I've been writing about abuse within religious circles a lot lately.
Just last week, I talked about the difference between Real Love and the fear-and-control model that is so often employed to control people in religious systems. I talked about how fear-and-control tactics in religious life have impacted me.
My intention here on this blog is to create a safe place, for you and for me. A safe place for healing, a safe place for hope, a safe place for Love.
Why talk about abuse in the religious world, then? Why not just let it all pass us by?
Because one of the greatest harms I see done to people is abuse in the name of religion, abuse in a system that says it's all about love.
I can't stop all the evil that's done in the world, all the lies told in the name of God.
But I hope, I hope, I hope, that I can tell you what those lies look like in the early stages, before they have a chance to take you out.
And if you've been taken down and savaged by people who say they love God, I want you to experience that there is a safe place for you here.
I know it's not your fault when you've been abused.
I believe you.
I stand with you.
I support and applaud your choices for healthy boundaries and healing.
I hope you find rest for your soul here.
And I think part of providing that safe place for you includes telling you what we don't allow in here.
We don't allow the lies of abuse in here.
When it's unsafe, when it's unhealthy, when it's a lie, when it's opposed to Love, we lock the door and we keep it out.
Also, when it's a criminal act, like sexual abuse of a child, we report it to law enforcement. We don't cover it up or call it a mistake or say it was a sad lapse in judgment, of which the person has since repented.
A crime is a crime.
So here we go. We've got to talk about some stuff that came out in the news this past week, because it's got to stay out of our safe place.
This is what we don't allow.
First there was the story out of The Village Church here in Dallas, of a young missionary couple who recently returned from overseas because the wife had discovered the husband's use of child pornography. She took the brave and beautiful step of bringing her discovery to her mission board, who responded well, supported her, investigated, and terminated the man from ministry.
Then they returned to Dallas, and The Village Church. It went way, way downhill from there.
While it was heart-breaking for me to read about the lack of care that this young woman endured, I couldn't help applauding the way she continued to stand up against attempts to manipulate her and control her choices. What a warrior-woman.
I bring that story to you here because I've gotten story after story like this in my inbox since I wrote that first article about domestic violence over at A Life Overseas in April.
So, the Village Church has provided us with yet another case study of what a bad response to victims of abuse looks like. Read it and weep. Watch and learn.
Take strength from the courage of your sister in this story.
Know that we stand with you here.
If your church treats you this way, LEAVE AND FIND A SAFE PLACE.
And, if life is going well for you, you still might want to check with your pastor about how your church serves the victims of domestic abuse.
Be a voice for justice and mercy in your local congregation.
Then the next day, the Duggar situation broke wide open.
As I said in my facebook post about this, we've always known that the Duggars are closely associated with religious fundamentalists who have been repeatedly investigated for the abuse of women and children: Bill Gothard/ATI, Doug Philips/Vision Forum.
To say nothing of their association with Michael and Debbie Pearl, who think it's a good idea to "blanket-train" babies by putting them on a blanket and hitting them if they try to crawl off, until they stop trying to get away.
The defense of the Duggars has often been, "But they look so happy and well-adjusted."
Perhaps at this point, we could concede that looks can be deceiving.
In fact, this all looks almost exactly like what Jesus warned about in Matthew 7:15:
Watch out for false prophets.
They come to you in sheep's clothing,
but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
If you've been taken in by the sheepiness, don't feel bad.
That's the whole point of wolves dressing up like this: to take people in.
But when the fangs and the claws start to show, realize you're not just seeing a weird mutant sheep.
It's a wolf, and it's been hiding itself on purpose in order to groom victims into sleepy submission.
Here are the early warning signs you can look for in any religious system you visit:
Rules, rules, rules.
Manipulation, minimization, denial.
Explanations about why reality is not reality.
Threats and angry defensiveness when leaders are challenged.
Lack of consequences for abusers.
Lack of justice and mercy for victims.
Some permutation of: "We're your God-appointed leaders, so we know better than you."
When you see these things, don't try to reason with a predator.
A hungry wolf is a hungry wolf.
Just get you and yours to safety.
Here's a great book to read: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Jeff Van Vonderen.
Here's an article I wrote last year about unhealthy faith communities. (And some tips about what healthy communities should look like.)
Here's a great piece from Mary DeMuth about the long-term affects of sexual abuse, and what forgiveness really means in those circumstances.