Monday, March 10, 2014

Why Yesterday's Sermon Bothered Me

Let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

If I seem to have overreacted to the sermon Dr. J preached yesterday, as discussed in my last post, there is a reason. One of the blogs I follow is Libby Anne's blog, Love, Joy, Feminism at Patheos and just two days before the sermon, she posted Bill Gothard has resigned . . . but is that enough? That post contains a graphic used by Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) in counseling victims of sexual abuse.

Major, major content warnings. Think about someone doing a bad parody of how not to counsel victims of abuse, double it, and then raise it to the third power. This graphic is worse. It has nothing to do with real counseling, as practiced by people who care for victims of abuse, and everything to do with preserving power and privilege. Unfortunately, real victims have been dealt with, not just at IBLP but at some colleges as well, using the guidelines summarized on the graphic. (It follows the "read more" link, if you are reading this on the main page.)

Click to see larger

And even more unfortunately, the words preached by my fairly liberal (theologically), loving, kind pastor, who would probably be horrified to see it, are only a hop, skip, and a jump away from what is presented here. Look particularly at number 3. “What part did the offender damage? What parts do we damage with bitterness and guilt?” Honestly, I’m not even sure you need the skip and the jump. That was the theme of  her sermon. True, she spoke of bitterness, hatred and judgement, not guilt, but by the time she got finished with all the Jesus forgave his persecutors from the cross so we should do likewise, it was hard not to feel guilt, too. I’m fairly certain, hearing Dr. J talk about how there are people she finds it hard to forgive, that she feels guilty for that.

Then there is also number 10. Forgive offender - Turn over to God for his discipline or ask God to pardon. That is exactly what she recommended doing, and while it is standard Christian advice, after seeing it in this context, I had a hard time listening to it two days later.  The funny thing is, I do pray for people who have offended me. I don’t have real enemies, in the sense of people who wish to do me harm, but I do get into squabbles, on the internet and in real life, and I find that praying for people not only keeps me from brooding about how they are big meanies and I am right, but reminds me to keep a more magnanimous spirit to people in general. However, there is a huge difference between praying for someone who has annoyed you and praying for someone who raped you. There are people who have the grace to do the latter. There are also people who can sing grand opera and I think we can recognize that they didn’t gain that ability through being preached to. 

And while her sermon did not address abuse victims specifically, Dr. J has been a pastor for years. She has to know that her congregation contains people who have been victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence or both, and that at least one of them was likely to be present for at least one of the services she preached at. So, yeah, while I love her to death, and while if I had a daughter, I would like her to be like Dr. J, I’m disturbed.

What really angers me is how the advice that victims are often subjected to can be taken to heart by the advice givers with better effect. For instance, if the advice giver perceives the abused person as being filled with anger and bitterness, is there any role the advice giver plays (number 5) in eliciting those feelings rather than feelings of hope and strength that the abuse victim might also have felt? In my last post, I talked about the Fundamental Attribution Error, “placing a heavy emphasis on internal personality characteristics to explain someone's behavior in a given situation, rather than thinking about external situational factors.” It seems to me that if I were being treated according to these guidelines, I’d be exhibiting a lot more anger and bitterness than I would if treated with empathy and reassured my feelings were justified. 

Really, though, I’d like to throw out the entire chart and make the point that I made in my last post, about loving rather than preaching. When I asked myself what I wanted in order for me to be able to be comfortable around my abusive ex-husband, the answer came back that I want justice. I’m pretty sure that’s what other victims of abuse want, too. We want justice to roll down like waters. It would be nice if the people who read the Bible that contains those words thought that helping us find justice is a thing they should do.

Another thing we want is mercy. Rather than being asked to grant it, we’d like a little for ourselves. We’d like to see some sign, before we forgive someone who beat us up, or raped us, or did both, that the person who is pushing us to do so doesn’t consider our wearing a short skirt to be some kind of major sin.

And love. If what you want is to replace the anger and bitterness in someone’s heart with love, then what you can do is love that person. Don’t wait for them to clear out the anger and bitterness first so that there is room, just love that person, the way they are, the way you keep insisting that God does.

I have said before that I have one foot out the door of my church (at this point maybe a foot and a half), and this is why. I can look at that graphic and say that not every Christian endorses those views and my church is different, but how different, really? Maybe a hop, a skip, and a jump. Maybe just a hop.

No comments:

Post a Comment