Editor’s Note: A couple of weeks ago I got an email from an active Clergy Project member who told me how upset he was after hearing an account of “…people who were mentally and emotionally raped by the church organization they participated in.” I asked if it would help to write about it. This is the result.
By “Stan Bennett”
I watched a You Tube video of a church service where the preacher unleashed his rage on the congregation. He called out individuals in the crowd, actually making one young man stand up to receive a holy tongue-lashing. I watched that big young man hunch his shoulders like he was taking a physical beating and nod his head in agreement with the preacher’s criticism. At one point the preacher said the boy wasn’t worth fifteen cents. All through the beating the preacher would say to the congregation, “You all know I love you, don’t you?”
I was enraged at the preacher who used his position to hurt the people. But I was also angry at the crowd for passively accepting the abuse. Why didn’t they just get up and leave? Why do people willingly come to a place every week, sit down, and let a guy yell at them?
This has been difficult to write because it has stirred up so many feelings, and it took me a while to sort through them and trace them back to this event:
Years ago, I experienced a depressive episode that put me in the hospital for a few days, and it took me at least a year before I began to feel even a little “normal.” Early on in that year my father, who is a minister, attacked me verbally, using all my vulnerabilities against me. He was angry because my illness embarrassed him. I sat for two hours, enduring the blows of his words, until I crumbled into uncontrollable sobs. He concluded his assault by offering to pray for me, which I declined.
I sat there and took all of that abuse from him because I thought God was using him as a means to discipline me. Even now after two decades, I have to resist the nagging feeling that I somehow deserved that beating, and then I’m embarrassed that I’m still vulnerable to feeling that way. I understand now that it’s common for the victim to believe he is to blame for the abuser’s anger.
I think that same dynamic of abuse occurs in churches all over the world. Furthermore, I believe it is a deeply embedded cultural aspect of religion.
It’s easy to blame the narcissistic donkeys that rail from the pulpit.
But think for a minute about how they got there. It is likely that church described above sought out this man, invited him to be their minister, moved him and his family to their town and paid him a salary to have him stand up every week to abuse them.
Why? Because it’s good old religion. It’s their culture.
I have worked for churches like this and resisted the call to be abusive. Even when I was considered ultra-conservative, I tried to be kind in the pulpit. I told the people that they were valuable and loved. It’s ironic to me that I had more criticism directed at me because I was nice rather than mean. I would have had a more secure career if I had been the angry, ironfisted bastard they’d hired me to be, so they could come to continue their weekly beatings.
My thoughts go in many directions.
I think of that pastor with the smarmy smile, soft voice and simpleminded message who receives enough money to live in a mansion and fly in a jet. People get angry with him, but he didn’t steal any of this stuff. He simply demanded it, and people willingly gave it to him because they think he speaks for God (and you can’t disprove that).
I also think of ministers who brainwash people to do terrible things, up to and including drinking poison to show their loyalty.
I think of people who pay a huge price for gradually realizing the religious craziness for what it is. When they begin to ask their questions, they’re shushed. When they speak up to say they no longer believe; they lose their friends, families and even their jobs.
And I think of people like me who remain in the pulpit, who no longer believe, who refuse to beat their people, who long to fulfill their desire to heal and help and who dream of a time when they can escape this culture.
I also dream of helping others escape it as well.
Bio: “Stan Bennett” is a closet agnostic, still working as a minister for a mainline denomination. He is the same “Stan” who was recently featured in the CNN documentary, Atheists: Inside the World of Non-believers. He has been a pastor for over thirty years, but is searching for other employment so he can escape from under the clergy robes. He has a blog called A Preacherman’s Secrets and is publishing a book by the same name.
>>>>>>>>Photo credits: By Nancy Wong – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44405530
By SleafordSue – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22114288