Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SAAW :: i do not know

image by dani kelley

Today the prompt for the Spiritual Abuse Awareness synchroblog is to talk about the journey and the consequences, the healing. Friday is what I want others to know and moving forward. It is difficult to write coherently about each of those topics without the other. I just want to remind my (few) readers that none of these posts stand on their own - they are all part of this trifecta. 


When my husband and I were dating and during our first years of marriage, we did not have a clue how to fight. I couldn’t seem to argue without using the word “obviously.” I would say “obviously you just hate me” or “it’s so obvious that (x) is the correct way to see this!” When he first asked me to not use that word (and ditch the accompanying attitude) I had the hardest time understanding what the problem was. Hello, OBVIOUSLY I used the word obviously when something was only totally OBVIOUS. 


As you can imagine, most of those “obvious” things are beliefs or opinions that I no longer hold. Despite finally seeing the merit of making an argument based on, well, a good argument, it took me years to get out of the habit of using words like “obviously.”

The more I distanced myself from the attitude that things were obvious, the answers were clear, the more I was able to engage outside information. When discovered that spiritual abuse was actually a *thing* and I started to deal with instances from my youth, this inability to give up the word “obvious” was one of the first things I dealt with.

Needing beliefs and opinions to be obvious and clear, especially Biblical beliefs, was a definite result of spiritually abusive tactics.  Imagining that nuanced and vague Scriptures had absolutely clear and obvious applications - direct from God’s lips to my limbs - was essential to the control aspect of spiritual abuse.

My journey away from the language of obvious was still ongoing when I began healing. It took months after admitting to myself that spiritual abuse was abuse for me to come to terms with much of it. To talk with my parents about it, to cry about it, to discover that I had taken what I had learned and perpetuated it on others. It took me months to give forgiveness to those who had also been victims (like my parents, siblings) and to see spiritually abusive leaders as anything other than monsters. It took longer than that to begin to forgive myself.

In the midst of healing, I found new theology. A grace-theology, a jesus-only-theology. A theology I (somewhat arrogantly) called “confessional lutheran” theology. 

And I said “hello” to my good old friend, Obvious.

See, I thought I had found theology that suppressed spiritually abusive tactics, that helped me be free of them, that made it impossible for anyone to use the Bible to spiritually abuse anyone ever again. So I crusaded. I saw deviations from this theology everywhere and I began to be *that* faux-theologian - the one who can’t shut up about their preferred definitions of faith.

This theology was, technically, the theology of the seminary husband attended. And as I began my fight for this obvious doctrinal purity that was so obviously what the seminary needed, I found myself discovering spiritually abusive tactics everywhere. 

I found it in the seminary teachers, the Bible college teachers, the Bible college students, the seminarians, the doctrines at camps and retreats, the speakers at retreats, every day conversations and, worst of all, in myself and in my theological zeal.

I was so upset at the bad theology that had caused me to deal with debilitating shame, loss of self-confidence and anger issues that I failed to realize that good theology was no fail-safe against spiritual abuse.

A huge part of healing, for me, was recognizing the part that I had played in both spiritually abusive theology and spiritually abusive tactics and systems. I had perpetuated ideas of doctrine over person, perfectionism, image consciousness and unbalanced, elitist language. 

In many ways I have healed from my childhood. In general I do not stress over it on a regular basis. I do not feel animosity toward anyone, except when triggered, and I am consistently identifying poor reactions/self-harming practices that are based on lies from childhood and working through them with less anger and frustration and more self-care and forgiveness.
I have not, for the most part, healed from my most recent bout with spiritually abusive tactics. I still have a hard time acknowledging that the tactics in place were often abusive and I want to ignore the prevalence of thought reform. 

I think the most difficult part is that if I say about my childhood, “Gothard, Pearl, Phillips, Quiverfull, Patriarchy,” then I have a sort of stamped “spiritual abuse verification” card among most average christians, even conservative ones. It is understood much more widely how easy it is for the theology behind those systems to harbor spiritually abusive tendencies.

But (butbutbutbut) if I try to explain how there were the same tactics and processes in place in my “normal” conservative evangelical seminary environment, then I feel that I not only have to prove to myself over and over again that there were spiritually abusive tactics in play, but also prove to others that I had good reasons for my spiritual PTSD.

Of course, one of the consequences of my childhood is that I doubt myself, my instincts and my feelings (my wicked heart!) and my primary reaction is to trust those in authority. Because that’s what good christians are trained to do. Trust the authority of the Bible, trust the authority of your pastor, trust the authority of your parents.

Where I am in my journey, in my healing process, is learning that I do not need outside validation just to feel the hurts that I feel and to uphold the outrage that I already know is justified. I do not need outside validation or condemnation to determine the state of my faith or non-faith. I actually can make some determinations for myself without consulting a Christian authority on the subject. 

I wish I had a book to start in on how the Christian purity/rape culture messed me up in that area (of autonomy) more than anything else, and how that culture is alive and well and continuing to become more perverted on our old campus. But I can’t even start, because I would never stop.

What I can tell you now about the journey and healing and getting better is that I am doing all those things. Actively and passively, it is happening.

For my healing, what is most important is that my faith, my spiritual abuse experiences, are not everything. They inform my life but do not define it. For so long my life began with God and what I did for Him and ended with God and what I did for Him. I have been told that I am confused now. I know I certainly did not appear confused before, when I had this “coherent faith” ordering my life. I did not appear confused when I had the answers for all life problems. I did not appear confused when I was following company policies and procedures.

But I am actually less confused now. Of course I have more questions about faith, but I always had them, I just wasn’t allowed to admit them. Of course I have more animosity toward abusive practices, but that’s not because they suddenly became abusive or because I am confused about them. They always had been abusive and I am not confused that they are wrong. Before I just didn’t know they were harmful, or wouldn’t admit to it. I may not know what I think about god or faith or religion. But that is OKAY with me. I WANT it that way - at least for now. I am a better person for the questions and a better person for not knowing. 

I am less confused about myself than when I smiled and nodded at rape culture jokes. Or laughed nervously when others disparaged the “homosexual lifestyle” and I didn’t say a word because it would have terminated our future in the church. I am less confused now knowing the why behind the true me. I am less afraid to stand up and own my complicit behavior and my ignorance.

When we were in a place of learning about God, surrounded by People Who Love God and insulated from the evil outside world, I was confused and frustrated and angry and bitter and tired and depressed and lying and hurting. When I receive an email from that organization, I feel that all over again. When I see controlling and self-righteous leaders continue their behaviors unchecked, I feel that all over again. When I hear they are "praying for me" I am reminded of how that was a completely unsafe space, how I was a project and not a person, how your worth lies in how you can further "the Kingdom" aka the "vision" of the leadership.

Now those on the inside see me as in need of prayer, as an apostate whose life is ruined or wrong. Someone they would fix if they could, someone who has rejected God's truth.

But I am safe. I am secure. I am free to learn and question and choose.

My sin that is so great is that I do not know and I am not afraid to say it

And I don't think I can begin to explain how everything is so much better.


On Friday I will be linking up for the last section of the synchroblog. I plan on writing about what I want others to know about both moving forward from spiritual abuse and how it affected/did not affect my faith, and what marriage is like as a hopeful agnostic married to a devout lutheran.

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