Why I’m Not A Christian Feminist

People have called me a feminist, and I’ve often wondered if I actually am. Many of those who accuse me of such don’t mean to compliment me, by the way. Probably, by a general societal definition, I am. But this I know – after thinking carefully about it, I am not a Christian Feminist.

Feminism as a movement came about when women, via critical and political mass, empowered themselves to begin to systemically overturn legal, cultural, political and systemic inequalities in society and culture.

Tired of being a marginalised minority, women set about changing that for themselves, their daughters and granddaughters. But it isn’t just women benefiting from feminism. Civil and social equity movements concerning race and sexual identity have paralleled feminism in helping bring greater equality and empowerment for and to the vulnerable and marginalised across society, across the world.

Recreating social fabric isn’t just a matter of anarchy and revolution. If you depose a despot, but merely instate yourself as the new despot, the problem isn’t and never was that one person; it’s your broken system, which allows despotic rule to ever take place.

Feminists, civil rights activists, environmental and LGBTI advocates, social changers of all kinds; all know you cannot simply remove the people who do things you don’t like from the systems and structures and occupy the offices yourself. To do so is to place yourself in danger of merely creating other people and people groups into new marginalised minorities to take your place.

And this is why I am not tempted to call myself a “Christian Feminist”.

I see Christian women rising up to assume their God-given voice and authority to be not just self-directed in life, faith and ministry, but to lead, teach and facilitate healthy church-life, where ever and in whatever form it can be found. And this is a good thing; not according to all, but to most.

However, what troubles me is the fact many women who come to recognise their power, voice and authority, simply instate themselves safely within a system which is still geared to marginalise, discriminate, create power-strongholds, and perpetuate abuse, also shielding the perpetrators with immunity and impunity. And let’s face it; as many women as men are capable of stupidity, abuse and power-mongering.

Many women, and indeed men, may have felt a “softening” female presence –  a kind of patronization or sharing of power-laden positions with women – is the “Godly” answer to “re-balancing” the church. This “softening” female presence is perhaps what many men in contemporary church congregations and denominations decry as anti-male and feminisation of the church. But lets not kid ourselves. Those women who have managed to behave themselves properly enough, or negotiate shrewdly enough, to be “allowed” to minister in such positions, are complicit with all the systems and the structures which keep less complicit, clever and well-behaved women out.

While I am loathe to simply ignore the implicit misogyny of lumping everything we hate about the “new way we do church now, with all the singing and crying and swaying with our arms in the air and public displays of emotion” and calling that “feminisation” (it’s simply annoying ways to do church, which an awful lot of women don’t like either) I can appreciate men’s frustration with the way simply knocking the hard edges off the old church, or, conversely, bringing in a few female pastors with crew cuts and tattoos, apparently equates to gender equality in the church.

It doesn’t. Not in any real way. I have tattoos by the way. Not knocking women with tattoos.

I don’t think it’s gender equality as such we want in the church. More women in exciting roles or top ministry or church executive jobs isn’t going to fix what’s broken about contemporary Christianity. It’s a reinvention of the Christian church into a new way of operating that’s needed; a way which does not heap power up into piles accessible by only a few. A new way which supports and empowers the marginalized, instead of simply creating new and re-branding old ways to marginalize. A way which facilitates more freedom and perpetuates less legalism. A way which empowers people in their unique and individual walk and faith expression, whilst bringing them into healthful, vibrant and diverse gathering together, creating life-filled and dynamic community. A way which trusts people with their lives and beliefs, instead of teaching them to distrust their hearts and yield control of their minds and hearts to safely well-positioned others higher up some hierarchical ladder. A way which disseminates personal power and control of thought and practice back to each free believer. A way which makes us truly brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of competitors for top jobs, parking spaces, social media platforms, places on the board.

I don’t want more women in church positions. I don’t want more women pastors, or more women on the Christian best-seller list. I want less church positions, and more people waking up to the fact they are the Church, and living their lives from that place. I want all Christians, men and women, to remember – or if they never knew, to simply empathise with – what it feels like to be marginalised and rejected, to be pushed down and out and away because of something about you that you’re powerless to change, and do something to ensure that never happens on our watch, to ANYONE.

If being a Christian Feminist is only about having more women speakers at huge Christian conferences, I’m not for that. I’m about less need for big Christians conferences in the first place, because people are being empowered at grass-roots level to take care of each other better, and lead themselves and other people in healthy ways. I’m about learning how to hold safe spaces for the vulnerable many, rather than preserve power tenets for the powerful few.

If being a Christian feminist means I simply depose a man who has a powerful job in a church I really want and really think I deserve because I am a woman, well, then I am not a Christian feminist.

Christian feminism is about what I think and do, as human being and a woman, who has often felt through the circumstances of life marginalised and disempowered in and out of the Church, even by the Church. It’s about me stepping into my God-given authority and voice as a woman, human being and believer to stand in the gap for those who are marginalised and disempowered, in and out of the Church, even by the Church, and supporting them to realise their own voice, power and authority in Jesus Christ.

It’s also about questioning and criticizing systems that marginalize and disempower, knowing full well it’s very often established institutional Church systems which need addressing, as well as established institutional Church people. I feel it’s my duty as a Christian feminist, if I can be shown to be one, to help undo those harmful, oppressive systems – and those harmful, oppressive people, if need be – if they can be shown to be perpetrators of disempowerment and marginalization – not by virtue of their gender, or mine, but of their actions, and mine. My Christianity demands no less of me than this, and I intend to deliver it to the fullest extent of my energy, and intellect, however limited they may be.

Christian feminism is not feminism if it merely seeks to replace men in positions of power with women. This, to my thinking, isn’t the re-imagining of life, love, faith and religion Jesus had in mind, for men or women. It’s simply gendered power politics, and I want no part of it. I’m under no illusion my femininity sanctifies me, any more than a man’s masculinity demonizes him.

Feminism is not a dirty word. In it’s purer forms, feminism is at the very heart of Christian practice, because it is about redistribution of power, recreation of harmful systems, and rethinking the way people work and live together. It’s about the Church – a church where men and women are able to fully express their full selves, sexual, political, personal, spiritual, social and intellectual, without fear. This is the church I have imagined, and my hope is feminism will be one of the various looms we weave the fabric of such a Church from.

Jo Hilder​

At Home In the Wilderness – What happens when Jesus leads you out of, not into, Church

I am a Christian, if being a Christian means one who undertakes a spiritual journey with Christ. But we no longer go to organised church,  instead we occupy and visit with others on a similar Christ pursuit in safe spaces in the “wilderness”. I facilitate a Facebook group called Free-range Christians as a resting and meeting place for Christians of all persuasions, and you’re welcome to join us.
In the meantime, here’s what following Jesus Christ in the wilderness means to me. Selah.

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The Christian church was once a shelter in the wilderness; a refuge for wanderers on the trail, all of us following Christ on an indeterminable path, beyond the confines and confusion of culture and godlessness. We followed Jesus out here, and looked for his footsteps to guide us, devoted ourselves to the wandering both together and alone, gathering around the campfires from time to time for friendship and to share the bread. We knew the wilderness was hard sometimes, but as long as Jesus was out here, it’s where we wanted to be. To be apart from those things that led us to believe we were not enough, or too much. To be away from the distractions of the discipl-ined devotional life. To have the time and space to see Him clearly and hear His voice. It was hard, not having a home in the mainstream, but we knew there was no longer any way to live like that. We had to follow Jesus out into the wild, and were comforted to know we were not, and did not need to be alone.

But the wilderness is still the wilderness.

What happened? When did the wilderness Jesus led us into stop being so wild? When was it we decided to stop wandering, because it was too hard to keep everyone together, and started to build structures and places and organisations to keep everyone together and on the same path, the same page? When was it we stopped trusting Jesus to lead and guide each one of us, and started managing the leading and guiding amongst ourselves?

When was it we decided wandering itself was a waste of resources, and we were sick of feeling off-kilter and vulnerable, and decided to pour foundations and put up walls and car parks, and call the church a place to go when we made the time, rather than a thing we were, that we couldn’t help but be, but which we could no more tie down, control or house in a building than we could Jesus Christ himself?

When was it we got our distaste for the wilderness, and went about our own kind of godlessness, recreating the safe, strong models of the cities we left behind which make us feel more safe and secure, to help us make sense of ourselves? When did we stop trusting God for our daily bread, and build a bread-making industry by which we now feed ourselves? When was it we gave into our feelings of insecurity and lost our appetite for manna, for locusts and milk and honey? When was it we started believing the Promised Land was a place we could physically arrive at?

When was it we stopped seeing ourselves as counter-culture and started making new cultures, just so we could consider everyone else counter to them? When did the tribe become so cohesive and bonded that we needed rules and creeds and dogma to decide who was in and out? Since when did being a fellow restless wanderer on the earth stop being how we recognised each other, out here, in the wilds?

I cannot help feeling that Jesus is still doing now, exactly what he always did. Leading people out, not in. Getting away from, not into. Dismantling and deconstructing institutions and cliques, rather than facilitating them. Including and gathering people, then sending and trusting them, rather than hoarding them up and holding them with doctrines which teach them they are foolish, sinful and untrustworthy.

When did the church build itself into a walled city against the wilderness, and all Jesus knew it would do, could do for us?

When did we decide we own the idea of church, and everyone in it, instead of it belonging to the wilds-wandering Jesus Christ?

When did people consider becoming a disciple of Christ to be entering safety, security, certainty, and collectivity?

When did the church stop being the wanderers in the wilderness, and start being everything Jesus made whips to destroy?

When did you stop wandering out there as the church of your Lord, and decide to come in to the church, Christian?

For while ever you are consumed with making institutions of the church, Jesus will be standing in the wilderness, leading seekers out of them.
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The school of courage is out here, in the wild.

There’s an illusion which says when we are in the place we are meant to be, the healthiest place, the place God has for us, we will feel no fear. We will always feel in control. We will be surrounded by safety and certainty and the path will be clear. In this way, we are able to be led into places which are actually toxic, dysfunctional and damaging. They draw us in and hold us where we have no business being for the sake of safety, and they keep us there by promising us what we think we need. They promise security. They promise happiness. They promise certainty, they promise control. They promise love.

You and I both know that many of these places and tribes we join ourselves to turn out to be anything other than what was promised.

The lie we bought was designed to make us afraid of dying out there. It counted on us believing the least of ourselves, the worst of ourselves. It counted on us continuing to be afraid, and buying into an illusion safety could be found in coming in, away from the uncertainty and the badness out there in the wild, wild world.

The true badness was in them telling us we would never survive on our own.

The world is wild, free, sublime, elemental. And so are you. You can run, hide, deny, make yourself small, and all you’ll ever be doing is giving into the fear. At some point, you’ll need to accept there is no place you can go to be secure, not tribe you can belong to who can keep you safe, or give you certainty. You must be secure. You must be safe. You must be certain.

You are a worldly, wild, sublime, elemental being. You were made to glean your strength from resisting, observing and drawing from the things that you prevail against. To grow and to stand, like a tree grows and stands. You were made to storm, to bend, to blow and yes, even to break. But you were also made to heal. And to fruit.

We have sterilised systematically all of our beautiful wild selves, by greenhousing in cloistered safe-houses and under coverings which caused us to never learn how not to fear. We can’t understand why the sunlight and the wind burns us so, when all we’ve ever known is the strength of the stake we were tied to, the taste of the rations they meted out to us. And now we are on our own, self-directed as ever we were, our hearts leading us out now instead of in, and we realise we have never learned to feed ourselves, to hunt, to gather, to glean, to dig, to plant, to harvest or to feast. And we don’t know where to begin.

The problems isn’t that we left the greenhouse. It’s that the greenhouse only ever equipped us for a safe, featureless existence. If you will have courage, you are going to need to learn to thrive in the environment you were created for.

You pray for courage, but courage is the result of facing fears and overcoming them, not the result of prayer. You pray for provision and protection, for wisdom, as if these things could be dropped onto you as rain drops onto a leaf. You must do the work, sweet ones, but don’t despise it. Does a tree despise the fact it must send its roots out in search of water? Does the water despise the fact it must push its way over the ground and wear rocks away to find its way to the sea? You will work like the wind works a dune of sand, like a butterfly works its way out of a cocoon. Without complaining about the difficulty of it, without needing attention from the world to validate its experience, without constantly returning to the experience of its not-quite-yet-ness. There is a sweet, sad drama in the story of your becoming free, and you can share that story to help others also on the journey. But if your journey has become a long progression of days which look spitefully back at the reasons you ran into the wilderness, or longingly forward to a future, far off day when you’ll feel free, without your ever doing anything to let go of one or hold tighter to the other, you’re not growing. You’re not healing. Check the waters. If they’re brackish, or bitter, it’s time to get moving. It’s time to break camp and get going, my dear.

You thought Gods will was a perfect, safe place, didn’t you? You thought when you arrived there all your struggles would be gone and your enemies vanquished. That’s not something God would ever do for you, because those conditions require nothing of you that would make you more of who you are. Those perfect, safe, quiet, greenhouse conditions are like a spiritual retirement home. Which is really a kind of hell. When a tree stops growing, it starts dying. When water stops flowing, it can not longer sustain life. What makes you think you’ll stop feeling fear just because you’ve got your world under perfect control, just because no bad things can happen, just because you’ve assigned your lot to the safety of a tribe? You will cast out all fear with courage, my dear, and the school of courage is out here, in the wild.

Love, Jo xxx

Why you, dear church, are not equipped to deal with our stories.

TRIGGER ALERT – SEXUAL ABUSE. (Also, if you’re sensitive to criticism of the Australian Christian Churches movement, or church on general, or else generally in denial about how many victims and perpetrators are in the church and haven’t been made “all better now”, you might find this triggering also.)

________________

 

Recently, a friend of mine shared with me how the evening bible study group she regularly attended decided one night when she wasn’t present to change the agenda of their group meetings. They would no longer be doing a bible study together, but would instead take it in turns to tell their “testimony” – their conversion story, or a report of some miracle or transformation God did in their lives. My friend was mortified. Not only was she averse to telling her “story” to the group, but felt if she did, several members would probably be traumatised or offended by it. She knew the group structure was ill-equipped to deal with the subject matter. You see, my friend was sexually abused as a young child. This has impacted her life dramatically. She knows from thirty years of experience most people in the church context are not only unprepared to hear her story, but unprepared to deal with it in any meaningful way. It baffles and confuses them; emotionally, spiritually and theologically.

Knowing the people in the group as she did, and understanding the purpose of the exercise was not to help each other deal with life events but to “glorify God” and have a fun time getting to know each other better, my friend was presented with three choices.

1) Confront the group about the decision to change the agenda, pointing out how the group was structurally unprepared to deal with any issues which could come up, initiating a discussion around how this decision could force group members to “censor” their story, be dishonest about their truth in order to “fit the script” of how a “testimony” is meant to roll out, and could leave members open to rejection, abuse or judgment.

2) Say nothing about the abuse and censor her story leaving out the uncomfortable bits.

3) Make excuses and leave the group.

What do you think she chose to do?

Don’t you feel sometimes like we set each other up to fail?

Many of my concerns about this particular situation regard the assumptions apparently made by the members of the group about:

1) The clean, neat way God always brings about a happy ending – NOT.
2) The misguided confidence often held by church folks about their capacity to handle sensitive and life-impacting issues and situations.

In my experience, at almost every turn, particularly in the more charismatic denominations, members are encouraged to over share, bear their deepest vulnerabilities and express their emotions. Yet, as the complexity and intensity of the issues society brings the church increases, the expertise and complexity of skill the church is bringing to bear in dealing with them is largely not keeping up.
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Not long ago, I attended a church orientation course where, after just a few hours together, the ministry team responsible for handling counselling in the church staged a mock counselling session for the benefit of the group, to show what was likely to happen should someone come to them for counselling. As they went through the motions, it became clear the particular topic used for the demonstration was actually triggering one of the counsellors doing the staging. She choked up and began to weep. My alarm bells immediately went off. My experience and training indicated to me the demonstration needed to terminate and the person needed to be taken aside to be supported, and the group needed to be debriefed about what just happened. But this did not occur. The counsellor, now clearly distressed, insisted the mock up continue. I was horrified.

This situation ought never have been allowed to continue. In my opinion, as a trained group facilitator and supportive care provider, this modelled unsafe emotional practices. It demonstrated to the (new) church members present a couple of things –

1) Normalisation of emotional triggering – it happens here, sometimes in public, so get used to it.

2) When triggering happens to you, you’re expected to self manage it.

3) When triggering happens to someone in front of you, your role is as a spectator or observer, so ignore any responses you have. Don’t get involved, this is just a “show”.

The whole situation was handed very poorly. I called the pastoral supervisor the next day to voice my concerns but it was clear they didn’t think it was a problem. “Oh, she gets emotional all the time, she’ll be okay.” Of course she will. She’s an experienced counsellor. But what about the people present who saw this middle aged, normally very composed person break down into tears, effectively while she was doing her job? And what does this say about how the church culturally and professionally handles people, their issues and their emotions?

See, the thing is, just because Christianity as a spiritual and social entity has traditonally acted as a kind of catch-all for vulnerable people, doesn’t mean Christianity as an institution and culture is at this time well-equipped to cope with what’s being brought to it. Or what the church itself and the people in it are inflicting upon people inside it. Some come to church having been horrifically abused, and the church was the only safe place they knew. However, we now know the church isn’t any safer than the society surrounding it, and to tell people otherwise is to deliberately and horrifically deceive them.
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The church – particularly the more contemporary, charismatic denominations – must make a conscious decision to be more self-aware concerning it’s own capacity to cause harm and damage to people – advertently and inadvertently – and to equip itself to cope adequately with the complexity of issues people come with. And not just come with. A great many people get some of their biggest messed-up-ed-ness while they are in the church.

The current situation with Hillsong and the ACC response to abuse and pastoral care of victims and perpetrators must be not merely a sad monologue of historical events, but a an inclusive conversation about the future. We need to decide how to better be the body of Christ. We can no longer pretend these things don’t happen in our churches. Mark my words – if you feel squirmy hearing about the Houston’s and the current enquiry, better prepare yourself. There will be more of this to come.

And mark these words. IT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.

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In the past, we’ve been wont as Christians to hand people the script from which they may read to us the story of their Christian experience. You were bad, messed up, dirty and sinful. You were out, excluded, imprisoned and broken. But now, now you’re one of us. And we here are not those bad, nasty things any more. Tell us the story of us, be our trophy of grace, we said. We want our heroes of redemption and all-fixed-upped-ness. But a great many of us are not all fixed up. We are not only not sure we are forgiven for what we did, we are not sure we can forgive it.

Let’s face it. The church has within it victims of paedophiles, and some of them are not okay. It also has within those who are the pedophiles, and we are seriously misguided if we think they are any more okay and all-fixed-up-now than the victims are.

Our churches are filled with the abused; healing people who, unlike the ones who cannot understand their suffering, do not equate silence about what was done to them with forgiveness or with it being over. Many are told they’ll know when they are healed because they can tell their story and it won’t make them cry. Many have never had the opportunity to actually tell that story, and when they did, the abject inability of the ones who demanded they share it to cope with the content was soul destroying, and another kind of silencing.

You want our stories, but often not because you wanted to help us heal them. You wanted our stories because you wanted to use them to promote your capacity to love us despite them. You wanted our stories because you wanted us on your resume. You wanted us to be your trophies of grace. You wanted us to show how your God can fix anything and anyone. But we do not yet know that to be true, because not only are we, the abused, still wandering in the wilderness of our pain, but the abusers are wandering through your flocks, unhealed and unfixed and lost in their own wilderness of pain.

And even though, church, you say you want us, you are not ready to hear and accept our stories. You are still trying to muffle, to edit, to censor and to manipulate them. You think you know what a healed story looks like. A rescued child. A redeemed whore. A welcomed prodigal. A restored pariah. Those are the characters we have written into our church story of grace. But what happens when the soul before us cannot read the script we’ve handed them?

Church, get ready. You think this is messy? It’s about to get messier. The ones we thought we could trust are about to be tested. What was committed in and to the dark is about to come into the light. And we are going to be horrified when we learn about it. But we are going to have to learn to deal with it. Because it’s coming.

Moving on, even with your fears is BRAVE.

Feelings.

We all have them. Some of them are pleasant, some, not so much. Sometimes things happen to us which make our feelings not work properly, and they can overwhelm us. Sometimes we fear feelings more than we fear what triggers them. We grow and find out we can handle life better than we ever could, and we get brave and venture out where we never would’ve let ourselves. But then, we feel, and it’s not the circumstances, but those feelings which have us bound in the dark, running from shadows, doubting our strength and our sanity.

But you are not broken because you feel. You are human. Anyone who can feel is doing it right, is going to be okay.

There is a saying, “Do it scared”. Sometimes we confuse anticipation and excitement for anxiety and fear. This can happen if our heart has been damaged in the past. But we can grow in understanding how to trust our gut and intuition to keep us safe, instead of our emotional responses and triggers.

In fact, to step fully into our feminine energy and power, we must come to understand and trust our gut and intuition. If you’ve been taught to distrust your inner voice, your gut feelings, you need a new teacher, and a big stick to teach that last one a lesson.

Just kidding.

Feelings are not a flaw, or a weakness. Your feelings are a minivan of frightened babies, and you’re in the drivers seat. All those poor little feelings want to do is go home, take a warm bath, get a full tummy and go to bed. And there will be time for that. But this minivan is going places. You have dreams to chase. You have a purpose to fulfil. You have no time to waste. Get back there and give all those baby feelings a big hug, then strap them in and tell them to sit tight. We have places to go, my lovelies, and everything is going to be all right. You’ve got this.

Yes, you do.

So, are you ready?

So, get your foot on the gas and this puppy into gear, and hit the road, sweetheart. I’ll be the hitch-hiker you see on the highway to your dreams, the one with the dreadlocks and the great big smile. I’ll understand if you don’t have time to slow down and pick me up as your minivan hurtles along.

I’ll see you there xxxx
Jo

The BRAVEST thing you’ve ever done.

Leaving a church family is incredibly hard. It can be one of the most life-impacting decisions you’ll ever make.

So many emotions. Guilt. Shame. Isolation. Fear of the future.

And yet, something led you here, to this new place. Something that stirs inside you even now. You’ve been told you’re simply in a “wilderness phase”, but you’re not so sure. That part of you that led you here, leads you still.

And while you are certainly afraid, you know you are headed in the right direction. This feels right somehow. This feels….true.

There…right there. That place the still small voice is coming from, the one that speaks courage and life and hope to you, that feels like a compass needle? That’s the place you’ll be living from, from now on.

It’s your gut, and it’s God-given. You have a good gut.

In fact, despite all you’ve been told, especially recently in light of what you’ve had to do, you are good.

Yes, you are.

You’re gifted, and you’re a gift. You have everything you need right now to move forward. It’s all within you now, and it’s great stuff.

And you are ok, you’re enough. You are wrapped in grace, enfolded in mercy, bathed in acceptance. You are okay. And everything is going to be okay.

There may be a time and a place when and where you’re ready to return to that path. Maybe. But in the meantime. Look up. Look around you. This may seem like a foreboding, dangerous place. But your isolation is an illusion. You are not alone, not at all. There are others ready and willing to journey with you now, and for the long haul. There are lessons for you to learn, about yourself, about God. And there are tools you can make, find, perfect and hone which can come the distance with you, for your whole life, to make sure you never find yourself spiritually abandoned or abused ever again.

This is not the end. This is the beginning.

And I’m ready to walk with you. And a new, supportive community of friends and teachers are looking for you. Waiting for you.

Courage, BRAVE one.

BRAVE is an online course designed for women who have left the mainstream Christian church and who wish to re-orientate their faith and spiritual practice to be both self-determining and spirit led.

The next BRAVE course kicks off 20th October, and applications are being taken now with limited places available.

I’d love to answer any questions you have or chat with you about BRAVE. You can click through to the BRAVE info page below or else contact me (Jo Hilder) at brave@johilder.com

Can’t wait to meet you, dear BRAVE one!

http://www.johilder.com/brave-online-course-with-jo-hilder/

Finding your tribe.

It’s easy to tell who your allies are, who your tribe is.

They’ll be the ones who, when confronted with your independence, confidence, growth, courage, creativity and success, will say “I knew you had it in you”, instead of “and just who do you think you are?”

You need friends and teachers around you who have stared down their own fears, and faced off with their feelings of being threatened by someone else’s growth, joy and progress.

You need people behind you who support the truth about you – that you are capable, good-hearted, and more than enough – and who don’t try and convince you more dependency and more smallness will serve you.

You can choose this. You’ve already begun. You’re further along the path than you realise.

Look for the ones who are not surprised by your successes, threatened by your knowledge, or stand to gain by your staying small.

They are your tribe.

Love, Jo x

How To Recognise A Spiritual Abuser

What is spiritual abuse?

Spiritual abuse occurs when someone makes promises or threats on behalf of God in order to influence your behaviour or attitude, to gain benefit for themselves or for a movement or organisation they represent.

The key phrase here is “on behalf of God”. The important caveat is “to gain benefit”.

A spiritual abuser will tell you something they want done, and will say God has something wonderful or beneficial in store for you if you do it.

A spiritual abuser uses stories about Gods protection, favour and blessing to coerce your decision making concerning the church, usually the localized organisation they are the leader of.

A spiritual abuser normalizes shame and uses it strategically to control and influence people to do what is needed to keep the organisation running, and their position secure.

A spiritual abuser is obsessed with concepts of submission and obedience. They speak, preach and perhaps even write about their ideas on submission and obedience widely mostly in relation to church membership and activity of members.

A spiritual abuser writes proverbial “merit slips” on behalf of God, rewarding individuals for certain behaviours and actions with position, recognition and approval, and writing “demerit slips” for undesirable behaviours, including but not limited to non- church attendance, non-tithing, dissent, non-submission and non-compliance.

Spiritual abusers use social exclusion (excommunication, asking a person to leave a church, shunning, withdrawal of position, withdrawal of social contact, ending friendships, social coldness and warning people about the person and their ideas) as management method.

Spiritual abusers use the power of “testimonies” of compliant subjects to reinforce their ideas and methods. They love stories of people who have espoused their ideas and made it work to theirs and the churches benefit. To these ones belongs the platform, fame and approval.

Spiritual abusers categorically belittle or minimize the damage they do. Critics or the damaged are belittled with the label “the offended”. Hurt and injury is dismissed, with blame and responsibility placed wholly on the victim.

Spiritual abusers interpret personal and organizational security and power, popularity, financial success, longevity and resilience against criticism as a sign of Gods protection, favour and approval of them and all their actions.

Spiritual abusers prefer the young, the emotionally and mentally vulnerable  because they may be more easily influenced and controlled. The older and more experienced faithful in a spiritually abusive church may find themselves made redundant or transitioned out of leadership in preference for the young and relatively pliable.

Spiritual abusers always act from a position of behaving as if they deeply suspect you are less-than, have wrong or destructive motives, are not capable, cannot handle responsibility, will do the wrong thing if given responsibility, and are power hungry and filled with selfish ambition. They will treat you like this, and make you jump through various hoops to prove you are not, until they are sure you have submitted completely to their way if doing things, without question or qualms.

Spiritual abusers will discourage you from seeking direction, perspectives, permission, advice, support, counsel or insights of someone outside the organisation or pastoral relationship on matters concerning you and your relationship with the church. They will have special terms for these “outside” parties, like “the World”, and will actively set you up to view them as the enemy or “of the devil”, effectively cutting you off from any source of support, objectivity or counsel. This may include family, friends, members of the community, counsellors or health professionals, or persons affiliated with other faiths or denominations.

Spiritual abusers will abandon you if you leave the organisation, or if you call them out on their abuse or demand they answer to criticism, pretending you are the crazy one, and denying they ever said or did any of the things you claim.

If you suspect you have been or are being spiritually abused, please seek out professional help and support from a qualified counsellor, preferably one not affiliated with the organisation or person facilitating the abuse.

And if you or someone you know is suffering verbal, sexual or physical abuse of any kind, please contact the appropriate legal authorities immediately.

How To Recognise A Spiritual Abuser

What is spiritual abuse?

Spiritual abuse occurs when someone makes promises or threats on behalf of God in order to influence your behaviour or attitude, to gain benefit for themselves or for a movement or organisation they represent.

The key phrase here is “on behalf of God”. The important caveat is “to gain benefit”.

A spiritual abuser will tell you something they want done, and will say God has something wonderful or beneficial in store for you if you do it.

A spiritual abuser uses stories about Gods protection, favour and blessing to coerce your decision making concerning the church, usually the localized organisation they are the leader of.

A spiritual abuser normalizes shame and uses it strategically to control and influence people to do what is needed to keep the organisation running, and their position secure.

A spiritual abuser is obsessed with concepts of submission and obedience. They speak, preach and perhaps even write about their ideas on submission and obedience widely mostly in relation to church membership and activity of members.

A spiritual abuser writes proverbial “merit slips” on behalf of God, rewarding individuals for certain behaviours and actions with position, recognition and approval, and writing “demerit slips” for undesirable behaviours, including but not limited to non- church attendance, non-tithing, dissent, non-submission and non-compliance.

Spiritual abusers use social exclusion (excommunication, asking a person to leave a church, shunning, withdrawal of position, withdrawal of social contact, ending friendships, social coldness and warning people about the person and their ideas) as management method.

Spiritual abusers use the power of “testimonies” of compliant subjects to reinforce their ideas and methods. They love stories of people who have espoused their ideas and made it work to theirs and the churches benefit. To these ones belongs the platform, fame and approval.

Spiritual abusers categorically belittle or minimize the damage they do. Critics or the damaged are belittled with the label “the offended”. Hurt and injury is dismissed, with blame and responsibility placed wholly on the victim.

Spiritual abusers interpret personal and organizational security and power, popularity, financial success, longevity and resilience against criticism as a sign of Gods protection, favour and approval of them and all their actions.

Spiritual abusers prefer the young, the emotionally and mentally vulnerable  because they may be more easily influenced and controlled. The older and more experienced faithful in a spiritually abusive church may find themselves made redundant or transitioned out of leadership in preference for the young and relatively pliable.

Spiritual abusers always act from a position of behaving as if they deeply suspect you are less-than, have wrong or destructive motives, are not capable, cannot handle responsibility, will do the wrong thing if given responsibility, and are power hungry and filled with selfish ambition. They will treat you like this, and make you jump through various hoops to prove you are not, until they are sure you have submitted completely to their way if doing things, without question or qualms.

Spiritual abusers will discourage you from seeking direction, perspectives, permission, advice, support, counsel or insights of someone outside the organisation or pastoral relationship on matters concerning you and your relationship with the church. They will have special terms for these “outside” parties, like “the World”, and will actively set you up to view them as the enemy or “of the devil”, effectively cutting you off from any source of support, objectivity or counsel. This may include family, friends, members of the community, counsellors or health professionals, or persons affiliated with other faiths or denominations.

Spiritual abusers will abandon you if you leave the organisation, or if you call them out on their abuse or demand they answer to criticism, pretending you are the crazy one, and denying they ever said or did any of the things you claim.

If you suspect you have been or are being spiritually abused, please seek out professional help and support from a qualified counsellor, preferably one not affiliated with the organisation or person facilitating the abuse.

And if you or someone you know is suffering verbal, sexual or physical abuse of any kind, please contact the appropriate legal authorities immediately.