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I am not the exception: Abusive behavior in the church

I am not the exception: Abusive behavior in the church

Laurie Brock, who blogs at Dirty Sexy Ministry, has written a heartfelt essay that was occasioned by the current controversy at General Seminary, but that speaks to the wider issue of why abuse is so widely tolerated in our church.


In “I am not the exception”, she writes:

I am not the exception to being offended when a male superior discussed my breasts or my vagina and, when expressing my offense, being told I was “too sensitive.”

I am not the exception to being encapsulated in an atmosphere where sexual orientation, ethnicity, income level, or any other differentiating facet was fodder for jokes, and any conversation as to why those words or phrases may be offensive was disregarded.

I am not the exception for expressing my discomfort and distress to those in authority, only to have my concerns be ignored, dismissed, excused, or turned back on me.

And

I am tired of seeing those in power at best ignore and at worst sanction behavior that would be grounds for immediate termination or at least administrative leave in most secular companies. I am tired of hearing accounts of quality clergy leaving ordained ministry and laity leaving their ministries and churches because they have been bruised and battered by this behavior. ….

We are not a safe place because those in authority, those in power, those who are charged with the well-being, safety, and pastoral care of the Church, often do nothing. Those with the responsibility to care for that particular part of the Body of Christ, whether it be a seminary, a parish, a diocese, or whatever form of community in which we’ve gathered, are either are too scared, too unaware of the message their inaction sends, or even maybe too much in the power club to take seriously allegations and to hold accountable those whose words and actions have deeply wounded others.

We are not a safe place because the line between an effective leader who inspires and a person who demeans and threatens those who disagree with him/her seems invisible to many in the Church.

This eloquent cry from the heart is well worth reading in its entirety. Do you think the church is more tolerant of abusive behavior than other institutions? If so, why?

My own sense is that the church is more tolerant and the reason is because we are conflict avoidant and tend to defer to authority. What do you think?

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re the comment by John B. Chilton, i.e., people in authority being the victims, as distinct from the perpetrators, of abuse. Interesting distinction. However, notice Laurie Brock's point in her blog article,

"We are not a safe place because those in authority, those in power, those who are charged with the well-being, safety, and pastoral care of the Church, often do nothing."

The turn of phrase, those in authority those in power, is an important nuance. A person may be in a position of authority without having the power to make change. They may have credentialed or moral authority without necessarily having "power". In some cases a person in authority may have power over their own professional conduct but not over the institutional context in which they exercise authority.

Which bring me to the first comment posted by Beverly Van Horne, "I think the Church likes to talk about justice, but the doing of it..." This is something that bothers me increasingly about the church as a social justice advocate. We preach to others but can't save ourselves from complicity with oppression in and by the church.

Anyway, hope I've got all the names right this time.

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Millie Ericson
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Millie Ericson

Right on, Laurie!

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

@ Jim Naughton, re last line yours not Van Horne's, thanks for the clarification. My point on the last two lines still stands, perhaps you could post this one with the corrected attribution and take down the previous one.

Engaging article by Beverly an Horne. I note the last comment by Jim Naughton,"My own sense is that the church is more tolerant and the reason is because we are conflict avoidant and tend to defer to authority. What do you think?".

I think she is right. Among the several features that differentiate the Jesus of the Gospels from organized Christianity is the latter's ingrained preference for conflict avoidance over just outcomes. Its almost a reflex action for institutional authorities. The caveat is that anyone willing to stare down conflict, you've got to know that the odds are the "authorities" will eat you alive, with saccharine rhetoric as side dish.

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John B. Chilton
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John B. Chilton

Let's remember that the church is riddled with abusive behavior and that very often it's those in positions of authority are the ones being abused. A frequent topic in the blog is clergy abused by parishioners.

The big question, as Laurie says, is why does the church tolerate abuse? Why does it tolerate in more so (in my perception) than secular institutions?

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Jim Naughton
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Jim Naughton

Rod, that's actually me talking in the last lines. Laurie wrote all of the indented copy. I wrote the intro and conclusion.

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