Friday, May 22, 2015

Dealing with the Duggars

by: Katie

By now, most people have probably heard the news that broke earlier this week regarding the allegations against Josh Duggar for molesting 4 of his younger sisters along with a family friend when he was a young teenager.  If you haven't caught this story yet you can catch up here.

I'm not here to attack the Duggars.  I find it at least slightly encouraging that it appears they tried to do the right thing by reporting it to their church leadership and by later reporting it to a family friend who was a state trooper.  The fact that their family friend took no legal action and later turned out to be hooked on pornography which sent him to prison doesn't speak well for the outcome of that situation, but it also doesn't necessarily speak to evil intentions on their part either.

As a parent, it would be incredibly difficult to hear from your daughters that their older brother had preyed on their sexual innocence while they slept or while he read to them.  I cannot imagine the pain or confusion that specific situation would cause.  I won't pretend to know how they felt in that scenario.  Giving them the benefit of the doubt, let's say they tried to be as transparent about it as they could and still protect their family.  However, even with all of those disclaimers, that still leaves us with quite a few things left largely unsaid by the Christian majority of the population of the country.  More must be said, if only because of the very public nature with which they have decided to run their family and its overarching belief structure.  Let's begin.

Abuse is never simply a "mistake"

One of the most common responses I'm seeing pop up online from Duggar supporters in the conservative Christian camp, and even from those who would land squarely in the "I wouldn't agree with how they run their family, but..." camp is something along these lines: 

Teenagers make mistakes.  I sure wouldn't want people to dredge up stuff from when I was a teenager and hold it against me.  Know what I'm saying?  

That sounds on the surface like a fair-minded and reasonable response, but let's put it in perspective.  This is not a broken window or a fender bender we're discussing.  This is devastating, life-altering abuse of young, vulnerable girls who were under the care and protection of these same parents who from all appearances put the most priority into salvaging the life of their son, rather than focusing on protecting their other children.  This is a pattern of conscious choices made by a young man old enough that he should know not to be touching his younger siblings in their private areas.  If he did not know that was wrong, then he should have.  Either way, that is a major failure.
Abuse is never a mistake.   
It is a conscious choice that steals the power to choose from the victims 
and leaves them with the consequences of the perpetrator's sin for years to come.
These sisters and this family friend will have to deal with the fallout from Josh's decisions for the rest of their lives.  It is admirable that he apologized rather than denying it, but the fact that he decided to change rather than risk letting it "ruin the rest of his life" without necessarily connecting the fact that he had already done major damage to at least 5 other lives speaks to the perspective he took coming out of this tragedy.

I do not say this to vilify or crucify Josh Duggar, but I think it does great disservice to abuse victims when abuse is referred to as "mistakes" specifically as "teenage mistakes" as his wife called it.  Forgetting to bring your homework to school is a mistake.  Molesting your sleeping sisters multiple times is NOT a mistake.  Calling it that is dishonest and cheapens the matter.

 Excessive Focus on Externals

Anyone who follows the Duggar saga (when they're not knee-deep in a nationwide scandal) is aware that the Duggars focus heavily on external rules and strict dress codes.  They don't have a television set, their girls have strict guidelines for what they're allowed to wear, they restrict hand-holding to after engagement, kissing starts at the wedding, etc.  It is very common to hear people all over the country commending them for providing "wholesome" entertainment at a time when there's practically nothing else good to watch on television.  While it might be tempting to dream about a Christianity that cordons itself off from the world (and even the outside church) through homeschooling, extremely filtered internet, special clothing, special courtship guidelines, and friendships that are carefully vetted, I have a hard time choosing the word "wholesome" to describe that.  I think it needs to be said--frumpy does not equal wholesome.  Extreme separation from everything and everyone you disagree with, does not make you wholesome.  Obviously, there was more going on behind the scenes with Josh and his sisters that was not wholesome, and the dress code, the courtship rules, the buddy system--none of that kept sin from entering the picture.  Sin is possible wherever people are.

You may object and say that nobody's perfect, but my point is not looking for perfection.  Looking objectively at the vast amount of rules and restrictions the Duggars have placed on their family, it would make sense to expect those rules to pay off with more protection from "temptation" or at the very least to make their children safer, but it hasn't.  Sexual abuse can happen anywhere to anyone, because sin comes from the heart, not from wearing the wrong clothing.  
When we put our trust in our homemade rules to protect us from sinning, 
we deny our desperate need for grace.   
If God's divinely-inspired Law could not protect us from our own sin, 
how can our own restrictions do what His Law could not?  
 The Duggars promote a Gospel of dressing in such a way that men will not lust after you.  But men regularly lust after ugly women wearing burqas in foreign lands.  Men can still choose to lust.  They emphasize the need to get all the externals right; they promote courting instead of dating in order to keep parents squarely involved in the marriage process.  They boast of their son "saving his first kiss for his wedding day" when they know what he has done behind closed doors to his own sisters.  Their standards did not protect their family from abuse.  Jesus said that it is not what enters into a man's mouth that defiles him, but what goes out of it.  In other words, you are not defiled by eating something unclean.  You are defiled because your heart is inclined to be defiled already.  Sin is a heart issue that will never be solved through external standards.  Relying on externals to protect your family from sins that stem in the heart is like expecting to pass a class simply because you bought the textbook.  Externals are not the point, and they will not compensate for lacking in other areas.

Christian Response to the Media's "Attack"

A final thought I would like to address regarding the Duggar situation is how we, as the general Christian population, respond to it.  I've seen a lot of comments the last day or so that generally fell into the range of "We support you guys, such a great family, it's a shame the left-wing media and Gay activists are trying to take you down. Don't let them win!  Satan always attacks what God wants!"  

To me, this is by far the most significant topic to address, but I will attempt to remain civil in my explanation.  It bothers me greatly that when Christians learn of sexual abuse coming out in groups or people they admire and respect, their gut response seems to generally be to circle the wagons and assume it's an attack of Satan on great people.  The general public calling for accountability in areas of child abuse and sexual abuse--that's NOT AN ATTACK OF SATAN.  That's called accountability, but it's something that Independent Baptist don't tend to appreciate very much.  Here's the thing, people have acted like this is a private family matter and a private family and they are being dragged through the front pages with scandal as an attack.  

This is not a private family.  This is a family that has made a fortune out of promoting itself as "The Christian Kardashians" for a good decade or more on national TV.  They have written books, appeared on numerous talk shows, and promoted their family franchise shamelessly all while knowing they had secrets lurking in the background.  I am not arguing that you have to be perfect to appear on television or to declare the truth in public, but when you set your family up as a public example and "family ministry" to the world showing them what followers of Jesus should look like, you should not do that if you are having trouble keeping your oldest son from molesting his sisters.  Rather than assume that unbelievers are always at fault and minimizing the tragic circumstances he put his family in, it would be great if Christians would actually hold each other accountable for once. 

If you are going to make a huge profit and franchise out of labeling yourself a Jesus follower, you should be living it out.  If your family is struggling in those areas, you should not be flaunting them as an example of holiness and purity.  If your daughters have been molested, you should be giving them the privacy and space to heal rather than parading them on TV.  

It is hypocritical to expect the world to believe what you say about Jesus when your own way of life has proven that your rules don't fix sin.  It doesn't take a religious person to notice the family full of people calling gay and transgender people "child predators" are actually harboring a genuine "child predator" themselves.

It is time for Christianity to stop covering for each other and to start lovingly and biblically holding each other accountable.  Rather than assuming "it could never happen here" we should be willing to admit it could happen anywhere.  Rather than assuming our strict moral code will protect us, we should be crying out for God's grace and owning up to failure when it happens (not years later when we're caught).  Rather than making ourselves the poster children for righteousness, we should be thanking Christ for covering us with His righteousness.  

I am hopeful that Josh Duggar and his family can find healing and learn a valuable lesson from this whole debacle, but I am more hopeful that conservative Christianity will learn to take sexual abuse seriously and perhaps take its self-inflicted arbitrary rules somewhat less so.  Jesus did not die to give us a dress code.  He died to give us grace.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Responding to Sexual Abuse Within the Church

by: Katie

BJU Student Chapel - captured from their public Facebook page

There is an elephant in the room of collective Christianity that must be addressed once abuse has been brought up as a topic.  The primary offender in the spotlight of recent years is the Roman Catholic church and their handling (mishandling of historic proportions) of the seeming epidemic of sexually abusive priest scandals that seemed to crop up without any warning a few years back.  

What has perhaps been less televised and received less worldwide attention overall, but is nearly as widespread in its effects and damage to the global church (this time in the Protestant realm) has been the apparent apathetic and many times aggressively antagonistic response of the church to abuse victims when they come forward with their stories.  That is what I'd like to focus on in this article.  As such, this is where we'll begin.

Two Major Media Events

The majority of media attention devoted to Protestant "scandals" in recent years has been devoted to the Tina Anderson story (which can be seen on YouTube here) brought to ABC's 20/20  by Jocelyn Zichterman's anti-abuse campaign, and the G.R.A.C.E. report released about Bob Jones University revealing that their counseling guru Jim Berg, not only had little to no actual training in counseling, but also had no idea what the legal mandates were regarding reporting child abuse, among other glaring inadequacies in his counseling methods.  Unfortunately that report appears to no longer be available online, though it was only released publicly in December 2014.  

The combination of these two situations would understandably make the outside world scratch their heads a bit about this previously ignored group known as "Independent Fundamental Baptists."  A lot of people have begun questioning why groups such as these and churches connected with them and their core teachings are consistently choosing to side with abusers and leaving the victims to fend for themselves, or worse, as in the case of Tina Anderson, they are actually re-victimizing those who have already suffered at the hands of predators and reinforcing the idea that God will judge them for having been abused.  If this sounds far-fetched, you should really watch the Tina Anderson story on 20/20 or read Jocelyn Zichterman's book entitled I Fired God.  Among the countless stories of horrible abuse suffered inside the camp of fundamentalist Christianity, these are some of the most high profile in recent days.

Why Rehash Old News?

So, with all the ink that has been spilled in the past few years over these two specific stories, why should we bother to re-examine these events?  It would be impossible to argue that no one is covering them, because even the NY Times found time to give some attention to the BJU Report, and getting an hour long special on ABC's 20/20 Investigates doesn't exactly sound like no coverage for Tina Anderson either.  Then why?  The reasoning is simple.  People have spoken out on this until they are blue in the face, and yet, little to no change has been forthcoming from within.  Chuck Phelps has apologized for nothing; Matt Olson has said nothing public to make amends for his role in that tragic story.  The church where Tina was forced to stand up and confess for sexual immorality after she became pregnant from her rape by a deacon has never made any type of public statement of regret or remorse for the trauma or re-victimization they caused her.  In fact, no one has publicly apologized to Tina Anderson to the best of my knowledge.  

Bob Jones University (interestingly tied albeit indirectly to Tina Anderson's story, their own report by GRACE, and the Jocelyn Zichterman accounts, along with countless others) has never made anything more than a half-hearted attempt to save face by stumbling through public apologies more intent on maintaining their image as good Christians than actually reaching out to the survivors of their institutional malpractice.  When faced with the decision on making real change where it counted with regards to their faculty and administration and keeping things the way they had always been, they stuck with the status quo--signalling to the world and everyone watching that nothing was really going to change.

The short answer is this: while the outside world may have exhausted its keyboard trying to explain to institutions and their leadership why these types of actions are wrong and so harmful, their careful and often compassionate pleas have not been received.  The conversation has digressed into name-calling, paranoia, and further isolation into the fundamentalist bubble.  It is my hope, as a Christian with a background steeped in fundamentalism, and well acquainted with many sides of this topic, to make one more plea for repentance and humility from the fundamental church as a whole.  

I don't expect the leadership to listen, but I do hope that in so speaking without yelling or just resorting to name-calling, I can reach out to the average person in their churches and groups who may not be too far removed from compassion and grace to realize that the way we treat abuse victims in the church (and often in conservative para-church organizations) is dead wrong.  

It is not the "liberal media" attacking the name of Christ.   
We are, when we attack the abused and defend those who hurt them 
to protect our own good name and institutional well-being. 

Revictimizing the Abused

A lot of kind, compassionate Christians are currently part of churches that systematically revictimize hurting, damaged people.  This does not mean that they are purposefully trying to hurt people.  It simply means that perhaps they have not seen the situation from the other side.  They only see it from the side their leadership promotes, and as a result, they become passive abusers themselves.  So, what are some of the most common ways victims are "re-victimized" by the church once they go public with their story or even go to the leadership for help and counsel?  We talk about it a lot, but don't always discuss what it looks like.  Let's take some possible examples.

  • Women find the courage to come forward with their history of sexual abuse in a respectful way seeking help and Biblical counsel only to be accused of bringing it on themselves, or told they need to repent for "their part" in the abuse and apologize to their abusers or the church in public for being sexually immoral.
  • Victims at Christian schools or colleges come for counseling and get disciplinary action instead.  Confidentiality in counseling gets thrown out the window, along with the victim's trust.
  • Victims who are already known for feeling vulnerable and tending to blame themselves are then encouraged to look for ways to blame themselves and feel less than "pure" the rest of their lives.
  • Victims come forward about criminal activity and instead of reporting it to the police, pastors attempt to smooth it over and convince the victims to just pretend it never happened.  Crimes go unreported; offenders reoffend; victims get hurt again.  True repentance never enters the equation.
These are just the tip of the iceberg.  Nearly every victim could give a story that has its own unique details while the basic facts remain the same.  The damage was done, and rather than helping them pick up the pieces, the church came in and condemned their brokenness.  

How to Respond to Abuse Victims in the Church

So, how should churches respond when victims come forward looking for help?  Let's examine a few ways that might be helpful.

  • Listen wholeheartedly.  When victims start to talk about their experiences, one major thing they need is for someone to listen.  Of all the places where they can go for that support, the church should be the first place they can find it.  This does not include being quiet while they talk so you can think of what they did wrong and what sin they need to repent of in the situation.  It means actually listening to what they are saying and being willing to sit through the awkward and emotionally painful parts with them as they process what happened to them.  This is often much more difficult than it sounds, but well worth the investment.  As the Church, there is no excuse for us to be failing in this.
  • Don't cover up criminal activity. This should be a no-brainer, but apparently it is not.  If a minor or a woman or a man comes to you in the church with accusations of criminal activity, don't decide to make an "internal church investigation" instead of reporting it to the authorities.  The New Testament is abundantly clear that we are to submit to the authorities placed over us because God is the one who put them there.  They are God's messengers of justice, and as a church, it is ridiculous to assume that we know better than the police or prosecutors do how to handle accusations of abuse or neglect.  It should not require concrete proof to report abuse to the proper authorities.  If there is reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed (and if you're in authority over people; children especially, you should KNOW what constitutes a crime) you are obligated to contact the police.
  • Publicly Denounce Domestic Abuse/Sexual Assault.  It sends a mixed message at best to victims, when churches spend a considerable amount of time denouncing gay marriage, abortion, and all manner of other offenses they feel are deplorable, but are remarkably silent when it comes to beating your wife or molesting your child.  Domestic abuse and sexual assault are rampant in conservative churches (as well as others), but those topics are rarely, if ever, addressed in a sensitive, compassionate manner by male Christian leadership.  When church members show up at court for moral support, or a pastor shows up at a trial, 9 times out of 10 it is in support of the predator.  Where are the churches who are willing to call sexual abuse the sin that it is?  When will pastors stop telling young female rape victims they're fortunate to not live in the Old Testament times when they would have been stoned?  It has to start with us, if there is to be any change at all.  God stands firmly on the side of the oppressed and abused, not with the abuser.  He stands with the repentant, and the repentant do not cover up their sin to enable their further abuse.
  • Offer solid counseling services to victims.  This can get somewhat controversial since some churches currently offer counseling, and that is what gets them labeled as insensitive to begin with.  By this, I don't mean a young, vulnerable rape victim meets alone with a pastor who then tries to figure out which sin of hers caused the rape so she can "forgive and forget."  By counseling, I mean someone who is willing to take the time to help her feel safe enough to talk through what happened and figure out where God is through the whole thing.  The recovery process can take years, and many churches don't have the patience for deeply wounded people, but they need to start investing in it.  Anything else is bringing shame to the body of Christ.

A few responses to potential objections:

It's possible that some people reading this post will find it raises objections in their minds.  I'd like to answer, in advance, what I can see may arise as a result of this article.  If any others come to mind from reading it, please feel free to post them in the comments or email me through the authors' page, and I will gladly discuss it further.

Objection #1: My church isn't that bad.  It's possible that in reading this you're thinking, "Well, that might apply in a church full of really hurting people, but nobody in my church is like that.  We've all been here forever, and we're all on the same page.  We don't need to deal with this problem."  My answer to that would be--you'd be surprised to find how many people in the U.S. have been sexually abused at some point in their lifetime.  

While it may not have directly affected you, there is a very good chance that someone either already inside your church or who will come there in the future, has been directly affected by sexual abuse, and how you talk about it when you feel like "you're all on the same page" will go a long way towards either bridging the gap of being able to help victims, or starting the cycle of re-victimization all over again.  

Please be sensitive to the experience of others that may look the same as yours on the outside, but was horribly more traumatic and painful underneath.  You just don't know what everyone else has been through.

Objection #2: They're just being too sensitive.  If you have never been through a situation that involved abuse, it is improbable that you are in a position to make that call.  Rather than assuming you know how sensitive someone else is allowed to be about an experience you've never had, do the hard thing.  Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Objection #3: Talking About it Makes the Church Look Bad. This has been very effective at silencing and hurting broken people, but it certainly hasn't made the church look good.
What actually makes the church look bad 
is caring more about what the church looks like 
than the victims seeking refuge and solace in the name and strength of Jesus.
Objection #4: We must forgive the offenders, right? This one gets tricky, because often churches lean heavily towards the "we must forgive" philosophy when it comes to sexual offenders, but in doing so, they sometimes leave the impression that forgiveness removes legal consequences or that forgiveness means acting as if nothing ever happened.  When you have a group of people gathering regularly that involves children and vulnerable people, it is imperative that you take steps to be sure you are protecting the vulnerable.  It doesn't mean you crucify someone for their past offenses, but true repentance will not cover up sin.  True repentance does not shun honest accountability.

We could go on and on, but the conclusion of the matter is that as a church, whether conservative or liberal, we should be prioritizing the care of abuse victims, rather than feeding them to the wolves to satisfy the desires of the leaders.

UPDATE: After originally posting this article I was sent links to GRACE's page that has their final report and BJU's response to it.  For those interested in seeing either of these pages for themselves GRACE's report can be found here and BJU's response can be found here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Church Hurt and Healing

by: Emj
This post was originally published on Peri De on 27 April 2015. It is republished here with my permission. 

I spent Saturday with an interesting group of people. Diverse in age and background, all were fellow believers in Christ. But they had one thing in common.They had left the Institutional Church. Forever. Some are calling them dechurched. A recent article calls them the Dones and though they started gaining a voice in the 90’s, their message is more relevant now than ever.

They cited the following as reasons for leaving:
  • abuses of power 
  • lack of authentic relationships 
  • rote programming 
  • lack of Bible teaching 
  • manipulation used to control people 
  • the use of the American business model to create churches 

Having spent much of my youth in a church that was guilty of these injustices, I felt the frustrations of these “Dones” deeply and personally. I mourned with them and heard their stories, aware of my own pain and former isolation. Just as I would advise a friend to separate from an abusive spouse, I could not condemn these brothers and sisters for their decision to leave. They left, in reality, to keep their faith intact. Abusive churches abound, and it is tempting to drown in the discouragement of the stories and statistics. I have felt my share of anger and disillusionment and wondered if I just wouldn’t return, knowing instead that I was a member of the greater Body of Christ in the world. In light of my family’s experience, I consider it a miracle that God has brought us to a healthy local expression of the Church universal. When I spent time with these fellow broken ragamuffins on Saturday, I wished I could have brought them all to meet my church family. I wished they could enjoy what I’d been given: a rare gem of a place where freedom and community and faith are not mutually exclusive.

We are not a perfect representation of Christ. Our fellowship is full of imperfect people who need grace all the time. But I can confidently say the following: 

  • It’s not led by power-hungry men. 
  • There is no spiritual manipulation or oppression of women. 
  • I’m not any longer a slave to programs and performance. 
  • No one tries to control my behavior. 
  • I’m fed weekly by the rich text of the Gospel. 
  • It’s a safe place to struggle and fail and still be intimately loved by a family. 

No local gathering is perfect. But, rare as healthy congregations are, God is still working through this family of believers that have helped, rather than hindered, my walk with God. It’s hard to believe, I know, especially for those of us who suffer with lingering church-hurt. However, as proof of God’s grace, I’ve been collecting quotations from friends and leaders with whom I’ve been gathering for worship. These are things I hadn’t heard before and that I’m now seeing more and more to be signs of a healthy church. 

“The Church is not a courtroom, it’s a home.” 

“Your work in Christ is to rest in Him.” 

“You come here to receive gospel, safety, and time.” 

“There is no pain that God does not use.” 

“Suffering is not a sign of God’s displeasure. 
Prosperity is not a sign of His approval.” 

“Books are good for learning, but time and life are better.” 

“The temple curtain is torn by God Himself. 
Nothing now stands between you and the Mercy Seat.” 

“We are never commanded to do anything 
without first being reminded of what has been done for us. 
The doing is simply a response to what He has done.” 

“There are no deadlines on your growth. 
You are empowered to grow in the Spirit 
without pressure because He works in you.” 

“Your primary involvement in the local church is relationships, not service.” 

“The gospel can end your fear and anxiety because it assures you 
that He loves you and that now you can call Him ‘Daddy’.” 

“Elders lead, but the church family has the final say in decisions.” 

“My distorted thinking is actually a symptom of my distorted heart. 
Jesus changes my heart, not just my head.” 

“Christian maturity is not getting better at keeping the rules.” 

“Membership is a responsibility to care for one another. It’s not a club; it’s a family.” 

“You don’t have to join a Fellowship Group. 
Small groups are a place where you can connect with people to form relationships. 
If that’s happening outside of fellowship group, great!” 

“Anybody can hold a Bible study.” 

“We don’t police or act like the FBI. We have to trust!” 

“Our criteria for brotherhood is not preferences; it’s only the gospel.” 

“Our job as leaders is not to maintain a system. 
You do what works best for you, and care for one another.” 

“As leaders we are not here to tell you how to care for the poor or minister to people. 
We support you as God leads you to do that in different ways.” 

“I don’t want you to go through the motions without understanding.”

For those who have spent any time in an abusive church, I hope that these snippets of truth with resonate in stark contrast to the self-righteous song that you have been used to hearing. In my experience over the last year in this healthy body of believers, I am beginning to heal.

It is my prayer that my “done” brethren would also somehow be given healing by the grace of God.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Legalist: A Poetic Exploration of a Dangerous Ideology

by: Janice Kaye

You’re free, he said, and snapped the shackles on.
You see, he said, your debt is paid; your sin is gone.
And now, there’s only one thing you must do:
Endure these chains, and thus maintain his love for you.

Our master is a kindly one, he said
His employ isn’t something you can earn; it’s just a gift instead.
But his affection, that’s a different thing:
It’s only for the few who keep the rules for following.

Sure, he already suffered for your gain;
Willingly laid down his life, imbibed your pain.
But gratitude demands you languish, too
And thus allay the payment he so freely made for you.

You’re not his servant, really, but his son  
Accepted irrevocably; it cannot be undone  
But still he’ll snub you if you slip or fail
By messing up the way you sing or how you wear your hair.

Of course, his yoke is easy, and his burden light
Just trust him with your all; he’ll make your days be sunny, bright
But, God forbid you stumble on the way;
Cause then he’ll turn his face and make you pay.

No matter that he bids you rest in grace!
It doesn’t really mean to rest: it means pick up the pace
Create a testimony that will brightly glow
To hide the weak, dependent soul his loving light would show.

Yes, gaze on him, but watch yourself – beware
Of losing sight of regulation in the beauty of his care.
His liberation merits strictest gratitude, most cautious song;
After all, you’re free, he said, and snapped the shackles on. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Defining Spiritual Abuse

In light of trying to raise awareness of Spiritual Abuse and celebrating our first annual Spiritual Freedom Week, I thought it might be helpful to clarify and define what is being discussed when terms like "spiritual abuse" are used in conversation or articles.  

I must start with a disclaimer though, because just as abuse has many forms, spiritual abuse does not always look the same, and often is subtle and hard to detect in situations that are the closest to you.  At first glance a situation may seem good and proper and appropriate, and it may take years of reflection and retrospect to realize that the people or leadership involved were, in fact, spiritually abusive and manipulative or enabling others to use abusive tactics without realizing it.

Entering the Conversation
So what is Spiritual Abuse?  A lot of people consider that an odd term the first time they hear it.  It sounds overly-dramatic or possibly a hyperbolic term.  We've grown accustomed to using "physical abuse" when a man hits his wife or a parent hits their child.  We've become familiar with the term "sexual abuse" in cases where adults have molested children.  In more recent days, some have even integrated the term "emotional abuse" into the conversation to include adults barraging children with the idea that they are worthless or damaged or stupid to the point where they grow up adopting this belief and live with it for the rest of their lives unless someone or something helps them to change that perspective.

All of these above circumstances are merely examples.  There are a thousand different ways a person can be abused in different ways by different types of people in their lives.  I've given quick snapshot examples in hopes of connecting to previous knowledge we all are familiar with so that I can focus primarily on the realm of Spiritual Abuse.  What is it?  How does it happen?  What are the effects of being spiritually abused?  How can you tell if you are or have been spiritually abused?  These questions can quickly become confusing and overwhelming.  Let's start off with simple definitions and go from there.

What is abuse?  Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary defines abuse (in its verb form) as "1: to treat (a person or animal) in a harsh or harmful way. 2: to use or treat (something) in a way that causes damage. 3: to use (something) wrongly. 4: to use too much of (a drug, alcohol, etc.). 5: to attack (someone) in words."  Let's focus on the first three definitions offered to us.  Abusing someone or something is to treat them in a harsh or harmful way, to use or treat them in a way that causes damage, or to use them (it) wrongly.  To be fair to the dictionary's original intent, we will only focus on the first definition offered "To treat a person or animal in a harsh or harmful way,"  but I think it is fair to include in that definition the idea of causing damage, because "harmful" includes the idea that damage is being inflicted on the victim.  So where does the spiritual aspect come into play?  Spiritual Abuse is different from all other forms of abuse in that--Spiritual Abuse occurs when people are abused in the name of "ministry," "becoming more Christ-like," "serving the church's purpose," or "serving God's purpose."  
In other words, Spiritual Abuse is abuse inflicted in the name of God.  
It is the worst possible way to misuse the name of God, and can be combined with every other type of abuse.  Physical abuse becomes spiritual abuse when instead of simply beating your child, you are beating your child because God commands and expects it.  Sexual abuse becomes spiritual abuse when a pastor convinces a teenage girl he's molesting to not come forward because she will "hurt the work of the church" he's leading, and "he has God's blessing on his ministry."  

Even emotional abuse can become spiritual abuse when children are convinced that they are only valuable to their parents and God through their obedience and successful performance.  When people are taught from a young age that their worth comes through what they do and not who God has created them to be or what Christ has done on the Cross, they are spiritually abused and likely to end up confused for years to come.

Emotional Abuse
I give special time and attention to emotional abuse, because the other examples seem much easier to point at and condemn as unscriptural and outright ungodly behavior.  Most civilized adults in the world don't have to be convinced that beating or starving your children in the name of God is wrong.  Most of those same adults also don't need to be told that pastors committing and covering up rape in the name of God is just as wrong (though sadly some do, but that's another post).  What raises much concern, is the fact that people are largely blinded to the largest category of unrecorded and unrecognized form of spiritual abuse that is spreading through churches like the latest flu bug.  

Many people simply do not realize that the teaching they have heard all their lives is not only wrong, but it is completely contrary to the good news of the Gospel.  God does not value humanity based on what good they can do for Him.  Many churches are fighting tooth and nail to teach against a works salvation only to turn around and on all practical levels fight just as hard for a works-based sanctification.  This is spiritual abuse, and its effects have been devastating on Christians around the globe.  

People are worn out and weary of trying to live up to the manipulation and latest guilt trips of their equally worn down and weary leaders who don't understand why everybody else isn't happily killing themselves for Jesus like they are.  This pressure to perform based on fear of what others will think or what God will think is not healthy for the church, and it's not healthy for the believers who are trapped in this lifestyle.

Just as many families have spent generations trapped in unhealthy cycles of parents abusing children and spouses only to repeat itself for years in the next generation, so churches have followed a similar pattern with one pastor following the lead of his predecessor only to change the colour scheme of his abuse.  

The theme song may sound different, but the words are exactly the same.  "Do, so you can be accepted."  The Gospel has always sung a different song, "You are already accepted.  Do, simply because I love you, and you love me..."

I hope this is helpful in introducing the topic of what Spiritual Abuse can look like and some of the forms it can take.  For a more thorough resource I would suggest reading The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Johnson and Van Vonderen.  I found it very helpful in realizing how much of my past was explained in it and how much of my present wrong thinking was a product of where I had been.  We will be continuing this theme of Spiritual Abuse as our week continues and in the future to keep the discussion going.  If you have any thoughts or questions you'd like to contribute please feel free to comment at the bottom.

Grace and Peace.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Spiritual Freedom Week 2015 #SpiritualFreedom

Today marks the beginning of Spiritual Freedom Week over at  For those wondering why it seemed to randomly pop out of nowhere and why it started in the middle of a week, let me explain a little bit of the background.
Soulation is a non-profit organization run by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher (along with a host of other incredibly kind and compassionate people) with the primary purpose of helping people become "more appropriately human."  What does that look like?  For them, it primarily takes the form of helping people come out of spiritually abusive situations with shaky or non-existent faith and helping them find a safe place to express their doubts, questions, fears, and long-standing uncertainties.  They help people sort out deep questions with love and compassionate ears.  Their empathy helps broken people learn to start to build their faith over again, or realize they never had it to begin with.

Why May 6 - 12?
Dale explained in the Facebook community fanpage he's kickstarting this movement from (which you can find here) that he wants this week of awareness to fall each year on the same date as graduation day for Pensacola Christian College.  PCC is the spiritually abusive Christian college that Dale graduated from years ago, and he has been diligently and gently calling them to mend their ways and acknowledge the damage they have been inflicting on the Church.  As an extra aspect of this awareness, he wants each year's week to begin the day they hold graduation at PCC.  So, this year, it begins on May 6th, today, and runs until May 12th.

Spiritual Abuse
If you have never been through spiritual abuse, I am so very glad for you.  But, if you have been affected, whether directly or indirectly by spiritual abuse, whether of a physical, emotional, or sexual nature, and you are having a difficult time sorting out some of the difficult ramifications of those experiences, I would encourage you to head on over to to join their Freedom Builders Spiritual Healing 101 class.  I call it a class, but it's really more of a support group and mentoring community where you'll find a safe place to work through questions and the loving support of a community of people who are either coming from the same place or have already been where you are now and are eager to help you heal.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Church and Mental Illness

by: Katie Gibson

For some reason, it is understandable and socially acceptable to ask for prayer and support if you are diagnosed with cancer.  Your church will typically express sympathy and offer to bring meals, or at the very least pray that your surgery and/or treatment goes well.  People will give you a little more flexibility, because they understand that you're going through a difficult time.  I am not sure why the Church is so supportive and understanding for one type of disease and at the same time can be so cruel and insensitive in its treatment of other types of illness.

When the illness in question involves your brain, Christians can sometimes respond in some very unkind and uninformed ways.  Some churches go so far as to say that all mental illness is simply a "spiritual problem" that people are trying to fix with drugs, while others take a more noncomittal approach.  Whatever approach is taken by the leadership, it often takes on a stigma that still exists today, even in popular society.

Crazy Jokes
People often post jokes about being "crazy" or being in a "mental ward" or similar viral posts on their social media profiles unaware of the potential hurt they are inflicting on those dealing with the real life effects of what they consider a "joke."

Of all the people in the world, Christians should have no problem understanding that our brains as well as our bodies have been affected by the curse of Genesis chapter 3.  Of all the places and institutions in the world, the Church should be a safe place to get help for whatever afflictions people are facing, including those that are contained in their own mind.  The fact that churches are often the last places to even acknowledge that mental illness exists, much less offer any helpful resources only helps to further reveal the gap between where we as the Church are and where we should be.

While there may be a spiritual dimension to depression (as well as other conditions), there can also be very real physical aspects to it that should not be overlooked in the cause of "biblical Christianity."  Human beings are not readily compartmentalized into body, soul, and spirit.  Often an issue that affects one aspect of a person will affect every other aspect as well.  Spiritual issues often interact with physical ones and vice versa.  Support and treatment should be as three dimensional as the problem.

Anti-Depressants or Not?
One issue that often plays into Christian discomfort with the overall topic of mental illness is what is viewed as the "unprecedented access to anti-depressant medications."  A lot of people get uncomfortable when they think that doctors are simply prescribing pills for complicated problems and not dealing with the underlying issues.  While this may very well be an issue in some cases, it does not necessarily mean that anti-depressants are not a legitimate form of treatment in some cases. 

The problem with a lot of the pushback in Christianity against medications that are classified as anti-depressants is that it is often based on fear and oversimplified misinformation.  Broad strokes are often used to describe very complicated and varying conditions, which only leads to more confusion.  Also, the agenda becomes more important than the people facing the issue personally, and it is not pursued with sensitivity towards those complicated decisions and difficult situations.
 As often happens with controversial topics, people approach it as if there are no real people on the other end, only abstract ideas that they are free to use and abuse as it fits their cause.  
This is incredibly hurtful to the people who are living with this reality on a daily basis.  The decision to try taking an anti-depressant (whether for depression, chronic pain, sleep problems, etc.) is not a light one, and it is often made ten times harder by the pressure felt from well-meaning family and friends who make the patient feel isolated, "crazy," or "deficient" for needing medication.

Moving Forward
An issue as complex and multi-faceted as mental illness will not be solved with one simple answer.  The situations that arise will take consideration and sensitivity as unique as the people who find themselves in them.  Rather than trying to find a "one size fits all" solution that preaches well from a pulpit, I believe our churches would be better equipped to serve everyone involved by following some of the suggestions below:

1.  Listen Empathetically - Instead of jumping straight into a situation looking for a "sin" issue to fix, starting off with empathetic listening and trying to understand the individual situation will build an atmosphere of safety and trust.

2. Study - If the person coming for counsel or support is struggling with a diagnosis of OCD or depression or bi-polar disorder, it only makes sense that the pastor or church leadership in question would read up on the condition they've been diagnosed with in order to help them sort out their needs for medication and their needs for spiritual support.

3. Show Unconditional Love - Situations like this can be extremely scary and uncertain, and often people are afraid that if they share what they are going through with their church, people will view them differently.  Proving this stereotype wrong and treating people with love regardless of what condition they are diagnosed with shows grace in such a deep way.

4. Speak Carefully - It's easy to make light remarks about heavy issues and assume that no one who hears you has personally struggled with it.  If it's not appropriate to make jokes about cancer, don't make jokes about crazy people in mental hospitals or on anti-depressants.  

You never know what the people you're talking to have been facing.  And if you continue to joke about it, it's likely you never will.

5. Avoid mentally categorizing it as "us" and "them" - This is similar to some other points previously listed, but it's easy for people who don't struggle with mental issues to associate those issues with "those people" who struggle with it.  It's easy to assume something like that could never happen to you.  Putting yourself on a higher level because you don't face that particular type of affliction is arrogant, and it will limit the people you get to minister to, because it becomes obvious rather quickly when people are snarky about mental health.  

6. Stop viewing healthcare professionals as the enemy - While there are major areas of philosophical difference between psychology and Christianity, there are also areas of overlap where having a psychiatrist on your healthcare team can be invaluable in determining pro's and con's of various medications.  Rather than writing off all psychiatrists as "secular" and "anti-God" it would be amazing if churches could view healthcare professionals as one more asset to help their people live healthy lives, rather than competition.

7. Create a safe environment - Make your church a place where weakness is celebrated instead of shunned and hidden.  Instead of encouraging people to put themselves together and come to church looking perfect, let them see that our weakness is made perfect in Christ's strength.  Let the church be known for extending grace and compassion rather than judgment and condemnation.

These are just a few suggestions for paving the way to a church that is not afraid to tackle the difficult subject of mental illness and anti-depressants.  There are many more we could address, but these are just a few to get us started.  However you put it into practice, please keep grace in mind as you interact on this topic.  People throughout our churches are facing these issues and decisions on top of the stigma and pressure to hide their choices from the church.  This is a sad reality, but it doesn't have to stay that way.  It can change for the better.  If you have any additional suggestions for how the Church can do a better job of interacting with the topics of mental illness and anti-depressants feel free to join the conversation by posting a comment below.

What would the Church globally look like if people felt safe enough to share their deepest heartaches and uncertainties with the people who supposedly love them like family?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

"For Kings, And For All That Are In Authority"

by: Janice Kaye

I’ve experienced it so many times I’ve lost count. Christians are talking politics, or talking prayer requests, and the conversation goes something like this: “Yeah, our country is in a mess. So much going wrong. These are dark days. Well. Keep praying – pray for our military. Pray for our law enforcement officers. Pray for our churches.” And there, it typically ends, with no mention of our most influential, king-like, and stressed out leader: our president.

Granted, occasionally, the commander in chief is mentioned, but when he is, it inevitably is in a condescending manner: “Pray that the president will get saved. Lord knows he needs it. Otherwise he is going to take us all along to Muslim hell with him in his socialist handbasket.” While I may be hyperbolizing a bit on the specifics, the attitude is along those lines. Political disagreement with Obama translates into a distaste for the idea of offering prayers on his behalf.

This distaste, however, trounces scripture. 1 Timothy 2:1-3 is a familiar and clear passage; in these verses, followers of Christ are urged to pray for and give thanks for all people, specifically for kings and other high-ranking leaders. There is no exception clause for officials we don’t like or are suspicious of. Indeed, the Roman regime under which this scripture was penned was arguably far worse than anything today’s Americans have ever experienced. Even the most conspiracy-theory minded Obama objectors would be hard pressed to assert that he is a murderous egotist, willing to kill even his own family for political gain. Yet, the tone of the commandment is not condemning. The politics and policies aren’t the point. The human struggles of the leaders, their ability to bring turmoil or peace to a nation, and their ultimate need for spiritual rebirth are the emphases of the commandment.

As I have heard other Christians snub the president in their exhortations to one another to pray for America, I have found myself irritated at an intellectual level that anyone could be so self-righteous as to think they could choose who was or wasn’t worthy of their prayers. However, as I continued to fume, I eventually was struck with the realization that if I am honest with myself, I often forget to pray for my country’s leaders at all. Thus, I write this post not to condemn those who haven’t been praying as they ought – I recognize that I am among them. Instead, I write to remind us all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks are to be made for all people; for Obamas, and for all others who are in authority. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Christians: It’s Time to Acknowledge the Issue of Privilege

by: Jayson D. Bradley
Reposted with permission from his blog. (Also published in later form on Relevant Magazine's website.)

All my life I’ve heard the term “underprivileged.” It was used when we talked about people in impoverished countries or children who needed assistance with school lunches. I’ve never heard anyone take exception to the term.

But for some reason when you bring up the idea there are people who are privileged, folks get real bent out of shape. This seems a little crazy to me since you can’t have people who are underprivileged without having people who are privileged.

Part of the problem is that, if we’re going to imagine that there’s a privileged people, it’s someone else—not us.

The spectrum of privilege

If you lined up everyone in the world according their access to healthy food, pure water, shelter, and sustainable wages, you’d have the most underprivileged people on one end of the scale, and the most privileged people in the world on the other. In many ways it’s no one’s fault where they are on that scale. If you were born in the west, you’re going to naturally find yourself a clustered with the privileged.

In fact, based on just these criteria, the poorest people in any particular western country would still find themselves on the higher end of the worldwide privilege spectrum.

As I said earlier, where you land is typically outside of your control. That said, there are also systemic injustices that help maintain the spectrum as we know it. Some of the poorer countries suffer from civil unrest and terrible governments who oppress them. Some of the businesses and governments in more privileged countries take advantage of poorer nations by exploiting them and taking their resources.

So, while it might not be anyone’s fault where they are on the spectrum, it is the responsibility for justice-minded people on the more privileged end of the spectrum—this should include all followers of Christ—to do what they can to assist the people on the lower end. At the very least, they should opt out of practices that further exploit them.

Privilege is more than money

We can modify that spectrum we created earlier by factoring in other aspects that affect quality of life—but we need to give them appropriate weight according to their culture of origin.

There’s a huge re-juggling of this spectrum when we factor in gender. By simply being born a woman, your privilege is greatly affected. If you’re a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo, not only do you have to struggle with the economic issues which affect daily life, you live in constant fear of violence. Rape is so frequent that UN investigators have called it unprecedented. Of the 775 million people over the age of 15 who can’t read or write, 2/3 of them are women.

Other factors that greatly affect this scale are race, religion, sexual orientation, social class or caste, and health/disability. And again, we need to weigh each one according to many factors. For instance, it’s much better to be born a woman in Iceland than it is in Nepal. It’s better to be gay in South Africa than in Russia.

Privilege at home

This spectrum dramatically changes when you go from an international scale to a national one. People on the lower end of the economic spectrum in America may find themselves higher on an international scale, but it really doesn’t matter within their current context. It doesn’t help a mother of three struggling to make it in Detroit to tell them, “Buck up, you’re doing much better than the average mother in Mali.”

Race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social class, and disability have a great effect on the quality of life in America (or any country)—and to deny that they don’t just seems ludicrous. I’ve been looking for a job at the same time as a close friend of mine. In a conversation the other day he said to me, “I put my nickname and not my given name on my résumé because I get a lot fewer call backs when they see that I’m Mexican.”

I don’t have the real estate in the particular blog to offer social proofs for how each factor affects privilege in the United States, but the proof is there if you’re serious about becoming educated.

But keep in mind, whenever you hear another white guy talking about those “fat cats in Washington” or “trust fund babies,” they’re talking about privilege.

Who are you to tell me I’m privileged!?

One of the arguments I hear all the time,  especially from Bill O’Reilly fans, goes something like this, “How can I be privileged? I’ve worked my ass off to get where I am. How dare you call me privileged!?”

I’m a healthy, straight, white, middle-class man, and I’ve had virtually no say in any of those factors. This doesn’t mean I haven’t had to work to succeed; it means that I haven’t had to work around many of the economic and sociological boundaries that others have. Sure, there are many people of color who are more successful than I am, but by-and-large, all things being equal:

  • I’m less likely to be arrested
  • I’m more likely to go to college
  • I’m more likely to get called back for a job
  • I’m more likely to find adequate housing

This mythology that, no matter who you are, you can be whatever you want if you just work hard makes it difficult to have this discussion. Working hard matters, there’s no question about it. But this is by no means a level playing field and by pretending that it is, or that all cultural barriers can be bypassed by working harder, we solidify issues of privilege.

When you look at the pay gap, there’s a huge discrepancy when it comes to race, and an even greater one when it comes to gender.

One thing I find extremely troubling when talking about this issue is how seldom Native Americans are factored into the discussion. I just want to go on record by saying that not only do I think our first-nation people are some of the most underprivileged in America, they’re even under represented by voices who contend for more civil equality.

Does Jesus care about privilege?

One of the most damning criticisms of Christianity is that it’s not only accepted its privileged position in the west, but that it also exploits it. If we’re being honest, it’s not too hard to concede the point. Not only can an argument be made that Christianity has been complicit in the subjugation of Native Americans, the economic success of slavery, and the fight against women’s suffrage, it can be argued that, within this “melting pot” of races and religions, Christians have often sought a dominant role in American life.

It’s no wonder that people puzzle over whether the Jesus of Christianity cares about the issue of privilege at all.

The expectation that corporate (Christian) prayer should occur in public schools, the frustration that someone would wish you “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” or the conviction that Christianity’s view of matrimony should dictate who can and cannot get married, points to an ingrained sense of Christian privilege.

I recognize that there were Christians who fought for women’s suffrage, for Native Americans, and against slavery. This doesn’t negate the overwhelming evidence that Christians have often been on the wrong side of issues of privilege. It’s no wonder that people puzzle over whether the Jesus of Christianity cares about the issue of privilege at all.

Not only did Jesus abandon privilege to walk among us (Phil. 2:5—11), his concern for the underprivileged helped put him in the crosshair of the religious establishment. He spoke up for the poor, healed the sick of the racially underprivileged (even when it at times when it wasn’t religiously acceptable to do so—Mark 3:1—6), and spoke up for and treated women like valued and important members of society.

Many of Jesus parables and teaching included elements that would undo first-century (and modern privilege). I see the Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) as being about both the economic and national privilege. Beyond Jesus, it’s obvious that the introduction of Christianity was intended to plant sociological seeds that would drive a stake into the heart of privilege.

What do I do with white guilt?

“Privilege is unconscious power. The problem with unconscious power . . . it’s almost never used for flourishing”—Andy Crouch
“White guilt” is one of those terms that I hear from white friends to scornfully dismiss issues of privilege. It always irritates me.

Many of the problems we’re talking about are systemic. I didn’t choose them, and I’m not sure feeling guilty about it does anyone any good. The person who should feel guilty is the one who refuses to admit that it’s a legitimate issue.

The bigger question is, “What do we do about it?”

Once we recognize the issue of privilege we’re responsible for our response. We can’t continue to soak up the benefits of privilege and deny they don’t exist.

It’s not enough for me to reject the idea of privilege. I can’t publicly decry my societal position and go on with life as usual. I might get a boost of moral superiority by saying “I reject my privileged status as a white male in America,” but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m going to still benefit from this systemic weaknesses in American culture. So I have to do something else. I have to subvert the system—I have to leverage my privilege for the benefit of others.

I had a friend who laid into me because of the popularity of my blog. Because I was a white, straight male, I was perpetuating privilege by having anything to say that anyone would want to read. That irritated the hell out of me. If I have more of a voice than someone else, it does neither of us any good for me give up my voice so that we’re both mute. If I have a platform, I consider it my responsibility to elevate marginalized individuals. I just need to be very careful not to speak on their behalf.

One thing I have been horrified at this week is how easy it is for white people to speak for black Americans as if they understand their situation from reading a couple blog posts or watching the news. I have absolutely no right to talk as if I understand what it’s like to be black, female, gay, handicapped, Muslim, or for any other group that I have not experienced from the inside. But I do feel responsible for hearing and raising their voices.

That said, here are list of blogs I read regularly:
  • Tangentials
  • Christena Cleveland
  • Sarah Bessey
  • Shoopscope
  • Kimberly Knight
  • Taking Jesus Seriously
  • By Their Strange Fruit
The first step for a stronger, more empathetic church is to break out of our intellectual, theological, and sociological cul-de-sacs. It is a lot of work not to standard and prescribe my perspective for everyone. I tend to think I’m pretty objective, but my objectivity is colored by my limited experience and understanding. It’s time for the church in America to provide room for more voices.

Editor's Note: For more from Jayson D. Bradley follow him at his blog:

White Christians Respond to Baltimore

It's amazing to me how incredibly oblivious so many white Americans can be at times.  What makes this even more disturbing is that many of these oblivious white Americans also claim to be Christians and actively practice this oblivion in the name of Jesus.

While black men are killed in police custody all over the country under what are, at best, suspicious circumstances, white Christians are arguing over their loss of religious freedom to refuse service to gay couples and whether or not to mandate drug testing on those "freeloading welfare recipients."  They seemed largely unaware or perhaps purposefully ignorant of the situation in Baltimore until a fraction of the thousands of peaceful protestors started reaching the boiling point and jumped on top of police cars.

When 4,000 people peacefully protest a horrendous death in police custody, the white Church finds nothing to take note of, but when a couple hundred desperate teenagers burn a few businesses and start erupting out of desperation from not being heard, finally there is a response.  Is it outrage at the lack of justice on behalf of these groups?  No.  Is it sorrow for the death of Mr. Gray?  No.  What finally reached the attention of the oblivious white American Church?  Property damage.  What message does this send to the black churches around us?  What message does this send those troubled and desperate teenagers in Baltimore?  Your lives don't matter to us.  Nothing that happens to you will demand our attention, but if you start becoming violent and damaging property we will condemn you loudly.  We will assume you have horrible parents and are "thugs" and "animals."

If we are to take the Gospel seriously and to follow the Jesus of the Bible, we should care more about the lives of the people around us (white, black, asian, hispanic, latino, etc.) than we do about social awkwardness and property damage.  Perhaps instead of assuming that the people of Baltimore are so stupid they are sub-human, we should examine the context and circumstances that would make people desperate enough to torch their own neighborhoods.

This is not a time for snide remarks or sarcastic, self-righteous social media statuses to validate our self image through the number of likes and comments.  This is not a time to go on the defensive and talk only about the "good cops" out there.  It is a fact that there are corrupt police officers out there.  Not all, but some.  The fact that not all police are corrupt does not negate that some are, and it doesn't change the mind of those who have been hurt by biased and racism police work.  The good police officers should be first in line to stand up for justice and demand honesty and transparency for the safety and protection of everyone.

This is a time for sorrow.  People are hurting from this tragic situation, and the damage that has been done is real and deep.  This is a time for the Christian community to show empathy to a people group that feels like no one is listening and nothing will change.  Whatever your politics are, this has been a year that challenges many people's views on where we are in race relations in 2014/2015.  There are millions of people in this country who have been affected by this on a very personal level.  Rather than being insensitive and unkind to them, this is the time for us to show the love of Christ to people who have experiences that are vastly different from ours.

The Church has been horrible at responding to racial issues for a long time.  This is the time for that to change.  It starts with learning how to discuss sensitive topics like this with compassion and grace, not sarcasm and sneers.  Reach out to the oppressed and the hurting.  Show them that in Christ cultural, ethnic, national, and all other divisions disappear as we converge at the level ground of the Cross.

Praying for Baltimore.