Browsing Tag

child abuse


the commandment with promise


One of my best friends during my college years was abused by her parents.

I helped them.

Lizzie* is one of the most amazing people I have ever known. She completed an incredibly difficult course load (20 credits every semester, with winter and summer classes squeezed in around the edges) and maintained a 4.0., all while also assisting in freshman chemistry courses and tutoring anyone who asked– including me, when I needed help to study for my GRE.

She is a fierce, strong, independent, and courageous woman. She’s faced challenges I can’t even bear thinking of– she is eshet chayil: a woman of valor. Of the numerous trials she endured, some of the most severe were dealt out to her by her parents. To many of the people who saw glimpses of her life, all they probably saw were helicopter parents— a bit controlling and demanding, maybe, but not abusive.

I knew better.

I watched her starve herself every day because she didn’t have time to eat– she constantly skipped meals in order to work on her assignments. I begged her to come with me to breakfast, lunch, dinner– but she couldn’t. If she got anything less than an A in all of her courses, her parents would be enraged. I knew. I saw it happen, once.

I listened to her mother scream at her on nearly a daily basis that she was ugly, revolting, unlovable, and undesirable. Her education was her only shot, her mother told her, because no man would ever want to marry her.

I sat with her when she cried because she’d just found out her parents had left another church because of her father’s lack of propriety toward teenage girls.

I kept my phone next to my bed at night during the weeks I knew her father was threatening her family with committing suicide, praying that his ‘hunger strike’ against his children’s supposed ‘misbehavior’ would end.

I massaged her shoulders, arms, and wrists when the stress and intensity of her life caused her so much pain she could barely move.

I gave her all my phone credits because her parents demanded that she call them every Sunday afternoon regardless of whether or not she had the time.

I held her when she broke down after her parents had violently and forcefully ended not one, but two relationships with amazing young men who were deemed “worthless pigs” by her parents, even though they refused to even speak with either of them.

I listened to her worry about what her younger siblings were going through, watched her desperately try to distract her parents, to show her younger siblings how to avoid her parent’s wrath and fury.

I could go on, and on, and on. These are just the tip of the iceberg– the trauma and damage she suffered at the hands of her “godly, loving, Christian” parents could fill a book. She was emotionally crippled by them– rendered almost incapable of expressing or even having emotions in any normal, healthy way. She struggled to find outlets– poetry, music, stories, but she found it impossible to let anything truly affect her. Numbness and detachment were the only ways she had of coping.

And even thought I bore witness to nearly every single thing they put her through in college, the only encouragement I was allowed to offer was no encouragement at all. The only thing I was allowed to say to her was obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right, and honor your father and mother.

I spent years in college wondering what I could do to help Lizzie. I sat with her on every Sunday afternoon, watched her take a deep breath and steel herself every time she called home, tried to help her get through what I now know are panic attacks every time a phone call ended. I knew to the very core of me that what her parents was doing was wrong. Not just wrong– vile. I wanted to tell her nearly every day that she didn’t have to deal with this– that she could walk away, that she didn’t have to listen to their threats and slurs. I wanted to tell her that her parents were liars.

But, every time I tried to say the words, honor your father and mother would stop me.

Somehow, I was aware that Ephesians 6:4 is coupled with the admonition for children to honor their parents: that fathers are explicitly instructed to “not provoke your children to anger,” but I was not able to see verses three and four as connected, and inter-dependent. Because of what we had both been taught about how to read the Bible, verses like Ephesians 6:3 are treated the same way as Ephesians 5:22. In both of these instances, the command for children to honor and women to submit are independent of the commands for fathers to not provoke and husbands to love. In this frame, it does not matter if fathers or husbands are abusive and unloving– the commands to honor, obey, and submit still stand.

This method of application results in consequences so horribly disastrous and horrifying that the only thing left to say is that this application must be grossly inaccurate.

Women cannot be required to submit to abusive husbands.

Children cannot be required to obey abusive parents.

This cannot be how the Bible works. This cannot be the proper understandings of these verses. To allow this interpretation and application is to invite destruction into our lives. It’s to blithely give abusers, rapists (marital rapists or otherwise), and potential murderers the “biblical” vindication to believe that what they are doing is right and just.

There must be a place in our understanding of Scripture that allows for nuance, complexity, and grace– in order to place what seems to be dogmatic, unalterable commands in the daily-ness of our lives must mean that we make adjustments. That we see the balance presented in these passages. We must read all of Ephesians, not just handpicked verses that seem to be calling for unequivocal application. We need to see that Paul is asking us to walk in love and wisdom, to expose with our light the abusive things done in darkness and in secret.

We should recognize the whole pattern of these two chapters, that Paul was completely upending anything anyone knew about how society should function– that the life-changing part of these passages was not children, obey or servants, obey, or wives, obey, but for fathers to not do anything to provoke their children, for husbands to sacrifice themselves for their wives, for masters to stop threatening their servants and remember that everyone is equal in Heaven.

The Pharisees saw Jesus and his disciples working on the Sabbath– farming, reaping, harvesting. This, to them, seemed to be an obvious and direct violation of the commands regarding the Sabbath. It could not be clearer to them that Jesus, the man running around claiming to be the Son of God, a mere mortal who blasphemed God and claimed the ability to forgive sins, was breaking the Commandments. Scripture was very clear, very plain. There was no debate, no opportunity to even misunderstand this Command. They even had their stories about the time in the wilderness and the gift of manna, and how they were commanded to gather a double portion before the Sabbath so that they might observe the Sabbath rest.

And what did Jesus say to them? I desire mercy. He asked them to not condemn the guiltless.

Mercy, meaning divine favor or compassion.

If we are not reading and applying our Bibles with love, grace, mercy, and compassion at the very forefront of our thoughts, we are allowing the opportunity for injustice and a language of carnage to become a part of what we think is right.


in which I've poured my soul out

pouring water

This past week has been exhausting. I’ve been following the #churchsurvivors and #churchabuse hashtags on twitter, I’ve been reading all of the posts linked up as part of Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week  . . . and . . . it’s taken a lot out of me. A lot. I’m exhausted. We’ve all been reminding each other of the importance of self-care right now, and that is oh so very true.

I have another post ready to go up tomorrow for the last day of Spiritual Abuse Awareness week, and I’m proud of it, and I think it ends this week on a good, hopeful note.

But I am drained. Going back to that place inside of my head, trying to understand myself as I was ten years ago– it’s frightening. And soul-crushing. I get angry– not an anyone in specific, just more of the world at large. I understand why it happened– and I don’t, all at the same time. So I get confused, and then I don’t want to think about it anymore. But, I take a deep breath and plunge back in anyway– because it’s important that the world sees this– that the world understands what can happen when good men stay silent and do nothing.

What we’ve all done this week is important. We needed to tell our stories– if simply just to get them off of our communal chests.

But the real first step is to take the blinders off, and to start honestly looking at our own lives. Where have I been that’s been a spiritually abusive environment?  What have I done that’s fostered spiritual abuse in my church, or in my family? What things have I said and done that has done damage to someone’s soul? How have I willingly participated in a culture that encourages abuse? When have I spoken up in defense of it?

Because I have done all of these things. I continue to do these things, completely unconsciously. I belittle, I dismiss. I ignore. So very often, I don’t want to make myself uncomfortable in order to help someone else. I could stand up and offer a healing balm to someone who I know needs it… and I don’t. Because I’m hurting, because I’m tired… there’s always a reason.

We also need to take a good, long, hard look at our churches, at the leadership we’ve put in power. We might be able to look at our pastors and say, “oh, he’s such a godly man,” and that might be very true. Or it might be a terrible lie, and our reticence to see the truth might blind us from the untold damage he’s doing. It might be our elder boards, or our deacons, or our Sunday school teachers. It might be someone who has no “actual” leadership position, but for some reason always bullies everyone else– and we let it go, we let it slide, because… why? Because being a bully isn’t a “real” problem?

It’s easy to look at our churches and think “my church is fine, none of that happens here,” and the thing is, statistically speaking, that’s probably a lie. Walk into a typical Sunday school class of 20 children, and at least two, maybe three, of them have been sexually abused. At least one of those has been sexually abused by their parent. Look around at the married couples in your church. Statistically speaking, roughly a third of those marriages is going to end– and a few of those women are being verbally or physically abused by their husbands, and your pastor might have told one of those women that they need to “love their husband through it.” Or, they might not even realize they are being abused, because they bought the lie that a “strong man” is just naturally expected to dominate his wife.

Maybe none of that does happen at your church, or in your community, or in your family. And maybe it does. We shouldn’t be going around leaping at shadows and inventing evils where there aren’t any, but we should be conscientiously developing awareness. We should be encouraging an atmosphere of accountability in our homes and churches– for everyone. We can’t afford to be blind.



the dangers of biblical counseling, part three


[This is part three of a series. Here are parts one and two.]

I graduated from my fundamentalist college, and because of my circumstances really had no other option but to move back in with my parents. They had moved halfway across the country, so coming back to my parents, in some ways, wasn’t really coming “home.” As a military brat, though, I’d learned to adapt quickly so it wasn’t a big deal to me. They had found a new church– this time, there was nothing fundamentalist about it, although still conservative Baptist. During the summers, the church holds a variety of “classes” on Wednesday night, and the summer after my graduation they began a class that was an introduction to NANC– the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (Nouthetic being just another word for biblical). NANC is one of the largest associations of biblical counselors, but they are primarily a certification program for pastors and laymen– one that they claim is “attainable for even the busiest pastor.”

However, NANC makes it supremely clear that in order to be certified, it is important for you to confirm that “your personal theological views and those of your church align with NANC’s views.” It became clear to me very quickly why this was so important to them– while NANC is not as bad as many of the other associations as far as their relationship with psychology is concerned, the certification program is really more of a theology course than anything else. And one of the elements about theology they emphasize is how vital it is to have a “correct” theology.

And that is where NANC and I part ways. Because I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a “correct” theology among men. There are a plethora of systematic theologies that have been developed by individuals or by denominations– and every single last one of them disagrees with another. I believe that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and while it is a Christian’s duty to “rightly handle the word of truth,” I don’t think that forming a “correct” systematic theology is possible. There is orthodoxy, and I think that’s as close as we can possibly get. When it comes to theology, especially, the ancient motto of “in essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity” should be our north star.

Yesterday, when I was trying to explain to my husband why fundamentalists despise psychology so much, I realized that there are two underlying reasons:

1) Fundamentalists believe, to their core, that they have the “right” theology. This is even evidenced by their name.
2) Fundamentalists distrust and despise “humanism” and “secularism,” which they define as false, man-made religions. I was taught that even humanists think that their belief is a religion– they use the opening paragraph of the Humanist Manifesto I to prove their point.

Like most faith systems, fundamentalism is a vast network of ideas that are linked and interwoven. It’s difficult to try to pick it apart, so if I miss something, please feel free to point it out in a comment.

Fundamentalism is essentially reactionary and fear-based, and one of the biggest things they fear is science. They’ll deny that until they’re blue in the face, claiming that it’s not science they don’t like, it’s metaphysical naturalism, but they also argue that modern science is inherently naturalistic, so . . . Basically, it goes like this: fundamentalists argue that modern science is based on neo-Darwinian evolution,  and they also argue that neo-Darwinian evolution is false to the highest degree. Evolution teaches that mankind is not created in the image of God, we’re just one step above the animals. This leads science to ignoring one basic, “fundamental” truth about human beings: that we are born with a sin nature.

Therefore, anything that springs from this naturalist view of the world must be wholly wrong. This include ideas like empowerment, personal fulfillment, self-actualization, and even happiness. They believe that everything in modern psychiatry and psychology is based on Freud, who they refer to as a “perverted drug-addict.” They put blinders on and refuse to acknowledge that most (with extremely rare exceptions, but I’m not a psych student, so I can’t be absolute) modern psychologists parted ways from Freud decades ago. Modern psychology ignores the need for “repentance,” they say. They teach and believe that nearly anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist is actively destroying our nation’s “Christian principles”– like marriage:

How many marriages have been weakened or “put asunder” in the name of helping achieve empowerment or personal fulfillment? Where is their absolute stand for the foreverness of marriage and family as required by God’s holy Word? Where do such christian psychologist’s get the authority to justify encouraging divorce on the basis of abuse allegations or spousal misconduct? Why do they ignore the covenant aspect of the marriage institution? Have they forgotten that these sacred institutions of marriage and family are not secular but were ordained by God and are not to be put asunder? [emphasis added]

Many people, including those involved with A Cry For Justice, talk about how many Christians over-emphasize the importance of marriage, even in the face of abuse. Leading fundamentalist leaders, like the Perls, advocate that a woman “submit” to her husband in nearly any situation, although they don’t outright encourage staying in an abusive marriage (which, in reality, is a moot point, but I’m trying to be fair). This idea has even trickled down into mainstream contemporary Christian fiction. But fundamentalists don’t just imply this– they are overtly explicit on this point: there is never a good reason for a divorce. You can “separate” from an abusive spouse, but you are not allowed to legally divorce that person, no matter what danger that might pose to you or or your children. Because of this belief, every single fundamentalist I know will tell you to seek biblical counseling– because “secular” and “humanist” psychologists will not prioritize your marriage over your health and safety.

However, the fundamentalist approach to psychology also completely dismisses things like “repressed memories.” Now, there is still debate regarding the validity of repressed memories, even in non-Christian circles, but fundamentalists in their fervor extend this dismissal to completely valid psychological events, like dissociation  in PTSD, or the incredibly common and well-documented feeling of sexual abuse survivors, especially children, feeling “outside their body,” as if the abuse was “happening to someone else.”

Many in the church today have accepted a psychologized gospel in place of the biblical gospel. It has gotten so bad that preachers in some churches are even hiding out the adult daughters that have falsely accused their Christian parents of abuse, some of whom are preachers themselves and active in their faith. Brethren, this should not be!

How does it lift the cause of our Lord to support questionable abuse victims who testimony is based on delayed recall and without the necessary two witnesses, slandering parents in ways which defy the biblical principle decreeing honor for both our father and mother? Parents who have been given authority over us by the Lord cannot be rebelled against simply because they fail in their duties. All authority is really God’s authority and because it is, dire personal consequences attach to those who show that authority such rebellion and disrespect. [emphasis added]

I should take a moment here to make something blindingly clear: this is not a rare teaching. This horrifying idea is deeply entrenched in fundamentalist teachings about psychology. Because they dismiss “repressed memories” and “delayed recall,” this leads them to dismiss the claims of adult abuse victims who have never had the opportunity to speak out against their abuser. They tell children that they simply cannot be abused by their parents, and if they think they’re being abused, they should just be grateful for their parents “disciplining them.”

The “sufficiency of Scripture” comes into play, and to many fundamentalists, this extends to the notion that “if it’s not in the Bible, it doesn’t exist” (my inner Star Wars geek is hearing the Temple librarian, Jocasta Nu, tell Obi-Wan that “if it is not in our records, it does not exist.” And, yes… I knew all of that off the top of my head).

Search the scriptures and compare your psychology to the life of Christ. Did Jesus Christ practise any psychology when he drove out demons and healed the sick? Did he use psychology to explain sin? Not likely and the bible does say whom we are suppose to follow as Christians. Jesus said come and follow me. He warned his followers and his followers warned others of false teachings to be aware of them. See if you can find any thing in scripture that pertains to psychology. You won’t find any thing that speaks for it because if you study the scriptures the word of God maintains that we are to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all shall be added unto us”. That means that God will give us the Spiritual Gifts that we need to reach out to others.

Just . . . so much . . . ugh. Again, solo scriptura takes over freedom and liberty, and confines fundamentalist to a narrow understanding of reality. The teaching that the “sufficiency of Scripture” extends to every single area of our life — and that we are forbidden from going “outside of Scripture” for answers. There is nothing we need that cannot be found in the Bible– going out “into the world” for help is sinful.

Another area of fundamentalist teaching I’ve talked about before. It’s the concept of dualism– the view that the physical realm is evil, but the spiritual realm is good. This leads to a disconnect between our minds and our bodies to a fundamentalist– the idea that our mind can affect our bodies, but our bodies cannot affect our mind. We can get ulcers from being stressed, but getting ulcers doesn’t cause stress. Our mental “strongholds” can give us bi-polor disorder, which can in turn be reflected in chemical imbalances, but chemical imbalances are not the cause of bi-polar disorder. It’s not a two-way street, to a fundamentalist.

Which is just crazy.

All of this is bat-shit insane, in fact. And absolutely terrifying. Teachings like this come to fruition in places like Sovereign Grace Ministries, or Mars Hill, or Calvary Chapel, or Bill Gothard’s ATI, or Bob Jones University.

If there is anything else that you’ve experienced in fundamentalist– or even just plain evangelicalism– please share. I can in no way be exhaustive, but this is an important area of teaching that the church needs an immense amount of healing.