You know what I hate? I hate abuse. Any kind of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual- you name a form of abuse and I hate it. It makes my stomach roll and my skin crawl. It makes me cry. If I witness it, it makes me angry. I intervene even when it is dangerous for me to do so.
Abuse has many faces. It can be violent and coercive or manipulative and seductive. Abuse scars the body, mind and spirit and makes otherwise reasonable and intelligent people doubt or even hate themselves. And that's when the abuse happens after infancy and is short lasting. Then there is intense, sustained abuse, both pre-verbal and after a child or adult can express her or him self with words. There is no good, better, best kind of abuse. It all hurts. It all damages. It all diminishes one's humanity.
IT ALL NEEDS TO STOP.
In my work as a counselor I have been in the presence of women and men who wrestle with the self-loathing and despair that is a bi-product of abuse. While I won't linger on that thought, don't pretty it up: the consequences of abuse are devastating. The length and intensity of the abuse only speaks to greater or lesser degrees of devastation.
That doesn't mean I believe that people can't heal from the experience. I do believe that people can heal. I believe it with all my heart. Will they be the same as if the abuse had never occurred? No. But each one must find the courage to confront the fears, shame, anger, hurt, self doubt and loathing in her or his own way and heal into their lives.
As a pastor, I see the vestiges of spiritual abuse in many of the folk who make their way to Circle of Grace. Now I don't know if I made that term up or not. But I recognized when a spirit has been manipulated or coerced. I see the evidence when a seductive spirituality ties a person into a closed system of belief. I have witnessed the violence of spiritual abuse against a young schizophrenic woman who suffered through an 'exorcism' to cast out her demons and consequently felt like a failure and an unredeemed sinner because she was not 'cured'. I have held a young gay man, sobbing in my arms, whose family pushed him to the ground and 'prayed' over him for hours to be released from his sin of homosexuality. When he wasn't, the failure was his, not theirs, and he was kicked out of the family. I have listened to many women and men who feared God's rejection. I have wrestled spiritually and intellectually with those who are terrified of being cast into hell. I have spoken with people who hate the church and aren't all that interested in Godde because of their experience of 'religious' people. If those things are not abuse, I don't know what is.
That's one of the reasons the issue of power and how it is shared at Circle of Grace is so important to us. It is important that each one take responsibility for his or her own journey. It is important that we make room for our differences in understanding and practice. It is important that we do not have a closed belief system. We know that circular reasoning can be both compelling and seductive and that it is far better (and more difficult) to admit we don't have all the answers. Heck, we don't even have all the questions.
If there is one thing I pray our community maintains for its lifespan it is that we retain our memories of what spiritual abuse looks like, feels like, tastes like and that we guard against it in our shared spiritual lives. Because if there is one thing I hate, it's abuse.