Okay, I might get into trouble for writing this, but I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. If someone gets offended, then so be it. I’m not trying to be provocative. I’m trying to point out a dynamic that has been swirling about church culture for as long as I’ve been in it. It’s important because many, many people go to church. It doesn’t matter what denomination you choose. Some flavor of this will be present.
I was confirmed as an orthodox Lutheran which is only one step away from Catholicism, but I have visited many other church environments. My father preferred the Southern pentecostal denomination complete with yelling, public displays of speaking in tongues, people falling on the ground “slain in the spirit”, and rowdy singing. My stepfather came from a charismatic Catholic church, and my mother liked to church hop. So, I visited many varieties of Southern Baptist denominations as well as other denominations. I’ve been in Episcopal churches, Anglican churches, Emergent church gatherings, and Methodist churches. In the history of my 36 year journey with God, I’ve only been to two congregations where I have not heard some form of legalistic, religious bullshit. I don’t know what else to call it–RBS. Religious Bullshit.
This is important because when people go to church there is an expectation, or perhaps I’m the only one with the expectation. I expect to hear the truth. Here is one very basic truth that should run like blood through every denomination:
16 For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him. John 3:16-17
This is a foundational principle to our faith. This is why many people in pain who are dealing with trauma and tribulation show up on Sunday mornings. They are looking for the God of John 3:16 and particularly verse 17. The God who does not judge, reject, condemn, or pass sentence; the God who so dearly loved the world that He saved it. What are they finding?
I am not speaking for everyone, but I am speaking for many, many people whom I have met when I write this. I am speaking from a place of observation. Millennials are leaving the church environment in record numbers. Why? Here are a few things I and people I’ve met have heard in various church environments:
- Jesus died for you. Through Him you were made. You owe him your service.
- God saves us so that we can save others.
- God begrudgingly saves us because he theologically has to. He is fulfilling a contract because of the second covenant. So, you better be thankful. The Bible says that you have to be thankful and obey God because He saved us.
- Grace means ‘unmerited favor’ which means that you don’t really deserve any of the favor that God has towards you. Technically, you’re worthless then.
- You are just a sinner who’s been saved.
- There is a cost to being a Christian so you must pay the cost. If that means giving a lot of your money away and being poor, then you must do that. God is not interested in your being happy or comfortable. He only wants your obedience. If you have to give up your family, then do it. Your happiness means nothing to God.
- Women are like Eve. Women are born temptresses, and a godly man must never be alone with a woman lest he be tempted by her.
- Your suffering is meant to teach you a lesson. If you suffer, then it’s because you have stepped out from under the umbrella of God’s grace. You must have sinned.
- Sin is judged and punished so do your best to try your hardest to be obedient lest you open up your life to God’s judgment and wrath.
- It is vital that you tithe lest you be punished by opening yourself up to devouring. God will take what belongs to him one way or another.
Please compare these statements to these:
- “I gave birth to you! I’ve sacrificed so much for you! You owe me! You can’t leave me. Don’t you dare abandon me!”
- “You aren’t anyone! You have no identity apart from who I say you are. I paid for your food and clothing and education while you were growing up. You will now do exactly what I tell you to do for the rest of your life!”
- “I’m your mother, and you have to be thankful for what I give you! It’s your job to love me because I’m your mother. You’re just a child. Who are you anyway?”
- “You only have worth because I say that you do. You’re a worthless piece of trash without me. You’re only alive because I say you are.”
- “You exist because I say you exist. I take care of you. I pay for everything that you do, therefore, I have say over who you are and what you do.”
- “Do you think I care about your happiness? Do you think I care about what you want? You will do what I say! You will BOW!!!”
- “You are intrinsically evil. You are a piece of shit!”
- “Look what you make me do? Do you see the lengths I must go to in order to teach you? Do you see how horrible you are? Why won’t you just learn?”
- “No matter what you do it’s never good enough. Try harder! Try harder! Oh, no matter how hard you try it will never be good enough because you are sick! You will never be good enough! And I’ll have to teach you your lessons, you hear me?”
- “You weren’t thankful enough. You didn’t give me what was mine. You didn’t pay attention to me. I want what’s mine, and YOU are mine! You wouldn’t exist without me! And I will take what’s mine, you hear me? “
Do you see how similar the legalistic, religious messages are to the borderline adult/parent statements? Some of these statements could be made by an abusive spouse as well. In any case, it’s a predatory, personality-disordered person who would be making these statements, and the spirit behind these statements match the spirit behind the RBS statements. What are the intended messages?
- You are a slave. You are an object.
- You have to earn everything from God. There is no relationship at all. Christianity is like the feudal system, and we swear fealty.
- You’re really only loved because of a contract. There’s nothing lovable or worthwhile about you. The Gospel isn’t really true.
- Because you entered into contract with God, you now have to fulfill your part of the contract through works, or you will lose your standing.
- Your performance determines your worth. The Bible’s declaration that we are new creations because of the Gospel is completely untrue.
- You have to deny yourself daily even if that means tolerating abuse from other members of the faith community, within your marriage, or suffering personally. Jesus was crucified for you and even by you metaphorically, you sinner, so you might need to die at the hands of a spouse even if s/he is abusing you. After all, physical abuse isn’t specifically named in the Bible as a reason for divorce. Besides, men generally don’t hit their wives unless provoked. We are not valued. We are merely sinful creatures God is stooping down to bother with.
- Any kind of suffering can be explained in two ways: 1) You deserved it or 2) God is teaching you a lesson.
- Don’t ask questions or question leadership lest you be ousted and alienated. God put leaders into place. They are ordained. It is insubordination, disobedience, pride, and stubbornness to question an elder.
- Relational aggression among women in Christian communities is often higher than in most high school settings. Women are seeking personal empowerment at the expense of other women due to being objectified and vilified in church culture simply due to their gender. After all, Eve was evil for tempting Adam, therefore, all women are evil. This is a religious view that has been around for centuries.
Everything I have described here I have heard Christians say and witnessed in various religious settings. Comparing the RBS statements and messages to the borderline statements, you’ll see a frightening congruency. The messages are the same. Who is the ultimate abuser here? God. Christians are just His representatives. It is a sobering thing to see once it’s written out, isn’t it? There is a name for this. It’s called spiritual abuse.
Spiritual abuse is a very real thing. I have yet to meet one Christian who has not been spiritually abused in one way or another because these messages can be very subtle. The most powerful lies usually possess a tiny grain of truth, and then that grain of truth is pushed through the distortion machine. What comes out is something that might sound a little familiar, but it’s nowhere near true.
Why write all this out? Well, I write this because I am meeting more and more people who feel crazy. They are starting to question their community church experiences. They intellectually know that God loves them. They intellectually know that they have worth. They intellectually know that their performance isn’t supposed to determine how God feels about them, but the moment they step into a small group or spend time in their religious environment, they begin to doubt what they know. They certainly don’t feel loved or accepted. What they know in their heads won’t drop to their hearts. They can’t experience any consolation because they are too busy trying not to feel double-minded about themselves. How can they know this loving, kind, generous, merciful, gracious God if they’re supposed to be volunteering, tithing more, worshiping more, looking like they have it all together, and getting themselves straightened out so that they can, in turn, go off and save everyone else? Isn’t this what Christianity is all about?
God does not have a personality disorder. If you feel crazy, then maybe it’s because you’re living in Borderland Christianity. I know a lot of people who are. I used to be one of them. I left. I haven’t looked back. I have no regrets. It’s worth walking off the map. Here are some resources to get you started if you’re curious to know what life outside of the Borderlands looks like…
- The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson
- The Practice of The Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
- Seeing is Believing: Experiencing Jesus through Imaginative Prayer by Greg Boyd
- Tired of Trying to Measure Up by Jeff VanVonderen