Thursday, May 24, 2012

Spiritual Bullying

Bullying is a big topic among today's youth.  I think a big part of ending bullying, is to get people who are not involved to stand up for the victims.  That's why the whole anti-bullying movement has sprung up, not so much to reform bullies (is that even possible?) but to make bullying itself socially unacceptable.

In my former striving to be uber-righteous and blameless in all things, I had only one answer to being bullied.  Beyond turning the other cheek, it went so far as to advocate to myself that standing up for myself was WRONG.  The proof text came from I Peter 2:21-23:
21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

So, when I was being bullied in a board meeting of our "Christian" home school support group, I didn't take up for myself even though I had done nothing wrong.  I thought the facts would speak for themselves, but guess what REALLY happens when a victim of bullying doesn't stand up for themselves?  Nothing good.  They appear weak and deserving of honorable treatment in the eyes of those looking on.  Maybe, maybe someone's conscience might be urging them to take up for you, but if you won't even take up for yourself, no one else will either.

Years went by without my being subjected to anything remotely like that public attack, until I got involved in my homeowner's association.  I was asked by a neighbor to please join a certain committee, as the people involved were currently control freaks who needed the brakes put on.  All I did was show up and doodle in my notebook as people droned on and got all upset over stupid trivia like shrubs and flower beds.  I was only there to protest any really draconian ideas the committee might come up with.  Everything else about the committee was B-O-R-I-N-G.

So, the night before the third meeting, the chair of the committee came by my house to ask me some questions. We talked on my front porch for about an hour, and even though the person who had asked me to join the committee told me the guy was a snake, I shut the front door feeling that maybe he wasn't as bad as my other neighbor had made him out to be.

The meeting started the next night, and to my great surprise *my notebook* was on the agenda.  The chairman demanded to see it, misrepresented almost everything we talked about the night before, and let me tell you, there must  be a book out there somewhere about how to destroy your enemies in a committee meeting because it was exactly the same scenario as the "Christian" home school support group meeting of almost a decade earlier!  No one, not even the husband of the woman who had asked me to join, took up for me.  But this time, I took up for myself.  I looked around the room at all my fair-weather friends and the lynch mob my neighbors seemed eager to join, and told them all off.  I laughed in their faces, got up and told them they were crazy and I didn't need this shit.  I walked out, and the chair made one more effort to grab my notebook as I walked out the door.  I am not making this up! At that point, one neighbor (whom I didn't even know) took up for me and told the guy to back off as that was assault and he was a witness.  God bless that man!

I guess it must have something to do with the stars, because everything was chill for another few years.  But about eight months ago, I was bullied again, this time by  a "man-o-gawd". I was bullied by the pastor of the Lutheran church that you have read me praise repeatedly in many posts over the past  few years.  I was always welcome, celebrated even, in my congregation, that is until I began to disagree with the pastor too many times.

Once the issue of civil unions for gay couples came up, (I am in favor of legal rights for all citizens, while the pastor is strongly against it) suddenly everything I said or did ruffled pastors feathers.  He would get really pissy with any comments I made on facebook that could possibly be taken the wrong way, and he had to really want to be offended to get there!  It was plain that he just didn't like me or trust my intentions anymore.  Moreover, the makeup of the whole congregation was changing.  People who I loved and admired were leaving, and new people (people who were offended by the ELCA ordaining gay clergy in committed relationships) were joining the church.  It was leaning decidedly toward fundamentalism more and more every week.

The final offence came last October. I was explaining the fallacy of guilty by association to a less-bright fellow parishioner on my facebook wall.  I support the Occupy movement, and someone had been raped in the Occupy Wall Street campground (after weeks of no problems, pretty impressive for NYC really!).  The other person had gleefully linked to the news article and posted it on my facebook wall with a comment that I was supporting rape.  I replied, pointing out that one person committing a crime did not make the protest itself nor any other protestor a bad person. I explained that this was the fallacy of "guilty by association". The example I gave was pointing out that even though someone from our church had been convicted of manslaughter, that didn't make everyone at our church out to be some kind of criminal too.

My pastor read that on my wall, and he was livid.  

Here is an email I wrote to an internet clergy shortly after the evening:

I only know you from your blog, but I appreciate you very much.  I am from <a midwestern state> and learned the foundation for everything I know about God from my <midwestern> roots.  As a child, I remember learning that Jesus was the main point of the Bible, the life and words of Christ were the lens through which all the rest of scripture was to be read.  As the Father God made clear on the Mount of  Transfiguration, Moses, the prophets and the apostles were nowhere near equal in status to Jesus, the Beloved Son.  I also am pretty clear on the idea that God wants a personal relationship with each of us, that the same Holy Spirit that dwells in me dwells in you, Jesus (not any other person) is the Head of the church and that He is also the Good Shepherd.  We have no need of any other person save the Person of Christ for our salvation.  Rather all of our relationships with other Christians flow out of obedience to Christ: He commands us to serve one another in love, to share communion, to bear one another’s burdens.  All in a believer’s life is to flow out of their personal walk with God, which of course includes personal worship, study and prayer.
But now, I can’t put my finger on where exactly I learned these ideas or why no one is teaching this anymore that I can see.
My dedication to Jesus and the Great Command has compelled me to some radical things lately-all involve listening to people.  I decided to stop deciding a matter before hearing both sides.  All of my knee-jerk positions on all the right wing political positions I had adopted were up for re-evaluation:  abortion, adoption, racial reconciliation, homosexuality, taxes, social programs, health care.  I listened to real stories from real people, and changed a lot of my political positions because of it, carefully measuring everything against the Word.  I have a 4.0 in twelve credits from Moody: Bible Study I, Old Testament Survey and New Testament Survey, plus countless hours of Community Bible Study, Bible Study Fellowship, Kay Arthur studies, Beth Moor studies, and innumerable other well-respected programs designed to teach one to “rightfully divide” the Bible.  My first purchase after rededicating my life to Christ in 1981 was a Strong's Concordance.  I am no intellectual lightweight either, carrying a 4.0 in all of my college classes, including the ones in which I am currently enrolled.
But now I have a great dilemma.  No  one minded my outspoken advocacy for the traditional religious right politics, but when I started caring about social issues from a more thoughtful position, people in my church became very uncomfortable with me.  It has culminated last night with my pastor calling me to rail about a facebook post I made supporting the Occupy movement.  While he had every right to call me and talk to me about anything he thinks might reflect unfavorably on his church (I don’t think it did but he sure felt very strongly about it), even ask me to remove it (which I did because of the passage to do all that lies with me to keep peace), he had no right to yell at me, talk over me and falsely accuse me of motives that he only assumed.  He wound up “rebuking” me for words I never spoke, and when I insisted I never said such things, he called me a liar.  Wow.  At that point I had to tell him he had crossed a line and I needed to end the conversation.
Now I finally get to my dilemma: obviously I am not welcome at my church.  Nor do I believe I have any spiritual obligation to let this man further abuse me.  He seems to think I owe him the privilege to yell at me and ascribe bizarre attitudes and motivations to me which are not mine because he is my pastor.  I am lucky in that when he called, my whole family was in the car and the call was picked up on Bluetooth.  Otherwise, it would be my word against his, but as it is, my husband and teen son are witnesses to all of it- his ranting and my reasonable calm responses.  We were all shocked.
Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.  I have heard of similar happening to other people, and I always wondered why they just didn’t leave and find a new church.  But now I do understand, because the odds of me finding a church that teaches the gospel as it was first presented to me is so small.  I don’t think I want to put myself through a long process of getting to know new pastors and congregations.  It is just no longer worth it to me.  I never thought I would ever, in a million years, become a walk-away from church.  Church attendance is supposed to be a place where we come together to worship our mutual Savior, share communion and pray for one another.
Well, it’s not your problem, and I don’t know why I am bothering you with this.  I guess it’s because you seem to genuinely care for the people loved by God.  It’s also, I think, a tellingly sad situation for the church in America when a person such as myself, avid attender and long time tither, just no longer wants to take a chance on American Christendom.  I home schooled, had daily devotions with my children, taught Sunday school and Bible studies, joined the small groups, took part in the missions, organized VBS- if it was a way to be involved in church, I have done it.
Sorry for taking so much of your time. Normally this is the sort of thing one would talk to a pastor about, but of course you can understand why that is not an option for me.
So, here's the thing.  Not only has that man not apologized for ranting at me and calling me a liar, he never will.  He used to offer his phone at communion for anyone who wanted to make right a broken relationship, but breaking relationship with me is apparently okay by him.  He has offered communion to his congregation every Sunday since that last week of October, 2011, but my phone has never rung.  Apparently telling me off and ending our relationship doesn't bother his conscience at all.

Not only that, but when I made a member of the council aware of what happened, she cooly told me that she didn't hadn't asked to know.  Seriously, she meant it.  Our family disappearing bothers no one.  We can go to hell for all they care, as they know they represent the kingdom of God on earth and we are not welcome with them.  It's so....unChristlike, so heartless.

Anyway, it's only all coming back to me now because the congregation, including the pastor, is love-bombing a kid that I have loved like my own.  I have known this kid for eight years, stood by him every step of those eight years, included him in our lives like he was family, and the only reason anyone from that church knows this kid exists is because my family brought him to church with us.  I know they are love-bombing him with the intention of sucking him back into their congregation, but it hurts to see it.

It hurts even more that when I tried to talk to the kid about it, he basically told me that he didn't care how pastor had treated us.  That was none of his business.  The man hadn't done anything to him personally, and he appreciated the flattery and the offers of friendship. Love-bombing works; that's why cults/churches engage in it.

Wow.  I don't give a damn what happens to that pastor or that congregation, though the shadenfreude would be sweet if I ever hear of evil coming his way.  God knows the man deserves a comeuppance.  I gave ten per cent of my family income so he could make sweet money (almost double national average for pastor's salaries, though probably about average for my wealth-worshipping city) and drive a sweet ride (Mustang convertible, courtesy of church car allowance).  Once he had new sources of income (those taking their marbles and leaving the ELCA because they don't believe Jesus can love or bless gay relationships), he dumped us like a hot potato.  Love-bombing the kid they KNOW I count as a son is just adding insult to injury.

I know it's intentional too.  I know because they tried to do the same with my roomie Jai, but she didn't fall for it.  It is so ugly, and so wrong.

Why are God's people so effing mean?


  1. "Why are God's people so effing mean?" uh-huh. I mean, as a person brought up to think the world is a frightening and evil place, you kinda expect non-Christians to be rude, selfish, back-stabbers, or whatever. But my experience has been that the worst behavior comes from Christians. It is hard, downright difficult, nigh unto impossible, to work against the prejudice I have developed about Christians.

    1. This guy on youtube (link below) inspires me.

      Yep, I share your experiences and your prejudice, but is prejudice based on experience really prejudice? Is it not wisdom instead of prejudice?

      Still sorting it all out myself...


  3. Argh, "Why are God's people so effing mean?" - exactly. I'm sorry that church you were so happy at turned out so lousy after all. I left mine quietly and only had to deal with knowing nobody bothered to wonder why I was gone. Well, I told my friend who also went there why and what had changed in my beliefs, and she is now very distant. It's the best case scenario, I guess :-D

    I'm glad you're posting so much lately, it's good to catch up on how things are going with you and your family.


    1. Thank you,L.! That is so sweet to read you feel that way.

      Sorry about no one caring about you from your old church. I guess you're right about "best case scenario", but I wish Christians would just love like their Master requires. That would be so much better.