Growing up, I always heard the phrase “don’t be a victim.” Ironically, in hindsight, I see that most of the people who said that to me were personifying exactly what they were protesting: being overly offended. This is a common phrase/idea taught in faith-based organizations because it is founded on the belief that God is bigger and he will defend you, whether that relief comes in real-time just how you wish it would or if it happens in a theoretical time long after you needed it. The idea is commonly used as a tool for people to shift their power from the offender/perpetrator and lovingly release it to God. Right out the gate it sounds like a move you’d recognize from “the road less traveled”, like something a person with good character would do. You know, let go of the offense, and remain unjaded by what initially pained you. But, along with numerous other ideas founded on good intention in many faith-based organizations, it epically falls short of carrying any substantial weight when the shit hits the fan.
What am I even talking about?
I’m going to lay out a few scenarios that will highlight common faith-based practices, teachings, or ideals. They are reasonable, even good ideas with pure intentions. But I’m going to show you what can happen to those ideals when they are met with abuse (domestic violence, rape, trauma, etc.), death (sudden, terminal illness, etc.), or any other tragedy (you name it, these ideals will fall short in actual life). Let me be clear that some of these shifty ideas are just assumed or simply observed in most circles, but the point is that they are rarely addressed or brought to the stage to clarify in a capacity relating to all the fine lines that could cause them to be severely misinterpreted.
P.S. These are all actual experiences I’ve had personally.
Scenario 1: Pastor: The Closeted Abuser
Shifty Ideal: Husbands and wives should honor their spouse, attend church/community gatherings together, and support each other in ministry/business/life.
She’s married to a pastor. They are both young and navigating an unfamiliar road as full-time ministers. It’s fun, exciting, and fulfilling to be living this dream together. She loves serving these young people alongside her husband. She hasn’t learned it for herself but feels the pressure to be the involved, supportive, honoring wife of the pastor as an example to the patrons they are leading. But over time she begins to feel weighted by the expectations he has for her: to be at every service he plays a role in, to worship beside him, to make sure their children are the traditional “church kids”- attending long services, catching daddy time in the aisles between services and during greeting breaks, etc., and relinquish all dibs on him when “duty calls” and he needs to leave family time to help a patron in need, attend a meeting, or take care of any other kind of church mayhem.
All of these requirements could reasonably be categorized as “part of the calling”… unless. Unless just before those services he’s requiring her to attend hand in hand with him, he screams at her and tells her she’s “a f*%&ing b*$ch” for whatever reason and tags on a few lines about how she needs to “get right with God and figure out how to honor” him.
All of the sudden those “run of the mill” mandatory meetings and requests for her presence become the lock that seals her fate behind the bars of the prison he has created for her in their home. What should be a simple (and rational) request to show support for her husband can so quickly require her to betray herself by continuing to play by his rules even when he has ripped her apart on the inside just hours before. To his bosses (lead pastors/elders), if she resists the requests for her involvement, she can easily be seen as “difficult” or “not a part of the team”, stacking on the shame and making her feel like even more of a disappointment than she already does. So, she chooses not “to be the victim”, and she does what is asked of her. And every time she does, a little more of her soul withers. She is on a delicate path to losing herself for the sake of protecting his persona.
Fine lines are so easily misinterpreted and can have catastrophic repercussions. They’re so hard to see when you haven’t experienced them. But just because you haven’t seen them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t playing out right beside you.
P.S. This is the second excerpt from the book I’ll be self-publishing SOOOON. Want to read more? I’ll post again soon!