Posts Tagged ‘churches’

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Is Shunning a Form of Emotional Abuse? by Dr. Margaret Jones

April 11, 2009

I am grateful and excited when someone recognizes that what happened to me in church was emotional abuse and doesn’t pass it off as a mere misunderstanding on my part. The blogger of A Survivor’s Thoughts on Life comprehends that although the specific form of abuse may be different, the pain and the group dynamics are not. It pleased me that sharing my story helped her put some of her own experiences into perspective. This is what I want to accomplish. I am not trying to harm those who harmed me. Not of My Making isn’t a kiss and tell book. It isn’t small minded gossip. Fr. Lance of All Saints Anglican calls it a personal documentary. It recounts some of the things that can go wrong in our church communities. My hope is that it will plant seeds of positive change that will strengthen our religious communities by encouraging congregations to establish fair and just procedures for resolving conflicts.

I also wish that people who believe I should just let it go and stop making a fuss over church infighting, would develop an understanding of emotional and relational abuse and work for change. Last March I commented on a post written by Sebastyne on her blog, My dear hard drive, who wrote, “I have always thought that calling someone names or pulling pranks on them or doing something active was not okay. However, I thought that shutting someone out, as in, not being someone’s friend was fine.” I wrote back, “We all get to choose our friends but no one should be treated as an outcast. When someone is shunned the group has gotten together and told everyone not to speak to her or invite her or include her. People who like her won’t be her friend because they fear the group will exclude them. The person being shunned hasn’t done anything wrong. She is usually just an easy target, vulnerable in some way. So yes shutting someone out is wrong. It is not loving. It says more about your prejudices than it says about the person who is being shunned.”

Most of the other women who responded didn’t see it as their responsibility to speak to or include someone they didn’t like. They said or implied it was the victim’s fault. One woman wrote “some schoolyard bullying was just enforcing social norms and values.” I wondered who made her the enforcer? Why did she get to judge another person’s behavior?

What are a person’s obligations towards others? What are you suppose to do if someone you don’t particularly care for invites you over or asks you to go out with them? Does God expect you to go? Are Christians expected to be friends with each other? If someone you don’t care for at church or elsewhere invites you out or in some other way seeks to connect with you, what are your obligations as a Christian?

Some people wanting to avoid hurting another person’s feelings handle it by saying things like, we should get together sometime but when the other person invites them they always have another obligation. They never tell the other person the truth. Once I had a client of limited intelligence who had been abandoned by her family. She desperately sought friendship from others. People appeared friendly and kind. Often they would make promises to visit and/or take her out. Then they would fail to keep those promises. My client said to me, “If they don’t want to be friends, why didn’t they just say so, then I wouldn’t waste my time and I could find someone else to be friends with.”

As I write this, I am recalling a scene from Not of My Making. Colleen, a church mate, appeared warm and sympathetic but never returned my phone calls. When I returned to Immanuel after an extended absence she said, “I’ve been concerned about how you were doing.”

I took in a deep breath, mustered my courage, then said, “If you were so concerned about me, why haven’t you called in the last two years?”

She looked confused. “Who, me?”

“Yes, you,” I replied.

“I know,” Colleen said as she cast her eyes downward.

“No one in this church cared enough about me to call,” I said as I left the church.

Later I would learn she complained to the church leadership that I wasn’t “civil”. The Bible, however, says nothing about being civil or having good manners. It doesn’t say anything about rights but rather about obligations to care for one another. St. Paul writes in Romans 12:9-10 “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”

As a Christian I wonder if I should accept all offers of friendship even if my initial impression of that person is negative. Maybe I haven’t given them a chance. If they haven’t betrayed me or hurt me in any way, then my reluctance may have more to do with me than with them. If we were truly kind and compassionate towards others this question might never come up. I have had clients who I initially disliked that as I got to know them better I came to admire and understand them. I don’t expect everyone to be my friend. But I don’t want to be excluded either.

Let me end this post with Fr. Lance’s response to my email about friendship:

It seems to me that Jesus and Paul have stated clearly the obligations we have toward one another. Ignoring those we “dislike” because they are different or “smell bad” can’t be justified by these passages. Instead, as they are among the least, Jesus has said this is where he is present the most.

As to whom will be our friends, that is something quite different. We are to be kindly affectionate toward each other, and we are to regard others as better than ourselves. This describes an attitude and a behavioral approach we take when we walk out the front door. Friends are those we invite into our homes and this is OK so long as we understand our egos and self-wills do not cause us to think more highly of ourselves. In other words, we have no permission to become a snobby clique, looking down our noses at those who are not part of our inner circle.

Thank you for taking your time to read this post. I will be available on Monday, April 13th, to take your comments and questions.

Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches is available from www.pluckpress.com and Amazon.com.

May God’s peace be with you.

Margaret W. Jones, Ph.D.

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