Saturday, March 1, 2014

Delighting in evil, or rejoicing in truth?

If you've hung around Christian circles - or been to a wedding recently - you've probably heard 1 Corinthians 13, the "love chapter" that starts off "love is patient, love is kind." One of those verses is a common proof-text, one of the most damaging and mis-used texts I've heard, which believe you me is saying something:

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth." (NIV, but most translations say something very similar).

Here's how that verse gets twisted: it comes to light that the pastor of a large congregation has been sexually molesting the receptionist and threatening the loss of her job if she tells. (I wish this were truly hypothetical). Since this is a large and influential congregation and the pastor was well-respected, the story makes its way to the media. A member of the congregation posts the link on Facebook, and another member jumps to the pastor's defense simply by saying "love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth." The idea is that you should never attempt to make a big deal about the sins of a religious leader because that would be "rejoicing in evil." There's a good deal of tribalism about this too: way too many times I saw where a Catholic writer would respond to the media coverage of the priest assault scandals by saying that "well, the percentage for child molestation is X% higher in public schools." In other words, protect your own.

Lest I look like I'm just attacking Catholics - I'm totally not, thankfully I also read many Catholic thoughts on the abuse that were thoughtful and well-reasoned. The place where I've seen this lately is in response to the burgeoning abuse stories coming out of the Protestant fundamentalist movements.

It's truly astonishing, like a stone thrown in the river. First came the news about Doug Phillips, then Bill Gothard. And just like that, two of the biggest and most influential voices in Christian patriarchy were silenced by their own sins. ATI was sort of last year's news, pretty old school fundy really, but there are still families under the sway of the Gothard cult. And Vision Forum - yikes. Their power had grown to a level I never would have guessed. Because they did not tie themselves to a denomination they were able to weasel their way into many Christian groups, spreading the poison of Reconstructionism everywhere they went. I am not holding my breath that the ideas will die, because unfortunately they won't. But at least these particular leaders have lost their grip.

My family was not involved in Bill Gothard's ATI cult, and in fact we delighted in making fun of him. But there was a serious undertone to it, because we knew families broken apart by the madness. There's something particularly painful about watching families crumble, the parents divorce and relationships crushed, because of a cult which promised to create the perfect family. Most families found the pressure too great and cracked. Others gradually removed themselves, but it was too late for the oldest children. The internet is full of the stories of my generation, children raised in ATI who are now adults struggling to recover.

Do I delight in the knowledge that Bill Gothard raped, molested, and sexually harrassed the young women working for his organization? Not for a second. Do I delight in the knowledge that Doug Phillip's wife and children are undergoing public scrutiny and the pain of betrayal? Far from it. No, I mourn -

- For the parents who sent daughters to work at ATI, trusting in their safety
- For the young girls trained to never say no, to submit to all authority without question, to acquiesce to every request made of them by their "spiritual umbrellas"
- For the husbands and wives driven to divorce by the constant pressure to perform, with the crushing knowledge that they could never be perfect enough but could never let down the facade of perfection
- For the many intelligent, talented girls whose dreams were squelched because they didn't have a penis
- For the adult children disowned by their families for daring to step outside the cult
- For the young boys taught that only the length of a girl's skirt kept them from becoming a rapist
- For the parents who wanted something better for their children, who wanted to shelter them from their past mistakes and heartbreak, who gave up their own free wills and sense of self to a guru
- For those driven to suicide, eating disorders, and all manner of self-harm as a direct result of the toxic environment and teachings

I mourn for them almost every day. Because for me it's personal. I know a family who left their church because "only the father can teach the children," thereby fulling isolating their children from any contact outside the home. I know adults brought up in the system who turned to drugs as a way of escape. It's not an academic problem: when I see the words "Christian patriarchy" or ATI or Bill Gothard or dominionism, I see faces.

And that's why I don't stop with mourning.

Am I happy that these men engaged in such breathtaking abuses of power? Not on your life. But I am thrilled to see them discredited as the wolves they are. In order to have grace, you must also have justice on behalf of the oppressed. And the followers of these groups, especially the children raised in the thick of it without their consent, were oppressed by these toxic leaders.

Here's a proof-text for you:

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds may be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.


  1. Wow, this is powerful. It's sad how people who mean well and are trying to provide a good upbringing for their children are led astray. I can appreciate the seductive power of the fundamentalist message - such a relief from the messiness of life - and I am grateful that life events kept me from ever going too far down that road.

  2. Yes. This. This is why I love your blog. I wish you lived near me. I think we'd be coffee buddies. I think so much like you, or you think like me. Excellent post.

  3. Urgh - my old culty church did the whole umbrella of protection type thing. Yukky. They weren't Gothard, but were very similar in the whole "acquiesce your brain, moral compass, heart and soul to the Pastor and all will be well" - all in the spirit of 'unity' of course: "it's better to be one than to be right". All kinds of immoral behaviour went on under this so-called protection, though, as far as I know, there was no sexual abuse thank goodness.

    Great post. Thanks. I'm enjoying reading through your posts.