Intervening in Love

06 Jan

Yesterday at, in a wonderful post entitled, How To Discover Counterfeit Christianity? some comments were cited from a blog called In Defense of the Gospel. The comments pertained to a young man who is questioning his beliefs and has been visiting De-Conversion to acquire some food for thought. Lou Martuneac, the author of In Defense of the Gospel, exemplifies a fundamentalist Baptist mindset. In his post of January 5 he draws his readers’ attention to the young man’s questioning of faith and he calls for the young man’s religious employer to intervene.

LM’s post is a prime example of spiritual abuse. Such abuses take place in various ways within fundamentalism and a good portion of evangelicalism. Rather than communicating quietly to the Rev Wilkins, LM publicly spotlights the man’s alleged sin of independent thinking and questioning and calls for his readership to pray and intercede for the young man, whom he identifies by name. Such open outing and spotlighting are tools of the spiritual abuse process. In addition to being used to humiliate the person being highlighted, they are also used to discourage others from coming anywhere close to engaging in similar behavior. Further, those who may agree somewhat with the person being highlighted are implicitly discouraged from speaking out in defense without putting their good names and reputations on the line.

Similar “interventions in Christian love” take place in fundamentalist and evangelical congregations and colleges across the country. Students and congregants who have alleged complaints frequently “intervene in love.” I am not in position to question the motives of particular practitioners, but their actions certainly create pain and heartache. Often, the complainants have shared “confidentially” their concerns with two or three others under the guise of seeking their prayer support before approaching the person. It is not uncommon for those two or three individuals to then share “confidentially” with an additional one or two people.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for a person or two to ask at a prayer meeting for prayer for the individual in question. Even when few details are given, enough information is hinted at to give rumor mongers fodder for a wide range of speculation. Sometimes prayer is sought by outlining the situation of an unnamed “a friend.” Therefore, before the “intervention in Christian love” actually occurs, rumors frequently have been quietly whispered.

If the person being confronted does not immediately “repent of his or her sin,” the interventionist often takes the news of the alleged sin to a wider circle. There are pastors and church leaders who will openly do on a Sunday morning what LM has done on his blog.

The justification for the practice is Jesus’ instruction that, if a brother or sister offends you, go to the person quietly to talk about it. If the matter is not settled at that point, then one is to go to a spiritual leader, who will then meet with the complainant and the alleged offender. The third person is intended to bring balance. As it is possible that the complaint may be unjustified, the third party is in a position to listen to both side before speaking on the matter. The third person is to keep in mind that it is possible that one or both parties, or even neither party, may be in the wrong.

Those who point to Jesus’ teaching to justify their actions have themselves disregarded the process. They have become the complainant, judge and executioner all in one. These interventions have thereby become part of a control system, a means to force a person, sometimes subtly and sometimes strongly, to conform and “repent.”

A faculty member at a Christian college once noted that one of the worst phrases on campus that any student can hear are, “in the love of Christ I need to talk to you.” I would extend it further, it is a phrase that it is one of the worse phrases in the Church and more often than not signifies that the person is being abused.

–the deacon


Posted by on January 6, 2008 in religion, spiritual abuse


17 responses to “Intervening in Love

  1. The Exterminator

    January 6, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    I’m not sure I get your point. You seem to be saying that new doubters should be left alone to explore their questions themselves or by seeking out whatever advice they choose.

    That would be great if religions encouraged freedom of thought. But they don’t. As you point out, they thrive on control. So the way the Christians treated the young man seems perfectly reasonable within their mindset.

    And, really, in the long run, maybe those kinds of passive-aggressive attacks from theists aren’t so bad for the new skeptic. It takes quite a bit of strength to dismiss what one has believed for years. Sometimes, in extreme cases, it requires an ongoing re-examination of everything one once held dear. A recent de-convert, or someone still going through the process, will have to learn how to put up with a lot of sniping from those who used to “love” him or her. I think it’s a mental annealing process. To paraphrase Nietzsche: “That which doesn’t kill my mind, makes it stronger.”

    This is all easy for me to say, because I’ve always been an atheist. But I think that anyone who walks off the beaten path — or, as your wife would say, climbs out of the box — has to be prepared for others who want to shove him or her back “into place.”

  2. the deacon

    January 6, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Exterminator …. The intervention is on a host of issues, not just in the area of doubting, or leaving the faith. More often than not the interventions issues have little to do with expressing doubt or questions of a theological point.

    The presenting issues are normally conduct based. The issue could be regarding a dress a young lady or man wore to church or school. My grandfather noted that shortly after radios came into existence that he was lambasted for purchasing a godless radio. It has taken place over going to a movie theatre, having a glass of wine at a restaurant, going to a beach on a summer Sunday morning rather than going to church, dating someone outside the church, going to a school dance or the theater, books being read, music, etc.

    The vast majority of these interventions are not leadership initiated. While the meeting may be done in private, they are far from quiet. Many know about the meeting beforehand and a number of those who are praying for the person will receive a detailed report after.

    While many are done by friends and family, a good number are done by individuals who have ongoing issues with the person they are going to address. Over incorrect perceptions and falsehoods I have known of reputations of individuals are sometime trashed and tarnished in the name of spiritual correction.

    Those within the Church as well as those outside the Church need to identify the process for what it is, spiritual abuse.

  3. Ebonmuse

    January 6, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    I found a story on Debunking Christianity that had a very similar theme:

    This young man, a former seminarian and student of William Dembski, was treated with shocking hostility the moment he announced his deconversion. One of his pastors immediately accused him of being on drugs, questioned his sincerity at every turn, and when he wouldn’t give in, that pastor announced he was assembling the congregation to “hand you over to Satan for the destruction of your flesh.” The e-mail openly threatened him with “demonic torment” if he wouldn’t return to the fold.

    It’s sick to think about the power that these religious leaders imagine they wield over the eternal fates of their followers. No doubt the ceaseless bullying and hostility directed at those who walk away cuts down on the number of outspoken atheists. For every one who has the courage to shake off these imaginary threats, there must be many more who sympathize with us but are too frightened of the repercussions to declare their nonbelief.

  4. plonkee @ the religious atheist

    January 7, 2008 at 7:57 am

    There’s such an element of groupthink and conformity in closed religious circles that this sort of thing is inevitable. It seems to me that if everyone thinks the same way, then they will tend to eat their young.

  5. PhillyChief

    January 7, 2008 at 10:00 am

    My first reaction is like Ex’s. This is like pointing out that vultures eat carrion or plants don’t grow without sunlight. It’s common knowledge. But then I remembered that there are people, lots of people, who would deny such a thing. Religion is good, questioning it is bad, and leaving it is the worst which must be stopped at all costs. So with that in mind, yes, this sort of thing must be said and said and said again. There’s the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Much like the earlier story from last month of the christers praying for that girl to get well and when it didn’t work they told her it was her fault for having a secret sin or poor faith, it’s very possible that these people honestly believe their abusive behavior is a good thing.

    Maybe, just maybe, if this sort of thing can be framed in the right light and presented to them properly they may see their actions for what they are, abuse. Personally, I doubt it, but still the other purpose such a post like this serves is for the victims. I’m sure leaving that cult world must be tough and this abusive pressure probably is effective at keeping cult members in the fold. At least for those people in crisis, reading posts like this may help them see through such abuse for what it is and strengthen their resolve, empowering them to resist and break away.

    Ex and I never drank the kool-aid, so we can never fully know what it’s like for people to walk away from the punch bowl. ;)

  6. Lifeguard

    January 7, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Philly wrote: “Ex and I never drank the kool-aid, so we can never fully know what it’s like for people to walk away from the punch bowl.”

    As one who drank the Kool-Aid and walked away, I think it would be pretty hard to understand unless you did it yourself, but I think anybody who has had a major split with someone or a group they perceived as a real “home” would probably understand.

    The really sick thing about the kind of coercion that takes place is that I think it’s a function of the whole “religion meme.” It’s how the thought system keeps itself in place, and it requires a radical restructuring of how you think to fully step outside of it. And once you speak out, it’s as if everyone else, especially “authorities,” start treating you as if something is wrong with you, or like you’re ill. it’s like social death in some primitive tribe, and I would imagine it’s even more dramatic in more homogenous communities.

    By the same token, it can also be a tremendous relief once you realize that you no longer believe and that it’s completely okay. After that it all just seems bizarre to you.

  7. roopster

    January 8, 2008 at 12:18 am

    Furthermore, it is not uncommon for a person or two to ask at a prayer meeting for prayer for the individual in question. Even when few details are given, enough information is hinted at to give rumor mongers fodder for a wide range of speculation.

    This is what how my ex-pastor and his wife would gossip. They would ask for prayer for someone who was (and they’d give details). It really bothered me especially when I was that someone :)

  8. roopster

    January 8, 2008 at 12:22 am

    BTW, on the topic of spiritual abuse, check out this great article written by a friend of mine that I put up on one of my sites from back in 2000.


  9. roopster

    January 8, 2008 at 12:23 am

    … and this book review:

  10. the deacon

    January 8, 2008 at 6:11 am

    roopster… thank you for the interesting comment. Codependency and the church as a dysfunctional family are concepts for further thought. Are they created by the religious systems by their very nature or do people bring their codependence trend to a particular belief system, a set of beliefs that by its structure enables it to create an abusive process? When I consider fundamentalist and evangelical constructs I see evidence of the latter than the latter since such spiritual abuse seems to be far less common in mainstream churches. The fundie and holy roller communities have by their nature a strong stress upon conformity.

  11. bullet

    January 8, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    I got this from the comments section over at the article on In Defense of the Gospel:

    “Joe said…
    This is a most interesting post. It illustrates why Christians should limit their association with those who do not attend their church or like minded churches. Even those who are instructed in theology can be easily deceived and led astray by the thoughts and lives of those who are not committed Christians. We need to continue to teach and stress with our people that when they think that something seems to conflict with what they have been taught that they need to ignore it. We need to hear more and more that the world is awash in dangerous teachings that can appear to be so logical and seem to be so right. Rather than trusting their misguided thinking, those who have moments of doubt should affirm their faith and hold firm to their trust is what they have been taught by their pastors.

    1/05/2008 7:18 PM”

    These are scary, scary people.

  12. the chaplain

    January 8, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for your responses.

    Exterminator, I hope some of the subsequent comments, as well as Phillychief’s recent post have given you some additional insight into how pervasive these spiritual manipulations are in matters large and small, and why it’s important for de-converts and doubters to understand how religion works to keep people in its grip.

    Ebonmuse, great link. It fits perfectly with this post. Thanks.

    Roopster, thanks for a couple of great links. You’re right on about “pastoral gossip.” Christians frequently gossip under the guise of expressing prayer concerns. Lou Martuneac’s post at In Defense of the Gospel cloaks itself as the concern of a Christian brother while not only letting all the laundry hang out in plain sight, but also possibly endangering Jeremy’s employment, which is no small matter.

    Bullet, thanks for highlighting that comment from Lou’s blog. It illustrates perfectly some claims that I’ve made about fundogelical thinking in posts throughout this blog, perhaps most notably, this one. All of the comments on Lou’s post make some interesting reading.

    For example, check out #7: Lou, the blog author who sees nothing wrong with his own behavior is incensed – incensed, I tell you – that one of Jeremy’s “new friends” at de-conversion uses “the four letter “F” word expletive three times” in a post.

    The word is “fuck,” Lou. F-U-C-K, fuck. I’m glad your lips are pure. I’ll refrain from making any judgments about the state of your heart. I’m content to leave those in the hands of your not real god, as well as your very real friends and acquaintances.

  13. the deacon

    January 8, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    Last night and today I reading some of LM’s other postings related to the person’s he names in his blog, Willow Creek Community Church as well as his recent comment indicates that LM is grinding a broader axe. LM is concerned about Jeremy becoming part of the “Emergent Church” such as Willow Creek. Willow Creek and the Emergent Church is an evangelical movement that is seeking to speak to contemporary issues in a modern framework. LM sees these Emergent Church as being apostate, both in their worship style and thinking.

    Bullet… that which you quote is stunning. It illustrates that many who hold religious belief call for the mind to be turned off. Believers are encouraged to blindly follow even when what is being fed does not make sense.

  14. Billy

    January 9, 2008 at 8:44 am

    This post brought up a rather unpleasant memory from my high-school-hood. My best friend was the son of a horse farmer / technician for NOAH. The family was very conservative religiously, very liberal politically and socially (I guess this was still okay during the 1980s). Or so I thought. His little sister became a fan of Michael Jackson (the Thiller version, not the whatever the heck it is today version).

    Her parents freaked. Her church freaked. I happened by one Monday morning to pick up my friend for calculus (it was at 8:00am, an hour before school actually started). I walked into the kitchen (this was normal (this is the family I learned the, “If you’ve been here three times, you’re no longer company, you’re family) and I even had a key to the house). The kitchen was full of adults sitting in a circle with the poor 13-year-old girl in the center. One man (the minister, I guess (I never visited his church, so I can’t be sure)) was standing in front of her screaming for the devil to get out. Next to her was a pile of all of her books, records, cassette tapes, underwear, bras, shirts and skirts. She was wearing just a pair of loose white panties and a t-shirt and was covered in sweat.

    My friend caught me and we left. I asked, “What the heck (not my exact words) was that all about?” He explained that the church had intervened to save her from the eternal sin of free-thought. They (the preacher and the church members) had gone through every single book, approving only about one in ten. They had done the same with her records and tapes. They had forced her to try on every set of clothing she had, as well as every set of undergarments to determine which ones were acceptable (the ones on the floor next to her were the devil wear) and had photographed the ones considered unacceptable (shudder). They had started at noon the previous day and gone in shifts.

    I asked him how could he stand by while this happened? His response? “If I questioned what they were doing to her, I would have been next. Can you imagine what they would do with Dungeons & Dragons, Cthulhu books, Playboy, Devo and Pink Floyd? Do you think I’m f—ing nuts?”

    In retrospect, no. But you’re parents and the members of the church sure are.

    Sorry for the long post. Occupational hazard.

  15. the chaplain

    January 9, 2008 at 11:02 am

    What a horrible story. It’s inconceivable that this sort of stuff still goes on.

  16. Billy

    January 9, 2008 at 11:18 am

    chaplain: I don’t know if it still does, this was in 1984 down in western Maryland. I don’t KNOW that it still goes on, but I surely suspect it does.

  17. Billy

    January 9, 2008 at 11:54 am

    I just reread my post. I actually make it sound not quite as bad as it was. When they photographed the ‘innapropriate’ clothing and undergarments, she was in them (shudder even more). Sorry (on many levels).


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