In my blog from September 4, 2019, I quoted three researchers who variously used the following phrases to define spiritual abuse in churches: Misusing one’s authority, power and privilege. Maltreating followers. Manipulating and exploiting others. Violation of someone’s personhood. Unwelcome intrusion. Unexpected. Beyond your control.
In today’s blog I want to write about the phrase "violating someone’s personhood." Christians believe that each one of us is a child of God, worthy of love and respect, because God loves us. When abuse happens, we feel violated, like someone has stepped across our invisible boundary uninvited with their agenda. Suddenly we are left feeling like our insides have been misshapen and bruised. Depending on the severity and longevity of the abuse, it can take years to find healing.
This ought not to be. This ought not to happen in God’s flock. The Old Testament prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel warn the shepherds of the flock who are not good shepherds. These prophets actually call these shepherds “bad.” Bad shepherds feed themselves instead of feeding those in their care. They’re the ones who scatter the flock, and who seem not to care one bit what happens. They act as if they own the sheep, able to treat them as they please, instead of being steward for the real owner. (For those of you who want to read these passages in the Bible, here are some references: Jeremiah 2-3; Jeremiah 23:1-15; Ezekiel 34)
What I want you to understand is that not all pastors are worthy of being pastors. I have known church members who naively believe that just because pastors have been ordained or set apart in some manner for this ministry, that they belong on some special pedestal and can do no wrong.
And so when the “wrong” happens, it not only hurts those to whom the wrong has been done. It hurts the trust and faith of that person as well. Their faith in the church as a safe place where they can grow securely in their love for the Lord – that faith has been destroyed. Not only the individual has been wounded. The Body of Christ has been wounded.
No, just because we have been ordained as pastors, does not mean that we will necessarily be good for the flock. Some pastors harm the flock out of ignorance (not having the proper training or insight). Some harm the flock simply because they can. They have not been fully converted to Christ themselves, not humble, kind, or loving. Some harm the flock because they really are the proverbial “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Is it possible, do you think, that you and I, spiritual abuse survivors, can keep focused on the one who is the Good Shepherd, who is Jesus? I know from my own experience that staying focused on Him is very difficult when in the initial shock of the abuse and its aftermath of emotions. I wanted to retaliate in like kind. And yet, deep within, I knew that He had never left me, that He was holding me, and that He would never let me go.
Here is a paraphrase of Psalm 23 that I wrote a while back. I include it here for your reflection. I hope they can bring a few moments of peace for you.
A Paraphrase of Psalm 23
The Lord is my catalyst, I shall not stagnate.
At times he grants me peace in the presence of his beauty.
He holds the cup overflowing with living water to my lips.
He heals my broken places and guides me along paths of wholeness.
Even near-death experiences frighten me no more,
for the Word of God is with me.
He returns me to life, either in this world or the next.
What is there to fear?
The table he sets before me transforms me.
His food changes me from the inside out.
His oil of blessing cascades over my head and down my shoulders.
The chalice of my life bubbles over with His goodness and mercy.
His Word stays with me wherever I go,
changing me forever for His sake.
2016 © Dorothy Gremillion
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