Michael Gibson-Faith, AFSC’s Faith Action Network
Spiritual abuse is running roughshod over our state. Innumerable Michigan citizens are victims of this pattern of intimidation, coercion, manipulation and disinformation and assaulted with messages of unworthiness of god’s love. In addition, Michigan is home to one of the largest “Ex-Gay” movements in the country, and is also a stronghold for conservative Catholicism that, this year alone, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Michigan’s LGBT families. The Council of Baptist Ministers of Detroit also put their full weight behind Proposal 2.
Despite this abuse, many LGBT people aren’t sure whether to stay in their faith community or leave their abusers behind. As soon as the election was over, I got tons of email from people saying: “I have sat in my pew for years listening to the rants of this minister demeaning my family and tolerated it because I liked the church and the music, but now I can’t bear the thought of staying here,” or “I cannot give money to my church anymore knowing that the money gets spent on attacking other people’s families,” and “I am torn about whether I should stay and try and change my church, or leave before I get hurt further by it.”
Although it’s understandable that one might not want to abandon her or his investment of years in fellowship with a faith community, no one should be asked to swallow nails to be a member. No one should have to listen to their identity and family be insulted week after week. No one should have their spiritual advancement impeded by bigotry. How should we respond to spiritual abuse?
First, we must start naming spiritual abuse when it happens and protecting ourselves from it. We have to learn how to call the abusers out – with love and the desire to change their thinking. Those of us within offensive religious systems need to call abuse what it is. We may need to temporarily leave the situation and get the help and support we need before we’re prepared to create change. There are many support and information resources, in Michigan and online, for people in recovery from spiritual abuse.
Next, we need to help the abusers stop abusing. When confronted with letters and face-to-face visits from allies and recovered former members as to why they left and continued education on the issues, churches will eventually move towards change. It won’t happen overnight, but gradually as more and more ministers come out (now I know you know who you are), as more organists and choir directors leave their church, and more and more tithes and donations leave, and as the mass exodus of LGBT folks from Michigan churches occurs and the pews of our supportive churches across Michigan grow, a message will be sent loud and clear. We will not sit idle anymore while you abuse us. You will not tell us we’re not worthy anymore. We know better than that, and now more than ever it’s time we claimed what we deserve: Spiritual homes that nurture and sustain us, that welcome us into growing deeper into our faiths, not ones that make us ashamed of who we are and afraid of a relationship with god.
Finally, we need to tithe to organizations and faith communities that support us, not to those who abuse LGBT people. There is no shortage of faith communities that support us and welcome us with open arms. Almost every community and city has at least one or two faith communities that welcome LGBT people fully into the life of their temple or church. Many spiritual traditions also have advocacy groups for LGBT people, for example, Dignity (Catholic), Jewish Gay Network, Lutherans Concerned, and more. Soulforce Detroit helps people confront spiritual abusers, and AFSC’s Faith Action Network is a multi-faith project working to improve conditions for LGBT people and families across Michigan.
It is painful to acknowledge that we are being psychologically abused by spiritual authority figures, but how powerful to stop being victims and take action to end the abuse! We should begin a new practice of self-care today by removing ourselves from abuse, recovering from attack, learning how to stand up for ourselves, and, most importantly, choosing to live our best lives every single day, spiritually, socially, physically, and psychologically.