Religious Abuse on Web Forums - It Goes Both Ways
I appreciate the conciliatory tone of your site, because I am a happy member of a UPC church who feels spiritual abuse is a valid concern. I want to emphasize that spiritual abuse is not limited to one group, however.
I've just got 'ripped' by a Trinitarian gentleman on a Christian forum on Apologetics (www.PRAIZE.com - great Christian alternative to Yahoo!). Your definition of spiritual abuse helped me clarify why I felt so sick and angry inside after reading this man's posts.
I have no problem with debating Oneness vs. Trinity; however, the moment this man found out I was a Oneness Pentecostal, he took it upon himself to continually dredge up web sites that call Oneness Pentecostalism a 'cult' and which are derogatory toward its doctrine. He then quoted an 'expert' who said we shouldn't even be classified as Christians! He plastered his posts with smiley faces, some red faced and 'demonic', others 'winking' and still others with their 'tongues sticking out'. He kept using 'we' to infer that he represented a larger group of members on the forum.
Finally, he wrote a post informing me that he had 'exposed me'. Citing the Biblical practice of gathering '2 or 3 witnesses', he told me that he was now wiping the dust off his feet. I gathered that the '2 or 3 witnesses' were the slew of derogatory anti-Oneness web sites with which he confronted me. Last but not least, he told me that he had e-mailed the 'elite members' to warn them about the evils of my heretical doctrine.
I tried to bring up theological points to show that Oneness Pentecostals had valid doctrinal concerns but he rarely responded to them. One dear soul (not Oneness) tried to rebuke him for the way he was treating me. True to form, he wrote a long post about apostasy and tolerance of false doctrine, insinuating that people like her who were more tolerant of me were not upholders of the true faith.
It was a horrible encounter with an inflated ego hiding behind the scriptures to justify his abusive mentality.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE UPC STANDARDS
When new people ask about standards I tell them not to worry about it unless they feel an inner conviction. Even though I now follow the standards out of an inner conviction, I despise anyone who makes judgmental comments about someone based on their appearance. This is partially because of the turmoil I went through as a 'new convert'.
Having low self esteem (rock bottom, actually), I was very threatened by the 'standards' when I first began attending a UPC church. Actually I was embarrassed by them because my background had been very hip, liberal and feminist.
For months, I tormented myself with the issue of hair and slacks (I didn't like make-up and jewelry so that was a no brainer). I was afraid that if I didn't 'fit in', I wouldn't be loved. But then I didn't want to fit in because I wanted to see if people would accept me as I was.
On the other hand, I felt a lot more comfortable in my church than I had at a charismatic church were the women were 'dressed to the 9's' and into fashionable make-up and hair jobs ('real Christian women look fabulous' was the hidden message and I felt like a 'dog' in my overalls and un-made up face).
One problem that I encountered was people who were eager to 'teach' me about standards but who did not discern that my core issue was wanting unconditional love. The cry of my heart during this period was 'will you accept me as I am even if I don't look like you?'.
As I healed, God did open up my understanding to the reason behind some of the standards, which I now follow and value. It was like I saw a force field of safety and protection in the Spirit and the standards were part of that force field (during the period of turmoil, I was halfway in and halfway out). Once God inspired me to 'go all the way', I felt happy and and peace.
My main point, however, is that whether or not one follows outward standards is really a personal matter between them and God. My Pastor, for example, is fervent about upholding 'standards' but he also preaches that outward change should be a reflection of genuine inward change.
My friend, 'M' is an example of genuine inward change. After she received the Holy Ghost, she said that she put on slacks to go to work and her skin began to crawl. She actually left work to change into a skirt because she felt so 'wrong' inside about the slacks. She also felt a conviction about her fake nails and spent hours trying to cut them off.
My friend 'C' is the opposite case. 'C', a new convert, confided that she was dressing more modestly because she was afraid the church wouldn't approve of her. I told her she should dress according to her convictions. She showed up the next service wearing a strapless party dress. While it kind of raised my eyebrows, I realized that it was better for her to 'dress honest' and experience acceptance than put on a show.
My friend 'B' is an example of convictions that have nothing to do with a church. 'B' came to Christ on her own. Since her conversion, she hasn't found a church. She always calls me about revelations and convictions God is giving her. Although she has short hair, God showed her that the 'buzz' cut she was wearing affiliated her with lesbianism, a spirit she had fought. She keeps telling me about books and tapes God told her to get rid of because they don't 'feel right' any more.
My friend 'S' left the UPC and stopped following the standards. She came back to the UPC and prayed and fasted about the standards. God gave her a genuine conviction about following them and, in retrospect, she feels that turning her back on them had really hurt her family spiritually.
Well, I hope all these examples show that this isn't a 'black or white' issue. Thanks for listening.
Posted August 26, 2002
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August 23, 1997
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