Spiritual Abuse and Shamed into Silence

Introduction

When it comes to victims being heard, the tactics being used to keep them silent continues to be used as a controlling tool. If so-called ‘spiritual leaders’ in any Christian organization can keep the voices of those who have been harmed from being heard, then their work is done.

If victims are told that no one will believe their story–that may be enough to squelch any initiative on their part to bring the evil perpetrated against them into the light. Shaming victims is a strategic method to keep truth from being brought forward as well as to make victims to wallow in a sea of imposed guilt.

There are many offenses which have been kept under wraps by the tactics of unscrupulous leaders who try to keep institutions free from charge and deflect the blame onto the victims. Whether it is sexual abuse of children or adults, domestic violence, or spiritual abuse–deflecting from those severely wounded towards the perceived merits of spiritual leaders and/or spiritual institutions–is something that Christians need to be made aware.

Continuing with the ‘ideal’ that Christian leaders are without blame and that victims are simply troublemakers intent on bringing an institution down–is far from the biblical ideal of allowing the light to shine in dark places in order to ferret out what has gone on in the darkness. Shame, instead, belongs where individuals and institutions use their power to make a mockery of the truth.

 

Speaking Out

Rebuking and trying to silence people is a theme that can be found in the Gospel stories. A few key passages regarding this urge to keep certain people silent can be found in a number of NT passages. A few have been selected to illustrate this point.

Parents Bring Their Young Children to Jesus

In the following passages we see that ‘people’ brought their little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them—BUT, the disciples rebuked them! This may have been typical behavior in the Jewish culture and the disciples may have been doing just what was expected in this public setting. If we think about it, we could probably imagine that it was mainly the mothers who were bringing their children to Jesus. Maybe the dads were involved too, but most likely, the greater number were the moms who were coming to Jesus for his ‘blessing’ on their wee children.

Matt. 19:13-15

“13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”

Mark 10:13-16

“13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”

Luke 18:15-17

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

A Blind Beggar Receives His Sight

Jesus was approaching Jericho. A blind man wondered what all the commotion was about. People near him told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. Immediately this man took action. He started calling out.

But, those who led the way promptly rebuked him and told him to just ‘be quiet’. Apparently it wasn’t very cool to be shouting out in public in that society. And more so, if you happened to be so unfortunate to be sightless.

Didn’t this man know his lot in life—possibly to be seen, but definitely not to be heard! This just wasn’t socially acceptable. The crowd was intent on stifling the boisterous and ‘overexcited’ behavior of this blind beggar.

This did not deter him; in fact, it seemed to motivate him all the more to be heard! We read: “but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” His lively actions were rewarded.

We can read this story found in Luke 18:35-43:

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.”

This account is also found in Mark 10:46-52. In Mark’s account the man’s name is given: ‘Bartimaeus’.

“46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

~ ~ ~

These accounts of Jesus being angry with his disciples for their rebuking the parents who brought their young children and the blind beggar who was rebuked by the people around him for shouting out when Jesus was walking near him, indicate that stifling of the marginalized is not a Kingdom principle.

The idea of speaking out about so much that is called Christian is thought to be brash and unsophisticated.  The thinking may be that in order to be a good Christian, one should be: easy to get along with, not one who rocks the boat, and people who mind their own business.  In many situations, this would be acceptable.  What is not acceptable is when injustice and harm have been perpetrated on the vulnerable and when the ‘system’ favors the authorities and their image, while little attention is paid to those who have been deeply wounded!

There seems to be confusion when it comes to what Jesus taught, what the Apostles affirmed, and what is acceptable to be challenged in Christian settings.

The internet has provided a level playing field. People with no voice can now be heard. Issues and concerns can be investigated in the public square–rather than pushed to the back room.

Another Tactic: Touch Not the Lord’s Anointed

A verse of Scripture, both in 1 Chron. 16:22 and Psalm 105:15, has found its way into ecclesial vocabulary in some places. This is another passage that has been used countless times to silence people. Church leaders have conveniently used the phrase from these verses: “Touch not my anointed!” and so many have been intimidated by it.

Many Christians are afraid that it is biblically wrong to speak up or confront a church leader. One thing is certain; this passage is always used to silence criticism.  It just comes in handy for unscrupulous leaders to elevate this passage to their own interpretation—which is: I am NOT to be criticized, since I am an anointed and ordained church leader!

Unfortunately, many folks do not have the understanding to counter their ridiculous claim. A quick look at this verse in Psalm 105 gives a context for what is being talked about here.

First, it must be noticed that it refers to “mine anointed” and is plural.

“Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.”

Psalm 105:15

 

Second, this expression is so often taken out of context.  The context here refers to God’s protection of His ‘anointed people’ Israel from the hostile nations during the time of the Exodus and their settlement in Canaan.  What is significant is that the Old Testament context shows that this phrase–‘not to touch the Lord’s anointed’–consistently refers to protection from physical harm and NEVER implies freedom from criticism or accountability.

Third, when David was rebuked by Nathan, the prophet, for his hidden sins, Nathan was NOT challenged for criticizing the king.  In fact, since it could be very hazardous to their health–a faithful prophet needed to be extremely careful when and how they might expose the hidden secrets of a king!!  Yet, King David received the ‘word of the Lord’ from Nathan, which was in the form of strong rebuke.

David was now in a position to begin to seriously wrestle with all the wrong that he had committed. He was now getting a picture of how Yahweh saw his behaviors and was deeply grieved about his wrong choices! It was David’s turn to be deeply grieved by his actions.

The full account of this story can be found in 2 Samuel 12:1-15.

 

The Psm. 105 and 1 Chron. 16 passages talk about when the nation was in its infancy and they wandered throughout the land as strangers, since it was not theirs yet.

We read from Psalm 105:12-15:

When they were but few in number,
few indeed, and strangers in it,
13 they wandered from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another.
14 He allowed no one to oppress them;
for their sake he rebuked kings:
15 “Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.”

The actual context referred to the personal encounters of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebecca in Egypt, the land of Pharaoh and Abimelech, in the land of the Philistines.  The ‘touching’ referenced here seems to speak directly to sexual touching in marriage.  These kings wanted these beautiful women to become one of their wives, but they were already the wives of these patriarchs of Israel. This presented a dilemma.

In Abraham’s time, Yahweh stopped the Pharaoh’s action by a disease among his people and later stopped Abimelech by speaking to him in a dream. In Isaac’s time, the king of Gerar of the Philistines noticed from his window the caress of Isaac to his wife Rebecca. Isaac was called in to be questioned and then was strongly reproved by this king.

All of the accounts pointed to the fact that both Abraham and this son, Isaac, did not fully trust Yahweh to protect them while they wandered among these nations.  It is also curious that there is a reference to ‘prophets’ in the plural.  Could Sarah and Rebecca be included in this main thought: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”? Just a thought.

To Summarize

To summarize this section, we can conclude that it is wrong and unkind for Christians to criticize their leaders for no reason.  On the other hand, if there is a cause, then there should be appropriate action taken and with the right attitude in approaching a church leader.

Further, it is wrong for clergy to put themselves above criticism.  There should be a healthy give and take of congregants with leaders and vice versa.  Church leaders need the checks and balances of peer groups who challenge their thinking and their behavior.  They also need to be open to constructive criticism–that may come from anyone in their church family.  This can be a positive, rather than a negative, experience and be of benefit to everyone concerned.  Leaders, who put themselves above criticism and stifle others by using this passage incorrectly, need to be put on alert. 

Many Voices Needed

Since fear and shame have been tools that have been used over time with immediate results, there are numbers of people who are taking a stand against fear and shame tactics.  After a post on a popular blog there were a few comments that were pertinent to this subject.

This commenter highlights the fact that shame is why many comment ‘anonymously’ on various blog sites.  The following commenter also notes that no single one of us has the resources, etc., but throws out the idea that it is going to take each of us supporting one another that will make the difference.  My response to this person’s idea follows afterward. 

Been There Done That

February 1, 2013 @ 3:05 PM

I suspect this shame is why many of us, myself included, comment anonymously here and elsewhere. That, to me, should speak loud and clear about the “church” organizations many of us fear. It’s more reminiscent of an organized crime syndicate than the body of Christ. (Julie Anne, it’s funny you should post this article on the same day that someone on TWW [The Wartburg Watch] told of their harassment after leaving a comment on a blog.  These go hand in glove.  “Shamed into Silence” indeed!)

The fear is real, because, unfortunately, the repercussions have often been far too real. And no single one of us has the resources, finances, or fortitude to push back. It’s going to take all of us supporting each other to call this out.

My comment response: Yes, BTDT, I agree: “It’s going to take all of us supporting each other to call this out.” I have been saying this for a long while now.

I happened to see a TV advert about SpongeBob and its creator, who chose the name: “United Plankton Pictures, Inc.” for their logo.  From the picture, you see cartoon plankton holding hands with one another. Now that got me thinking. According to a definition of plankton, these organisms are “so numerous and productive that they are responsible for generating more oxygen than all other plants on Earth combined.”

So, there in a nutshell is our picture—all those concerned, including the nobodies, the nones, the dones, and the eliminated, joining together, hand to hand, shoulder to shoulder like the plankton. You never know what might happen when, like the plankton, many individuals unite! What could this do in the murky waters of the ‘church’ ocean—much more spiritual oxygen maybe?!!

Here is a look at the logo that I was describing:

United_Plankton_Pictures

With Thanks to United Plankton Pictures Inc.

Link to blog article: http://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2013/02/01/shamed-into-silence/#more-3730

Conclusion

It is important for those who have been harmed in the church not to be shamed into silence. Each voice needs to be heard.

If this describes you, you might ask yourself: Are you tired of being intimidated? Use your voice when you are strong enough to be heard and when you can face any backlash that might come against you.

For those of you who have found your voice–check up on all your facts, be clear, be fair, and know that what you have to say needs to be said.

Use a pseudonym, if that works for you, but get your thoughts out there where they can be heard.  You are one of many who have experienced harm in the church and by trusted church leaders.  It is important for you to share your personal story—you are not alone!

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For Further Reflection

 

“Let me not be put to shame, LORD,

for I have cried out to you . . .”

Psalm 31:17a

 

I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame,

nor let my enemies triumph over me.

 Psalm 25:2

Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame,     

for I take refuge in you.

 Psalm 25:20

 

* * * * *

© 2015   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.

Sexual Abuse by Clergy

The Hope of Survivors
Clergy Sexual Abuse
http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com

Sexual Abuse—Pastoral
Power Point by Diane Langberg PhD
http://wisecounsel.wordpress.com/articles-slides-etc/

Pastoral Sexual Abuse with Diane Langberg, PhD

Quote from Resources Articles at Wise Counsel

“If your primary allegiance is to your church, to the institution’s preservation, then you will sin to preserve it. If your allegiance is to Christ, you will relinquish the church, the institution, rather than sin.”

The Anglican Communion   Safe Church Consultation

The Consultation is a growing international group of people committed to the physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare and safety of all people involved in churches throughout the Anglican Communion.

Its members have been providing resources to educate about the issue of abuse and misconduct in the churches, and have equipped and supported people working to make their churches safe.
http://safechurch.anglicancommunion.org/index.cfm

Partnering for Prevention: A Conference on Abuse in our Communion and our Communities held June 23 – 26, 2011, Victoria, B.C., Canada.

See:  Resources    http://safechurch.anglicancommunion.org/resources/index.cfm