An Open Letter to Those who Have Experienced Abuse at the hands of Religion is an article written by Dakota O'Leary. Its a viewpoint from an adult child that grew up watching domestic violence within her home, and how the church enabled it to continue.
I think its an important peice for people to read due to all the comments you get a church about the damage you do to your children if you separate or divorce. From what you can read of Dakota's life it seems her father and the church did the damage instead. People don't stop to think about that part to much do they?
She starts by saying:
Spousal abuse is a difficult subject to talk about anyway, but when you add religion to it, it becomes a prison like no other for the faithful who are abused. For the woman who is faithful, abuse becomes a matter of faith and submission a religious maze that is impossible to navigate through. And by the time an abused woman navigates it, she uses precious time that she could have been using getting help.
The family does need help, and it has nothing to do with lack of submission. It is a very difficult subject to talk about, and I see people making excuses for themselves saying its an isolated situation, it doesn't happen as often as people would have you think, etc. Human nature it seems to me likes to mininize what is happening in homes, and think it can't be happening within their church.
Pastors have little training in this area, and since there is this HUGE push for you to NOT go outside the church for help you have abuse and ignorance instead.
In the 80’s, spousal abuse was just starting to be widely publicized. My mother never called a crisis counselor. She never sought outside help. The reason why was because Worldwide told everybody that psychology was bunk, and if you trusted psychology, then you weren’t trusting God. Marriage counseling was only for pastors, and seeking outside professional counselling was taken as a lack of faith not only in the pastorate, but worse, in God. How many countless abused women hid their abuse like my mother did, never daring to seek outside help, because they feared what God would think of their lack of faith?
Women are called the weaker vessel, and that defination to that phrase is added to so often. If you look at the faith of abused people within the church you can clearly see even in their neglect by everyone around them they have strength. That strength within their situations are never really looked at. They live within war zones, and the church make things worse by their advice and guidance. Their pride refuses them to reach out for the education they need to understand WHAT they are dealing with, and how they could be a blessing instead of a hinderance!
And the worst part was watching my mother punish herself. If she could be more submissive, the abuse would stop–or so she thought. She prayed more, she submitted herself to the point of subjugating who she was until she no longer knew who she was. For her the abuse was a matter of faith. If she had enough faith, she reasoned, God would stop the abuse. And of course, this never happened. I prayed too. I prayed to God to make the violence stop. And he never did stop it. And so the abuse was looked at by our family as a test of faith. Suffering makes a person more holy according to Christian tradition, and this was the very thing that enabled the abuse to continue and escalate.
Much to often the punishing of themselves is what the victims do. The church continues to tell them to 'do it better', and the abuse will stop. Its your place in life to carry this cross! Be nicer and how them your love and respect, and they never stop to see how this enables the abuse to get worse.
For me, as the child of an abusive household that was also a very deeply religious household, seeing and article like this is a confirmation that we were not alone. But it comes 20 years too late. How much suffering could my mother have avoided if we’d stood up against the abuse and just left the church? How much suffering could have been avoided if our own church would have stepped in and stopped the abuse immediately? How much spousal abuse goes on in fundamentalist conservative churches today? For me, the costs have been heavy. I have never had a successful relationship because I don’t trust men. The relationships I have been in have all been with men who were mentally or physically abusive. I fear men, and seven years of counselling has been very slow in helping me trust them. I especially do not trust “religious” men from any religious background, and I do not trust churches. Consequently, I don’t go to church, and I don’t miss church. I don’t feel the need to find a “church home,” and I credit that experience at home with my more liberal beliefs. I am not a Christian, and I am not an atheist. I follow an alternative faith that speaks to love, to respecting nature, and to seeing God in everything. And surprisingly, I also credit that experience of religious abuse for my interest in religion today. At first my scholarly interest in religion was to answer the question “Why does religion make people do things that they would never do if someone off the street told them to do it?” And in answering that question I also discovered what a lovely thing religion can be, how much beauty is inherent in all the world’s religions, and how far we have to go in order to use religion wisely. For religion in the hands of the wrong people is a loaded gun pointed at the heads of the people who follow religious leaders, including pastors. Religion has the great ability to destroy lives for it encourages people not to think for themselves. It brainwashes people into believing that they should put up with anything, any difficulty, in order to be close to Christ. Laws are followed, and much of the time it seems to me that the love is left behind. Men of faith love the scriptures that point out they are the spiritual leaders of their home, but forget about the verses in which they are directed to love their wives and treat their wives as they would treat their own bodies.
I don't think the church stops to think about the lives they destroy when they make their excuses about NOT dealing with clearly sinful behavior. They don't stop to think that Jesus didn't deal with things like abusers do. The husband in this case was to model his love towards his family, and instead he was told he had the right to abuse them due to his 'God given' authority.
The author had some scripture for those pastors:
Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the LORD. Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply. “I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 23:1-2, (NASB ©1995)
The church speaks alot to parents about being the proper role model for their children. How they are to show them the way that is right. Children like this author know that part of their message is wrong, and it seems to me the church is to proud to admit it.
In Proverbs: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
In the author's case they trained up the child to see that beating is justified.
My own mother grew up being beat, and watching her mother being beat as the church rose him up the ranks of leadership. I hear the church speak about the lost people in the world, but they clearly can't take the log out of their own eye to see the counterdiction of their own messages. They claim they stand up and speak against sin, but yet as domestic violence goes on within the church they are silent. Why they can't see that the secular world isn't the only one lost I don't understand personally. They will speak out about certain sins, but others they remain silent. I have wonder what is going thru God's mind as he watches this.
If you are a pastor condoning domestic violence in your church,by your inaction and using any of the above Biblical “excuses” to blame the woman for getting hit, then you ought to quit pastoring. I would not want to be you when it comes time to be held accountable to Jesus Christ for the way you are pastoring your church. Violence is ALWAYS wrong. Domestic violence is ALWAYS wrong, it is not of God, and if you think it is, then you need more help than you are giving to your pastorate. I credit one pastor in 17 years who tried to stop the violence in my home. I credit him with saving my faith in Christ and in God. If I have any faith at all it is because one man tried to stop the abuse; but by the time he got to my family, it was too late. My parents, thankfully, ended up getting divorced, and when my dad contracted terminal cancer, he apologised to my mom. But an apology, however heartfelt, does not wipe away the damage caused by the years of abuse. My mother no longer goes to church; she does not trust any church, and like me, distrusts men of faith who are in positions of power. Yet, unbelievably, she still retains a strong faith in God. And that is to her credit that she does, for women of faith who endure abuse with no end in sight prove that women are strong. The thing is, women of faith who are being abused have nothing to prove. They suffer needlessly, their faith suffers, and the church suffers as long as abuse goes on hidden, the elephant in the room everyone can see but does nothing about. I have only managed to retain the belief that religion has beauty in it through extensive counselling, medication, and my own willingness to study and discover for myself what religion should be. And I am grateful to God/Spirit for the ability to believe at all.
This story isn't all that uncommon, and people can sweep it under the carpet as much as they wish. It won't change the reality that they refuse to see.
Religion ... Faith ... What God wishes from us is different from the realities that we are now dealing with due to NOT seeing domestic violence within the church for what it is. SIN! The abuser needs help, and yet they are enabled. Children are damaged along with the rest of the family. The authors family stayed together for the most part, and look at the damage it did!
Abusive Religion? It can be if you shut your eyes and pretend it HAS to be the victim that is causing this. What about the children? This story shows what can happen, and so maybe we need to rethink our theories.
Matthew 18:6 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!
In this case it would be more than just Daddy huh?
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