religious bullies

Posted: December 2nd, 2011 | Filed under: life | Tags: | 10 Comments »

I watched a movie recently about cyber bullying with my daughter. It was a girl’s night and she chose the movie. It was one of those PBS projects with an educational agenda and I thought it was great. The girl who was bullied made me think of all the stories that find their way to my inbox. I also thought of myself. There was a point when the girl was on her bathroom floor in panicked sobs. The hopelessness and inability to escape the hell was familiar.

I’ve written about religious bullies before. They exist. They position themselves between the you and the Cross. The constant feeling of disapproval as they wiggle their way into making you feel like their approval is a requirement. I think most people have felt this way at some point. It’s just that church people can be the worst. There is no real sanction for people who think they are acting on behalf of God. It’s a nightmare if someone on a religious power kick doesn’t know who He is.

Have you ever been given a bunch of instructions to accomplish before you were allowed back into good graces only to get the sinking feeling that they don’t want you back? It looks like a set up to make it appear that they’re ‘working with you’ to cover their butts, and you are a rat in a cage.

Here is how you know that you are being bullied. It just takes one check on the list to qualify.:

  1. terror has been invoked (no terror like the constant threat of eternal damnation)
  2. you are belittled, often in front of others (efforts impugned, etc.)
  3. excessive supervision (micro-managing)
  4. blame is entirely on you (no one else did anything wrong)
  5. your opinions or questions have been overridden or brushed away
  6. your responsibility has been removed
  7. you are given demands that you cannot meet and/or the demands change without your knowledge, and you are reprimanded when you fail to measure up
  8. you have been ostracized or marginalized or excluded and no one will talk to you directly
  9. your failures have been spread in rumors that morph with lies
  10. requests for change, training, or leave have been denied

This list is a collaboration of information from various government and civic publications regarding bullying. It’s a huge problem that has received a lot of attention in our society and it eerily resembles what many experience in their churches.

The question(s) I’m exploring in my own head have to do with the difference between ‘church and state’. As I roll this around in my head, I have to wonder if God ever intended for His name to be used to terrorize people. God calls people out of their darkness with the love of His Son on the Cross. Not the scream of hell on their neck.

  1. God doesn’t terrorize people with hell, He sent His son to remove the threat.
  2. God doesn’t belittle people, He gives them His robe and jewels (prodigal son’s father).
  3. God doesn’t shackle people, He sets them free
  4. God took your blame
  5. God identifies Himself with you (Jesus became a man, he knows.)
  6. God doesn’t render you useless, He gives you a purpose
  7. God met His own demands on you in Jesus
  8. God excludes no one
  9. God has forgotten your failures
  10. God equips you with the Holy Spirit, gives you a new heart, and sets you free

We need to be less like domineering tyrants and more like God.

Read what Jesus had to say to a group of Pharisees who didn’t like His actions, company He kept, or the love He showed:

“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. You load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. You have taken away the key ofknowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” -excerpts pulled from Luke 11:37-53

Then He walked out. (I’m picturing a microphone drop)

He was upset.

As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things,  lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. -Luke 11:53

If they did it to Jesus, they’re going to do it to you. Don’t worry about them. Seriously. Even if you made your own bed of shame, clean your sheets and get on with it. Do what you can to make amends and, if it’s not good enough for them, then leave. I know that this is all hard to hear when it is your entire life.

Keep reading in Luke. Chapter 12 quotes Jesus warning people of not letting the poison (leaven) ruin you (bread).

After that He says:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” -Luke 12:4-7

Further down (I’m on a roll):

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” -Luke 12:11-12

I guess I just need to close this by saying: Look at Jesus! You can trust Him. He loves you to no end and He will not leave you to fend for yourself. Read the scriptures. They all point to Him and He is your best ally, He is your best defense. There is more in those scriptures that can set you free than anyone can say to condemn you. Remember the basics: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Whoever believes in Him will not die. You will have eternal life.

Don’t ever believe anyone who tries to take that away from you. And please remember, God can change anyone’s heart. He changed yours didn’t He? You can never count anyone out because He doesn’t. You don’t have to be around them, but don’t give up hope just yet. All the evidence isn’t in.



10 Comments on “religious bullies”

  1. 1 Private said at 10:47 am on December 2nd, 2011:

    Oh, wow. This good I'm just… Floored. … I want to comment, I just…I've done this, Serena. I've been a bully. God help me. I'm in tears. God help me, teach me, …

    Thank you? Wow.

  2. 2 serenawoods said at 10:58 am on December 2nd, 2011:

    Private, I know. I was floored, too. I've been a bully, too. I think we can just get off track.

    Conversations need to be had about this. Guidelines and boundaries need to be set. People need to be able to find sanctuary in the sanctuary. Not flee from it. People need to find guidance, love, discipleship in their religious communities.

  3. 3 Sisterlisa said at 11:11 am on December 2nd, 2011:

    Story of my life..seriously. Sadly there are churches where this is thick, and yet there is hope to find churches that are healthy. We are never required to remain in an unhealthy environment. I think it's so important for people to know they CAN leave. There is help out there and they aren't alone. It's hard to leave an abusive church when your life has been wrapped up in it for a long time, but it's better to find a healthy fellowship where you can heal.

  4. 4 serenawoods said at 1:37 pm on December 2nd, 2011:

    Yes, there are healthy churches. I think that everything happens for a reason. Spiritual abuse is not normal, not all churches are like that. People need to know what normal is so that they won't lose hope.

    Thanks, Lisa. 🙂

  5. 5 Dawn R. Justice Phenix said at 11:46 am on December 2nd, 2011:

    The one thing I have learned and embraced from your, Serena, interpretation of scripture is that God is sovereign. I can't fail Him or mess up my life. As I embrace this perspective I dropped the enormous weight of religion and strife I learned from being in church. If I can't mess up God's deal, then those who have bullied me didn't either. This gave me freedom to live, forgive, yield to Holy Spirit and enter into His rest. I'm still practicing.

  6. 6 serenawoods said at 1:37 pm on December 2nd, 2011:

    I love that, Dawn. It's perfect. Even those who have made mistakes handling others need to know that they haven't ruined everything. Grace for the bully, too. 🙂

  7. 7 Ann said at 4:43 pm on December 3rd, 2011:

    Thank you so much for this article. It is an encouragement that sends me to God.

  8. 8 Lily said at 5:06 pm on December 3rd, 2011:

    I love this. It's eye opening. Thank you!

  9. 9 Tawni said at 3:22 pm on December 6th, 2011:

    Thank you. I was just writing my story and recanting the feeling of condemnation and belittlement and how I was thrown to the curb by my church friends. When you are in sin, you can't see clearly. That is the time to come alongside someone, help them up and quoting you Serena, "help those who fall on your path."

  10. 10 pablo said at 4:31 pm on December 18th, 2011:

    Isn't this what the 3rd commandment was all about? Using God's name for your own vanity, ego, gain. Claiming you are doing it for good, when in reality it is all about your interests or viewpoint.

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