The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Chapter 20: One Response: Flight
We continue our Thursday series blogging through “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.” The first post in the series is here.
If you find that you are currently involved in a religious system that is abusive, should you stay or go? Chapter 20 looks at “Flight,” chapter 21 considers “Fight.” We are introduced to Don, a pastor who has found that as he preaches about grace people begin to heal and relationships are mending. However, a vocal minority organized a resistance; they want things to go back to how they were. A letter was sent, asking him to resign. What to do? How to decide?
There is no one-size-fits-all formula but some questions may help clarify one’s thinking.
- Does grace have a chance in this system?
- Of course God can always work, but as a rule of thumb, sheep tend to follow shepherds. If the shepherds are grace-full, even if the sheep are legalistic, grace has a chance. If the shepherds are power-posturing and offering legalism, again, sheep tend to follow the shepherds.
- Are you supporting what you hate?
- If you are locked down by the can’t-talk rule, you may be in a situation where you cannot change the system. You need not play the victim–even though you cannot change the system you can change yourself.
- Do you need to be right?
- Are you staying due to a sense that you are right, therefore you should not have to be the one to leave?
- Can you stay, and stay healthy, at the same time?
- I’m highlighting this one because I think the discussion on this point is another one of those sections that is worth the price of the book. They present a helpful diagram. The basic idea is that if you are allowed to be yourself, and have been able to express the truth in love, then you may well be able to stay within this system and maintain your health and integrity. If you feel forced to internalize all of your concerns with the system and to act incongruous to your internal beliefs and conflicts, your health and relationships are likely to suffer, and you should probably look for an exit. This is a very quick summary.
- Can you decide your own limits–and stick with them?
- Do you believe God cares more about this church (or other system) than you do?
- We can take comfort in the fact that Jesus said He will build his church. He is not depending on us to fix all the problems.
- Is it possible the system might need to die?
- Sadly, there are times it seems that God writes Ichabod (the glory has departed) on the door post. It is not worth your time and effort to prop up a place from which God himself is stepping back.
(there are several more questions in the book)
The final question: if you came to this system today, knowing what you now know about it, would you stay?
- If the answer is no, then why keep returning to it?
I reiterate that the diagram and discussion under the “Can you stay, and stay healthy?” section are very worth a read.
One of the authors shares transparently from personal experience how difficult it was to be in a situation that was clearly sponsoring abuse. He knew he was “in the right;” he wanted to be faithful and to do the right thing. It was hard for a group of people who all saw the problems but whose voices were stopped by the can’t-talk rule–they wondered why they should be treated as the problem when they were only guilty of trying hard to serve and of pointing out things that were clearly wrong (a doctor who was not there to give physicals of any kind was offering breast exams to teen girls?!). The leadership was not interested in changing things: from their perspective the “problem” was those who were telling the truth about the problems. In this case, the time came to put integrity over salary and move on.
I have been in a couple different situations where I had to ask the question, Should I stay or should I go? I have an internal impulse to stick it out to the bitter end. Material like this chapter is helpful in clarifying the issues. It is not an easy decision to make, and perhaps for a long time after you find yourself asking if you should have done something differently. I believe their advice to look at the leadership is good advice. If the leadership has a good measure of unity in pursuing a vision in line which you can support in good conscience, and if they reflect a healthy understanding of grace, this may be a situation which will pay off in the long run for sticking with it. If the leadership is split or is in unity in a stance that does not reflect grace, you probably want to be extra cautious about investing more time and energy. In either case, it is important to be able to hear wise counsel from those who know you.
One thing I might add to their list is “you are married to your spouse, not this church, ministry, or job.” Even if you feel that you personally are able to handle the situation but it is killing the soul of your spouse or family, loving your family may dictate that you choose them over the situation.
The next (and final!) chapter is about choosing “fight” instead of “flight.” Stay tuned!
Question for discussion: Have you had to make this decision of flight vs. fight? Anything you would do differently? Any insight to share with others who may be facing that decision at this time?
Click here to move on to Chapter 21