Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An Attitude Adjustment

When I was in Bible college I heard students talk about coming up with “spiritual gems” to discuss in their class. The professor made that a regular part of her class. It was a practical way of getting students to focus on wisdom and understanding that they would have to draw on when they were in day-to-day ministry later in life. In the mid-1990’s I read Randall Arthur’s book Wisdom Hunter and I found a treasure trove of insights into the dark side of Christianity, legalism and spiritual abuse, the opposite of grace.

Randall Arthur (his real name is Randy Dodd) was sent as a missionary to Norway by a legalistic mission agency. He said his attitude when he arrived was that he and his wife were probably the only Bible believing witness in the whole country. Thirteen years later he returned home a very changed man. He had found Christianity alive and gracious in Norway. His book is fiction but the lessons learned by the leading character, Jason Faircloth, are very real. Randy has written two other books. His second book, Jordan’s Crossing, focuses on the problems with liberal Christianity. His third book, Betrayal, returns to the legalism and abuse theme. I have strongly recommended Randy’s books for people who are exiting legalistic and abusive religion because of their teaching and therapy value.

In all high control religious groups the authority of the leader is emphasized. It is the first characteristic of any high control system. This authority is not the moral authority exemplified by Jesus but is that of controlling authority. To disagree with, or worse, confront such 'authority' is to bring down wrath upon oneself. This is not the kind of spiritual authority described in the New Testament.

In the telling of Jason Faircloth’s story you learn important and practical lessons in wisdom. Wisdom is what Jason is hunting for as a way to make sense of his terrible experiences. His first lesson is that of a Student Attitude vs. Authoritarian Attitude.

He says, “All my Christian life I was taught both directly and indirectly, both professionally and nonprofessionally, that a preacher should be an authority, and that he should clearly, and forcefully if necessary, display the attitude of an authority. ‘No one’, I was told, ‘should ever develop the idea that the preacher is weak or doesn’t know the answers’.

“After having succumbed to that philosophy and being driven by it for fifteen years, I am now convinced that there are few things more counterproductive, self-defeating, and utterly destructive than a mortal preacher with an authoritarian attitude.”

“I realize now that my attitude was the cause of countless and uncalled-for offenses. The number of people who left my ministry because of it was almost equal to the number of people who joined it for other reasons. For the first time I now understand that those who could not tolerate my attitude, and thus decided to leave, were people who had more potential for dynamic Christian growth than those who stayed. The ones who stayed were the simple-minded ‘yes’ people. The ones who left were the ‘thinkers’, the people whose active, creative, and hungry minds were being suffocated by my style of leadership.”

“Never again will I be characterized as one who has an authoritarian attitude. For as long as need be, I will purposely work at suppressing that kind of flagrant attitude and will work at cultivating a student attitude in its place.”

“It’s now clear that I actually know very little. Therefore I’ve resolved to open my mind and let the world be my classroom. So that I don’t swing to the other extreme and become a philosophical anarchist, I’ll let the Bible, objectively interpreted, be the filter that governs what I soak up in my quest for true wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and insight.”

“Though I am no longer in the ministry, and have no desire to be, I am somehow convinced that God takes sides with me and is maybe even the one who helped me learn this lesson. After all, the only group of people whom Jesus could not and would not tolerate were the self-righteous and know-it-all Pharisees. Even Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, could not enlighten them and expose to them their extreme and distorted beliefs. Their authoritarian attitude prevented him from penetrating their minds with the facts. Fed up with their foolish know-it-all attitude, Jesus told them outright that they had discarded knowledge. They had locked up the room where real learning takes place, and thrown away the key. And both they and their followers were on the outside of that room. They had closed their minds to learning because they already ‘knew it all’.”

“Never again will I be pharisaical and lock myself and those I influence out of that room. From this day forward, I will have an open mind and a student attitude”
(Wisdom Hunter, pages 130 and 131).

If you have experienced the damaging effects of legalism or spiritual abuse you are probably seeking ways to understand what happened and to sort out your emotions. Seek wisdom from God. Don’t let anger turn to bitterness and cynicism. You will only injure yourself further by it. Because of your injury you may be that one lost sheep that Jesus leaves the ninety and nine to find and return to His safe fold. Think of Him as the Good Shepherd Who is looking for you. Let Him find you by seeking His wisdom as a way to understand your experience and find healing.

My Spiritual Abuse Recovery Workbook is a resource I can offer to you. If you, or someone you know, needs it send me an email (