Last week’s newspaper headline about
domestic violence on the rise in The Bahamas, which indicated that three out
of four persons are affected, is sad but not surprising to me. We boast of
being a country where Christianity dominates and about 80 to 90 percent of
residents attend church service at least once a month. Is church attendance
making a difference? Every week it seems as though a new splinter group
from some domination or larger church is started. We have a proliferation
of churches but not the growing and sharing of compassionate love. It seems
as though the “faith” that is spreading is toxic and not healing.
"We have a
proliferation of churches but not the growing and
sharing of compassionate love."
It also appears to me that far too
many people are using church for a “fix-me-upper” and not for long lasting
in-depth transformation and inspiration. This is feeding right into many
pastors’ egos and the need for power and control. Too many go to church
each week for an emotional high. In other words, they are so needy or
wounded that they are vulnerable to any false doctrine, especially when it
“sounds good” or makes them “feel good.” Then in the long run they find
themselves trapped into a web of spiritual abuse that leaves them confused,
troubled, and often disillusioned.
More so, too many pastors are
standing before hundreds each week massaging their own egos and need for
attention. It is a powerful feeling having hundreds of people look up to
you. It is my opinion that all of this, combined with rigid traditional
beliefs, is making many churches toxic communities where individuals’ rigid
traditional family values are being reinforced and not challenged. The
result is an increase of domestic violence, child abuse, and intimate
More than a decade ago, I shared
with you in this column my concerns about the increase of domestic
violence. I also suggested that male domination and spiritual leaders’
insistence to propagate marital headship rather than marital partnership was
toxic. I shared just a few weeks ago in another article that research now
tells us that one of the top ten stumbling blocks for couples is “we have
problems sharing leadership equally.” The research also indicates that where
both partners in marriage are perceived as equalitarian (equal voice, vote,
and power), more than 82% of the couples are happy. On the other hand,
where both partners are perceived to be traditional (fix on set roles and
functions), over 82% are unhappy.
Christian theologians, through their
erroneous interpretations of biblical teachings, have laid the foundation
for marital discord that often leads to unhappiness, abuse, divorce, and
sometimes death. The church is to blame.
TOO MUCH BIBLE
Once again, I want to remind you of
what I wrote more than ten years ago. I quoted from Drs. Henry Cloud and
John Townsend’s book, “12 Christian Beliefs that Can Drive You Crazy.” Here
are their findings. It is shocking.
“Christians who had been raised with
minimal Bible training were less injured by these false
assumptions–supposedly biblical teachings–than Christians with extensive
Bible training. In other words, Christians who know their Bibles the best
are often injured the most.”
theologians, through their erroneous interpretations
of biblical teachings, have laid the foundation for
marital discord that often leads to unhappiness,
abuse, divorce, and sometimes death."
Before you come to any conclusion,
read their explanation of these findings: “When the person's allegiance to
the scripture was combined with dangerous teachings, much pain often
resulted.” Certainly we can say that one cannot have too much Bible or be
too spiritual. However, what it is saying is that when persons read the
Bible with preset, rigid, traditional beliefs, the more they read it, the
more toxic and abusive their faith becomes.
There are educated pastors who tell
their female congregants that they should “not usurp the authority of their
husbands.” There are not so educated pastors who say that “a woman can
only have authority if it is given to her by a man.” Neither of these
beliefs is true. They are clearly nullified in Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful
and increase in number, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule over the fish
of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that
moves on the ground.” God gave both man and woman equal authority over
the earth and not one over the other. Sin disrupted the harmony and balance
of power that existed in the original marital relationship. One of the
reasons Christ came and died on the cross is to heal our brokenness and
restore harmony in our marital relationship. He came to “restore in us the
image of God.” He came to ensure that both men and women will have equal
voice, vote and power, not only in politics, community government, but more
so, in marriage. Would God have given Adam and Eve authority over the earth
and at the same time given to him more authority than Eve in their
relationship, when she was created, like him above the animals? This kind
of practice would lower Eve to the level of animals she was made to
dominate. Think about it.
IS YOUR FAITH
The teaching of male dominance is an
example of toxic faith. I wonder how many of us are aware of our spiritual
toxicity. Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton in their book “Toxic
Faith, Experiencing Healing from Painful Spiritual Abuse” list the forms and
variations of toxic faith. They are: compulsive religious activity,
laziness, giving to get, self-obsession, extreme intolerance, addiction to a
religious high. I will explore these issues in another article.
What makes toxic faith so difficult
to understand? When dealing with compulsions or addictions, there is the
issue of moderation. If one is an alcoholic, the goal is to either abstain
or to use alcohol in moderation. We are to eat certain foods in moderation
and abstain from others. Faith is not that way.
“True faith, real and pure faith,
cannot be practiced in moderation. One cannot trust God too much or seek
God too much. Persons whose faith has grown to encompass every aspect of
life are spiritual giants to be modeled. On the other hand, a little
faith—a faith that knows only a bit about God—is a form of toxic faith.”
Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton
Toxic faith prevents one from
searching deep into the word of God and one’s life with an open mind. It
makes one depend on someone else to guide one’s life more than the
Creator. If one can break away from this poisonous faith, there will be a
beginning of hope and a prevention or avoidance of abuse in all its forms.
I believe Christians who are most
vulnerable to toxic faith are those who are taught that screaming, shouting,
and platform theatricals are God’s ways of talking to them. You can hear
this in their own shouting back, waving of white handkerchiefs, jumping up
and down, and screaming. When the service is over, they are exhausted.
They came to church to get their “fix” for the week. But have they truly
questioned? Have they truly listened and understood? Was there something
to listen to and to understand? Or was it just shallow words, sprinkled
with a few Bible texts?
Domestic violence can be reduced
greatly in our country if the churches do the following: (1) Reexamine their
teachings and develop a balanced theology of marriage, family life, and
reconciliation. (2) Admit that domestic violence exists. (3) Stop
protecting the perpetrator and not believing the victim. (4) Develop
compassion. The church must be a place where members feel safe to share and
where they will not be used and abused.
Since, in my opinion, far too many
people in The Bahamas are experiencing a toxic faith, domestic violence will
continue to increase. Many of our spiritual leaders need to “detoxify.”
Until they cease preaching and teaching male dominance, we will have more
victims of abuse. Instead of hearing the words “in charge” and “head” in
the context of marriage, let us hear the words “partnership,”
“companionship,” “harmony,” “mutuality,” and “equality.” Theology without
a social conscience is dangerous. Then and only then, will domestic
violence be reduced in our country.
Barrington Brennen is a marriage and
family therapist. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box N-896,
Nassau, The Bahamas; or email firstname.lastname@example.org;
or call 323 8772.