Friday, August 07, 2015

On Spiritual Abuse

I haven't personally been in a spiritually abusive environment, or at least not experienced one as such, but I do talk to a lot of people about their experiences with church and churches, good and bad. There's a somewhat serious/not-serious term: "Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome". There was a resolution about spiritual abuse at the All-American Council this year that was approved by the Synod. It's short, but reading it definitely helped me to make sense of a lot of the bad experiences people had told me about. Take a look at it!

But what strikes me is that there seems to be an entire movement, at least on the internet, which seems bent on glorifying some of the bad behaviors outlined in the document and presenting them as the Tradition (Canonical). Particularly the rigidity and legalism and the aspects of shaming people who don't follow all the unwritten rules. Those people are, of course, mostly laity, so it's not such a big deal, but it is still a problem.


Anonymous said...

Counterpoint: the mainline denominations are someplace between tacit and open apostasy, and many of their clergy are atheists, pantheists or skeptics behind closed doors. In an attempt to escape a similar fate, many "religious conservatives" are becoming rigid, doctrinaire, judgmental, etc., and that does, as you point out, tend to enable spiritual abuse. But such abuse isn't taking place in a vacuum; its context is the collapse of Christendom and the wide if uninspiring mainline Christian consensus.

Of course, none of this is to justify spiritual abuse. But on the other hand, the linked piece does not address, e.g., the "spiritual abuse" of worldliness generally, like laxity in church attendance, comfort in spiritually unfruitful endeavors and entertainments, etc., that is so widespread as to be the rule, not the exception, both in American Orthodoxy and in modern life generally. As such, it seems dangerously slanted and a classic mote-beam presentation.

Mr. G. Z. T. said...

Most of the accounts I have heard of spiritual abuse were theologically conservative believers being beaten up by theologically conservative priests. After all, they feel the need to stick it out and they are the people at hand. I suppose there is a problem that, if guidelines are put in place, it could be a venue for "theological liberal" parishioners to complain about Orthodox priests who are just doing their job, which is certainly a nuisance.

Anonymous said...

>> Most of the accounts I have heard of spiritual abuse were theologically conservative believers being beaten up by theologically conservative priests.

Right, I agree. Obviously both Orthodoxy and American Evangelicalism (to name two) have their own indigenous rigorist tendencies that can lead to the kind of spiritual abuse described in your link. It's very good to have mechanisms in place to deal with this and the linked resolution is a small step in the right direction ("small" because it's hard to imagine that it will have much impact at present.) And people are hardly going to suffer from inappropriate spiritual disciplines, misguided ascetic practices or cults of personality at the hands of excessively liberal clergy, because liberal spiritual abuses produce different harms. But that's not to say they produce no harms at all.

The resolution conceives of spiritual abuse solely in "conservative" terms and as such fails to account for (1) "liberal" spiritual abuse and (2) the clientele for rigorism and conservatism created by abusive liberalism. Many converts (like me) came from Protestant denominations where (1) and (2) were big deals, and in my view, a major factor contributing to the success of rigorist Evangelicals today is the laxity and apostasy of liberal Protestants. If your minister told you at 14 that he didn't believe in the existence of a historical Jesus, it's easy to go overboard in conservatism as an adult out of the best of motives.

Why am I even talking about Protestants? Well, your recent post mentioning Fr. Rose and YEC justifies it, for one thing. Bookish ex-Protestant nerds are a huge factor in American Orthodoxy, and if they're fleeing liberal spiritual abuse, they're easy marks for Orthodox rigorist spiritual abusers -- but absent the first, they would have little attraction to the second. The emotional reasoning underlying an American with a graduate degree signing up for Orthodox YEC is completely unintelligible except as a reaction to the excesses and abuses of theological and ecclesiological liberalism.

I want to reiterate that I'm not seeking some kind of meretricious equivalence here. E.g., the disturbing stuff alleged to have happened in some Alaska monasteries is, if it happened, 100% on the conservatives and traditionalists. It is rarely the theological liberals who are abusing their positions of power in that fashion. But then, the marks of sloth and cowardice are different from the marks of lust and hunger for power. Sadly, there is a morbid spectrum of sin out there.

Mr. G. Z. T. said...

I think those are some good points, though I don't think that what you are describing on the left is spiritual abuse so much as theological malpractice. Spiritual abuse as such can definitely happen among liberal denominations - it just loses or has a different "legalism/rigidity" about it. But I definitely agree that the laxity and apostasy of liberal Protestants has caused a boomerang effect as it were.