Monday, May 19, 2008

Spiritual Manipulation and Spiritual Abuse

I realize that I am way behind on this, but documentaries like Jesus Camp don't appear in theatres in Panamá. Now that I have discovered several websites carrying documentaries, I'm trying to catch up.

Saturday I watched Jesus Camp. I know that I am not alone in finding the film to be quite disturbing. I was disturbed by the mixing of Church and State by the pastor and her group, but not surprised by it because I've never met any politically liberal Pentecostals and I know that they think that the First Person of the Trinity is a Republican (His Son, however, is a Democrat. This happens in the best of families. And how do we know that His Son is a Democrat? Because he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not an elephant!). I don't understand how the folks at that camp didn't see the idolatry in having children pray at a card-board cut-out of George W. Bush with the flag parading about in the background, but these folks tend to be idolatrous in many areas, especially in their approach to the Bible. So the political aspect of the camp was bothersome, but not was really disturbed me.

What really disturbed me about the camp and the pastor and her staff and invited speakers was the spiritual manipulation I saw taking place. I went to church camps run by an Assemblies of God church and lots of this stuff happened there, too. The looks on the faces of the children when Pastor Becky was telling them that the Devil goes for children first was upsetting. Using "sin" as a means of manipulating them and making them cry and confess really upset me, just as it did when I was a young person at these camps. I've been "saved" a good twenty-five times as I was easily manipulated. I was always "backsliding" and needing to get right with God. I rejected Christianity as a young adult (mostly because of this spiritual manipulation) and ended up in a psuedo-Hindu meditation cult which used similar techniques in controlling us (instead of "backsliding" we were accused of being "in your mind.") I really don't understand why Pentecostals and Evangelicals find it so important to have lots of crying and weeping for an authentic spiritual experience. Maybe Paul or KJ or others who grew-up or spent time in such churches can explain it to me. It ALWAYS bothered me, but I was a kid and couldn't say anything; it was probably the devil trying to control me, right?

I noticed that many of the children would rock back and forth when talking with Pastor Becky and the camp staff, as if they were very anxious. There is a very telling scene in which Pastor Becky meets Levi and his friend at a gathering before camp. She asks them when they were saved and they both start rocking while talking with her. She asks them if they're coming to camp and they continue to rock and sway and glance about (there is no music in this scene). They look anxious to me! There was also some pro-life guy who spoke at camp and also led an anti-abortion protest who rocked a lot (and I don't mean that in the good way!). Actually, his rocking seemed to be a manifestation of mental illness, but maybe I'm being unfair.

I read that the Kids On Fire camp has closed down since the documentary was released, because Pastor Becky feared for the safety of the kids. It's too bad (imho) that she isn't more worried about the spiritual safety of the children and her own spiritual manipulation. It's bad enough when people use this stuff on adults, but to manipulate children in this way is spiritual abuse. I am concerned because it appears that many of those under the influence of the Global South and orthodox so-called groups attacking TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada are very much of the same mind-set as the Jesus Camp folks. I believe that it's all about power and control and spiritual manipulation; it is not about salvation and bringing about God's reign.


FranIAm said...

Oh Padre, Padre... God bless you, for what you have done here.

In January I put Jesus Camp on the old DVR and watched it obsessively for about a week. Mr. He Is, who does not ever go to church and puts up with all my church-ery quite well, was beginning to grow concerned.

I tried and tried to write about the abuse I saw, but I never found the words. You have done so here.

It was horrifying from so many levels, I couldn't believe it. And I agree about that whole icky cardboard cutout GWB nightmare.

The movie still sits on the DVR but I can't watch it any more.

The abuse I experienced as a kid was sexual and emotional and within my own family. Gratefully I have been given grace upon grace of healing. However, seeing this brought back the central theme of abuse and power and how it happens in so many ways.

This was clearly the use of abject fear and power to "save."

Today I am grateful that I found my way back to my old you-know-what of Babylon church, with all of its many problems of abuse. I am in a parish and in a diocese where we are consistently reminded that we are already saved and what we need to be doing is acting on how we appropriate what has been given us so freely.

It clearly ticks a lot of folks off when our Padre reminds them of such, but it is a good thing that he does this. He is a cool dude and I may have to have him look in on the Friday blogging one day. He will get a kick out of it.

In any event, thank you so much for this post, the one I could not write, but the one I can link to.

God have mercy on us all.

Jay Simser said...

Unfortunately there is to much of what you call, "it's all about power and control and spiritual manipulation" going on in a lot of religions today. That is why I have started calling myself "spiritual" when anyone asks me what my religion is. Thanks for a great post.

Mary Sue said...

You know, I'd consider myself a liberal Pentecostal. I'm certain there's probably a few others out there. We manage to sneak around, though, under the radar, because in my case at least, I don't think the gifts of the Spirit are for showboating.

Matty Boy said...

Good review, Padre. I saw this thing, but I missed a lot of the points you noticed. I recall the fire and brimstone kid talking to Ted Haggard, and Haggard being completely dismissive of the kid. Of course, neither of them do anything for me spiritually. Moreover, I don't think much of them as public speakers or teachers, two things which I can critique from first hand experience. But I remember thinking that Haggard was really an insecure creep for putting the young man down the way he did.

Again, thanks for your insights. You da man!

Reverend Ref + said...

Wait a minute . . . Pastor Becky?????

Hmmm . . . seems I've read something about this somewhere . . . where was that? Oh, Yes!

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet. 1 Tim. 2:12

I wonder if anyone has pointed out that particular scriptural prohibition to them?

Grandmère Mimi said...

At Fran's place I said that I would not comment on the documentary until I see it, but I really don't think I could watch it. Just look at the expressions on the faces of the children in the picture of the close-up of the girl crying. That is disturbing.

FranIAm said...

Oh Grandmere - you have no idea. They get these kids all worked up- fearful, crying and so forth.

It is awful.

Anonymous said...

One need not be a licensed mental health professional to find the emotional manipulation, indoctrination, and outright brainwashing of the Jesus camp both repulsive and enraging. It's childhood spiritual abuse on steroids.

I think when it comes to Christo-fascists and their dominionist submission theology, liberal America has been tolerant for far too long. It's obvious that their goal is to reshape American law into Deuteronomical justice.

And act like the Beatitudes just don't exist.

Doorman-Priest said...

What are we doing to our children?

Another generation of guilt-ridden Christians more aware of the wrath than the love of God, if they stay in the church at all.

We need to pray that they survive all this and gain a personal and mature faith.

Marilyn G said...

I was raised in the Assemblies of God. I still identify as a Pentecostal, but I do not identify with the AG and never will. (For one, my politics fall under the umbrella of radical leftism/Marxist pedagogy.) I recall a lot of incredibly disappointing and hurtful experiences from the AG that to this day have made me reluctant to seek out any kind of church or Christian group despite identifying as a Christian. That is sad.

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