Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cult of Personality

Perspective often comes with a little bit of distance and a lot of time. Often, a person cannot see clearly the totality of a situation until they take a few steps back and put some miles between themselves and the circumstance. I've come to believe that I was once part of a cult, of sorts. A personality cult or cult of personality is a system in which a leader is able to control a group of people through the sheer force of his or her personality and is often portrayed as a god-like figure. These circumstances foster various abuses, usually spiritual, implemented through double standards and hypocrisies. What I experienced personally was that when I brought an issue to leadership that I asked for help with, instead of help, I was viewed as an enemy of the community because I had an issue I was bringing into the camp. This resulted in isolation, intimidation, and all manner of things that should not come from a spiritual leader who is in a position to help or guide someone who came to them in humility, asking for assistance. During my years in this place there were a great many things that were off that I rationalized. I dismissed them because if there were two ways of looking at an issue, I generally gave the benefit of the doubt to the men and women who were running the congregation. Sometimes issues would arise where I did not agree with what, for the sake of this blog, we'll call the “matriarch” or the “patriarch”. I brought what I saw as scriptural discrepancies to their attention, and again, I was met with hostile resistance. However, this time it was not from the hierarchy. No, it was from a selection of their influence that they had set in place to ensure that accountability could be swayed by those who wished to garner favor with the "leaders". They do this in order to be perceived as "holy". I was told that I had no right to come to the leadership to address actions or inaction that I saw that were not in line with scripture. I was told that I was being arrogant and lifting my hand “against the Lord’s anointed”. Here are these men with no training in any form of counseling, with no formal submission to any greater body, saying that a man has no accountability except for them, and they have no accountability except through him. Yet, both were intending to neglect the parts of scripture they swore to uphold before a community for the sake of expedience. I cannot tell you how much I was scarred from the events where I was vulnerable before these men and I was treated with contempt because my questions conflicted with their sanctimony and pride. That is not to say that the many of them were or are not well-meaning or well-intending. No, they are flawed, and many of them oblivious to their faults and not in a place where they'd be able to receive awareness of their blindness.
Look at how I'm still sitting here defending these people because I love them. I love them, but that does not change the fact that there is a deep, unspoken sickness in their structure and body that they ignore because they want to believe that everything is wonderful and happy. A friend of mine brought something to my attention the other day regarding an earthquake that was supposed to devastate the west coast. He did not present it as prophecy, he just asked that I pray about its possibility. That man is a good man whom I love dearly, and he stated outright that this is very possibly nothing, but it would not hurt to pray about it. Cut and dry. However, there were others who purport that they are wise and gifted with an abundance of discernment. They have boasted in this gift as a sense of identity and have spoken of mystical dreams that they had in relation to this major quake. Nothing happened. There was no quake. What then of their mystical dream? I joked with someone close to me that I survived yet another Messianic doomsday. They asked for clarification of my comment and I went through a short list of failed prophecies about wormwood hitting in 2009, or again in 2010, or all the people living in FEMA camps in 2011, or the devastating financial collapse that should have happened in 2013 that would have imposed martial law. These were just some of the many predictions that swirl and swarmed around this place. Even people in the leadership had failed predictions, and I recall one specific time a leader actually specifically stated that God had told him something that did not come to pass. He stated exactly that God had told him within the next two years, there was going to be a massive influx of people into that specific church of a certain age group. It didn't happen. It was a false prophecy, and this leader had said "thus saith the Lord", when the Lord had not spoken. I dismissed that fact and pushed it aside because of my love for this man and his family. He appeared so godly. I felt that he was so trustworthy at the time that even when spiritual abuses and neglects happened, that I believed that I was explicitly to blame and that he bore no responsibility. I was a wretch and he was a righteous man. I had talked with two separate friends of mine that were older and had used to be in leadership at that same place about the same time. They both had left and they both had cautioned me about the shape the congregation was taking. One pointed out the same objection that I had about the false prophecy, and how that meant that I should disregard the things that the leader was teaching, according to scripture. I made an excuse for him, that he was just mistaken and had probably misspoken. We both had casually laughed it off, but I knew that he was right. The other had cautioned me about the growing unhealthiness that was taking root, but my own sense of duty would not let me leave. I would tell myself that I could bear the discomfort and the pain and hold on, because eventually, they would see how they were hurting people. Eventually, they would see that they've got nothing for outreach and they've missed the point of ministry. Surely if I hung on a little longer, they would eventually see that they were replacing the example of the Messiah and the practical application of HIS life-changing explanations of the word, with idols of intellect that were Savior adjacent. I believed that I was stronger than I was. I was proud. I was blind.
Issues of disagreement were met with hostility. A person couldn't just disagree with how things were handled, because again, they were coming against the Lord’s anointed, and all their authority comes from God. I was often encouraged to ignore what I believed to be discernment, and instead defer to the people who boasted about their position, their spiritual gifts of discernment, and their accountability. So the issues would often not get resolved or the patriarch and matriarch would drag resolution out for so painstakingly long that other more pressing matters would arise that required their attention. This would result in some things being swept under the rug. Control is a major issue in these atmospheres. If they do not like what you have to say, they will do what they need to do to try and keep you from saying it. I wrote a post back in November where I spoke of some things that I had seen and took issue with. This caused a flurry. Instead of a phone call from one person who the section could or could not have been about to me to ask me person to person if there was ought or grievance, there was a set of phone calls made about how to "deal with this blog situation". Several people were called, and meetings were set up to discuss the fact that I had said something that was beyond the scope of their control. I voiced an opinion that was not subject to their censorship, that poised questions, and you are not to question leadership. You're to submit and follow them, and if you do not, you are an enemy of the congregation of whom it is to be guarded against. I was told that there were people who were cautioned to not read what I had written. I had friends delete me off of Facebook without explanation. I've had texts to friends be ignored repeatedly, because I believe that I am now "outside of the camp". In places like these cult congregations, they say that grace is not something earned, yet you have to do something to be eligible for it. They'll say that repentance means turning from an action, but then you still must be punished and suffer consequences. They hold these standards to the community, but they do not hold them to the leadership. I used to teach and I was terrified with the responsibility that teaching holds, but I made a mistake and I was told that I could never teach again. They deemed me unqualified for ministry because of my mistake, which I repented for. That was my punishment. The patriarch once acknowledged publicly that he had wronged me, but he never said why or how, and I extended to him forgiveness and mercy by not calling for his punishment in the ways that he had punished me. He did not hold himself to the same standard of requiring any sort of sacrifice for restoration. He did not hold himself to the same standard of really requiring confession. The people that he put in place around himself to insulate him from accountability did not require that he adhere to his own standards, and therefore were complicit in the perversion of their execution of justice. They like to tout the moniker of "protecting the community", but many times, they're protecting those who do not need protection FROM the community. I know a story of an isolated and lonely young man who was troubled and told someone about issues he was facing. It also came to light an area that he had stumbled in. The response of the leadership was to confront the young man, to ask him if he was a danger to the community and if he should be kept away from the people because he represented a threat to them. The leadership didn't come alongside to help the young man in his areas of weakness. They reaffirmed the position of isolation and segregation, implying that the solitude the young man experienced was justified because he deserves to be disconnected. "We love justice greatly , but mercy only a little." - Paraphrasing Joseph Roux In my time at that place, I saw a good many faces of people in the Bible. I have seen the faces of people who would free Barabbas over Jesus, I saw Pilots who would wash their hands, I saw Jonathans and Davids, a Moses, an Absalom, a Saul. I keep in touch with a few of the Peters, who I love tremendously and who give me hope for the situation. My heart hurts for all the good people in that system who were and are hurt by the abuses, and I pray that something is done to keep it from happening again.
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Edited by Audrey Edits