Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Leadership in abusive churches

In my previous post, I discussed the danger of the clergy/laity distinction as promoted by the religious system. As I thought about it later, I realized that this tradition is the foundation of abusive systems. Expose and destroy this lie and the abusive system has nothing on which to stand and it will crumble.

Although all institutional churches have a clergy group that is separate and distinct from other believers, in an abusive system, this distinction is carried to an extreme. The leader takes on godlike proportions and is to be followed with unquestioned obedience.

Submission is a favorite topic in these groups. This was true in the abusive church I was involved in. The pastor’s insecurities weren’t noticeable at first but later, as they became more obvious, he began to speak more and more about submission. He taught that we were supposed to give him unquestioned obedience. If it turned out he was wrong, God would deal with him about it but our responsibility was to obey without question.

This gave us an easy way out since we didn’t have to think or take responsibility for our actions. This hindered us, however, because it prevented us from developing our own relationship with God. After all, why should we? We had the man of God to tell us what to think and what to do. We didn’t need to have our own relationship with God. That would only cause us confusion since we might hear God tell us something different than what the pastor said. Since the pastor was always right, of course, we had to have heard wrong.

In abusive systems, pastors love to be called “the man (or sometimes, the woman) of God.” This title separates him or her from the rest of the people because it’s assumed that he has a special relationship with God that’s unavailable to others.

Scriptures are mis-quoted and taken out of context. I remember the pastor standing up front as he quoted “King of kings and Lord of lords.” As he said, “King” and “Lord”, he would point to himself. Then, when he said, “kings” and “lords”, he would point to us to emphasize that he was king and lord over us.

When there is any indication that someone might have a differing opinion, those leaders are quick to remind their followers of the danger of touching God’s anointed. We were told that leadership had a special anointing and that God would punish anyone who spoke against them or criticized what they did. Because of this anointing, they were answerable to no one but God and could not be held accountable for their behavior.

The basis of this teaching is found in the Old Testament verse, Psalm 105:15 which says, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”

Notice that “anointed ones” is plural. When we put aside our traditions and look at this verse in context, it’s obvious that the anointed ones being spoken about are ALL of God’s people and not a select few. It’s obvious that the warning was given to the enemies of his people and not to his people.

The truth is there in NO special anointing on leadership. Insecure leaders maintain control and protect their position by twisting scriptures for their own personal benefit and this is only one of the many scriptures that they twist.

God doesn’t require unquestioned obedience even in our relationship with him. We’re free to ask questions and seek clarification when we don’t understand or agree.

God has invited us into a relationship with himself in which he treats us with respect and as adults. Although we’re his children, he doesn’t treat us as children. He allows us the freedom to make our own decisions. We’re responsible for the decisions we make and for our actions and we shouldn’t turn this responsibility over to anyone else.

The good news is that Jesus has removed the barrier between God and man and he has become the only mediator we need. In abusive systems, this beautiful loving relationship with God is replaced by total submission to a man and, in essence, he replaces Jesus as our mediator. By submitting unquestioningly to man’s authority, the barrier is put back up. Total freedom will come only as believers understand that the clergy/laity distinction is a man made tradition. As we learn to accept the love and grace that God so freely offers, we will live in that freedom that Jesus came to give us.

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