power to control, and the right to control, one must control without limit. I have come across this in terms of God. If God is all powerful, and God has the right to control all things, then it is logical, to some, that he MUST CONTROL all things. Of course, this is a complete fallacy. The power to control and the right to control does not necessitate the desire to control.
In Ecclesiology we see it as well. We see the Apostles (the Twelve) given power and authority. Commonly, we draw the somewhat logical(?) conclusion that the Apostles did in fact control the church. This does not appear to be true. The apostles set up the Church of Jerusalem, but did not appear to rule it. James the half-brother of Jesus appeared to be an early (the first?) senior elder/ bishop/ overseer/ presbyter/ pastor of the church of Jerusalem. Even the one time the Twelve seem to exercise extensive ecclesiastical control in the Universal church (the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15) they appear to merely be senior voices of a common developing consensus. Paul, despite his acerbic moments, appeared to rarely if ever control and only occasionally emphasized his authority. His focus was almost always to persuade with words and encourage churches to be guided by the Spirit of God. On the other hand, it does appear to me, at least, that St. Ignatius in the early 2nd century did have a view of church leaders as being those who should exercise a high level of control in their churches. However, even there, the fact that Ignatius kept writing letters to this effect to churches suggests that this was not the common attitude and/or belief and/or practice in the churches at the time.
There is often the presumption that “too many cooks spoil the soup.” One needs one creative vision to make things happen. There are certain examples where this has been true. Yet it seems to me that evidence points to more failures than successes of this philosophy. Even organizations where a strong controlling visionary leader was faithful to the end often are ill-equipped to handle the chaos of transfer of such control and power after the leader is gone. The Bible notes the value of having many counselors, noting the limits of a king to rule wisely without such help. Samuel cautioned even the very idea of .having a king. In church this cautious note is often interpreted as Human Monarchy versus Theocracy (a battle between two autocratic systems). But, in fact, the system of government before the ascendancy of kings was fairly decentralized. Moses was fairly autocratic (though even here, the story with Jethro provides a caution to the wisdom of not having some some decentralization of control) . Joshua was also fairly autocratic, but after this such control went away. We like to look at the book of Judges as a time of chaos (when there was no king and everyone did what is right in their own eyes) but I see little evidence to suggest one should take this period of time to evidence the benefits of centralizing of power and control. The words of the major and minor prophets seem to reject such a simplistic view.
Today, some churches combine power and control within the same person or persons. This often breeds abusive situations. Often the argument is that it increases effectivity. The vision of one (presumably getting his or her vision from God) is given the control to effect that vision. Again, I believe we see the problems in many churches where alleged effectivity is given priority in decision-making. In healthy secular organizations and in healthy governmental systems, checks and balances are put into place to limit the accumulation of an inordinate power and control in one location or person. The Caesars (Julius through Trajan and Hadrian) may have made Rome great(er) but they also set up governing precedents that weakened the empire in the long-term.
In missions, there are a growing number of books (such as by Glenn Schwartz in “When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement”) that provide caution of missions exercising a considerable amount of power and control in the mission field. They provide many examples of the problems that come from that. The biggest one tends to be Dependency.
So what to do?
A. Separate power and control. In public corporations, the power is in the hands of the shareholders. They dole out power and authority to the Board of Trustees. These, in turn, dole out power and authority to those who actually control the organization on a day to day basis. This separation of power/authority and control provides a check/balance to those who run things. Government does this as well. In representative democracies, the power is in the hands of the people and they dole out such power to representatives. These representatives (in the legislative side) dole out power (commonly money) and authority (legislation) to the executive (control) part of government. In congregational churches a representative democracy also exists where the power is in the hands of the people, while the control is in the hands of a council or board. The members of the church empower the leaders but also provide a check for their control.
B. Change our attitude about power. Jesus spoke a great deal (especially in the Sermon on the Mount) about effecting change while eschewing traditional forms of power and authority. The Sermon on Mount is counterintuitive. One can understand the triumphalism of Eusebius of Antioch at the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity (and the legal power and prestige gained for the church from this event) after centuries of degradation and powerlessness. Yet with hindsight we can see that it was a mixed blessing. The Cross and the Sword, or the Church and the Sceptor have issues that we as a church STILL have not fully come to terms with.
Many churches find “Power” a popular topic. Some have the entertaining trait of the overemphasis of the word in prayers and sermons (POWWWW-errrrrrrr!). Power encounter is a popularized method of missions. But history (most recently confirmed in the growth of the disempowered underground church movements in China) seems to show that the church that Jesus set up has been most effective dwelling and acting from a position of weakness.
I doubt this is the final thoughts on this topic… but it is a start (and one has to start somewhere).
It has become popular to attack religion… even by religious people. Many Christians say they are not religious, they simply follow Christ. Some Christians say that Christianity is “Not a Religion, but a Relationship.” Christianity is not alone in this. The imam in our neighborhood would say that Islam is an Ideology, not a Religion. Of course, Christianity IS a religion, and so is Islam. It is interesting, however, the fact that many religious people are seeking to separate themselves from the term “Religion.”
Part of the problem with the term “Religion” is its ambiguous nature. We don’t like ambiguity, we like duality. We want something to be perfectly good, or despicably awful. But that is just not the way things are.
When we read the Bible we read of Jesus arguing with the religious leaders and we often draw the easy conclusion that Jesus was against religion, and that the religious context of 1st century Judaism was fully rotten. Yet reading the writings of Jewish religious leaders of that time, many of the leaders agreed with the ethical teachings, at least, of Jesus. With this understanding, one would see that Jesus wasn’t attacking all religious leaders, but those for whom their (personally embraced and lived out) religion had taken them away from God.
Jesus utilized religious structures and institutions (such as synagogues and the temple) for quite a bit of his ministry. He challenged (some) religious leaders to reject hypocrisy and be a godly example for the people. He embraced the religious role of prophet, and at times accepted the religious role as Messiah (although rejecting some of the interpretations of that role).
I rather like the following quote by Jesudason Baskar Jeyaraj, a professor of OT studies in India, because it accepts the ambiguity of religion while seeing the potential of a positive role for religion. The perspective from India helps because of the positive and negative roles various religions have played there for millenia.
“Religions play an important role in building the nation. Religions are not merely limited to an individuals’ faith or set of beliefs and performing rituals. They are closely linked to society and influence the culture and customs. Religions are powerful in changing the lives of individuals and a community for better or worse. Leaders of different religions can teach and lead the people to believe and observe superstitions and practice human sacrifices, sati and caste and racial discrimination. They can promote religious and social oppressions. They can flare up riots and conflicts between communities and fuel violence and bloodshed. Religions, thus, can threaten the peace and harmony among people and even destroy communities. On the other hand, religions can build a society by teaching good values, liberating the people from all sorts of religious, social and economic oppressions and bringing peace and harmony among communities in a nation. Many of us do not understand the positive and negative power of religions when used by their leaders or politicians for their own gain. A systematic study of religions at home, schools, colleges and the work place can help the people to know the merits and demerits of religions and to meet the need of building better relation between faith communities. <“Inter-faith Relation for Transformation and Higher Education,” Asia Pacific Journal of Intercultural Studies, January 2006: 65-86, p. 65>
I believe that Religion can have a positive role in society once we understand its ambiguous character. The positive role I am speaking of in this case is not related to the doctrinal correctness or truth of the individual religion (as important as that may normally be). In this case, I am talking about the role that religions provide in giving meaning to individuals and communities, due to the fact that we all are religious beings… regardless of the nature of the religious (or “anti-religious”) system we embrace and live by. Religions as an organization and as a leadership structure can be part of societal evils or part of (or part of part of) the solution. Institutions, including religious institutions, are power structures in a society. Far too many of those who have authority within such structures, love the power more than they love God.
In missions outreach, a missionary typically focuses on the role of the faith associated with his or her religion to transform individual lives. But a missionary should never ignore the power of his or her religion to have societal roles— roles that heal, that destroy, that rot and stagnate. As Christians, we like to believe that the Gospel message, if accepted and lived out, would have a healing role, both individually, but societally. But history provides too many evidences that as an institution, the Christian religion has too often been derailed the religious. Missionaries need to do better than simply create the religious.
This is part 2 of a series on spiritual abuse. This presentation continues the thoughts of the first presentation, but focus is placed more on spiritual leaders who are (generally without realizing it) abusive. Here is the Slideshare presentation. It is also available in the PRESENTATIONS section of this website.