After this busy weekend with the court case (no ruling yet), spending wonderful time with my friends and a little birthday celebration, I woke up in a funk. Two e-mails were pressing on my mind and then I realized, no, there were actually three e-mails that arrived over the weekend that described the destruction of relationships caused by shunning. They found the story in the media and contacted me.
This is the kind of thing that makes me in a foul mood and then I get upset and so I come to the keyboard and type. The subject of the e-mails was shunning.
Shunning can be the act of social rejection, or mental rejection. Social rejection is when a person or group deliberately avoids association with, and habitually keeps away from an individual or group. This can be a formal decision by a group, or a less formal group action which will spread to all members of the group as a form of solidarity. It is a sanction against association, often associated with religious groups and other tightly knit organizations and communities. Targets of shunning can include persons who have been labeled as, apostates, whistleblowers, dissidents, strikebreakers, or anyone the group perceives as a threat or source of conflict. Social rejection has been established to cause psychological damage and has been categorized as torture. Mental rejection is a more individual action, where a person subconsciously or willfully ignores an idea, or a set of information related to particular viewpoint. Some groups are made up of people who shun the same ideas. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunning)
After receiving the e-mails, I called around to see if anyone could verify the stories. They were verified. Ugh! Later, I spent one hour on the phone listening to one person's story as she shared the heartache of not being able to see her loved ones for a long while. The pain in her voice was real. It was gut-wrenching to hear of relationships torn apart. She did not choose this. She was not a member at the church. She was a relative of someone who attends the church.
All three of these e-mails were from outside family members who are being shunned by people in the church. These are family members who don't even go to the church, have probably never even visited the church, yet they are being shunned. People, I am not making this stuff up. Have you heard of such a thing?
These family members outside the church could be sisters, aunts, grandparents, brothers, daughters, it really doesn't matter, but what does matter is these relationships are being torn apart because of shunning: nieces and nephews can't see aunts/uncles, grandchildren cannot see grandparents, brothers cannot see sisters, etc.
Shunning can be broken down into behaviours and practices that seek to accomplish either or both of two primary goals.
1. To modify the behaviour of a member. This approach seeks to influence, encourage, or coerce normative behaviours from members, and may seek to dissuade, provide disincentives for, or to compel avoidance of certain behaviours. Shunning may include disassociating from a member by other members of the community who are in good standing. It may include more antagonistic psychological behaviours (described below). This approach may be seen as either corrective or punitive (or both) by the group membership or leadership, and may also be intended as a deterrent.
2. To remove or limit the influence of a member (or former member) over other members in a community. This approach may seek to isolate, to discredit, or otherwise dis-empower such a member, often in the context of actions or positions advocated by that member. For groups with defined membership criteria, especially based on key behaviours or ideological precepts, this approach may be seen as limiting damage to the community or its leadership. This is often paired with some form of excommunication. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunning)
Why are they being shunned? Perhaps they are viewed as a threat. Maybe they know too much of the inner-workings of the church or family situations and the pastor doesn't want them to talk to their family member and risk losing them from the church. Maybe outside family members are seeing questionable activities and actions and asking too many questions.
Julie Anne asks the simple question: WHY?????????????????????????????
These people were crying out to me asking me what is going on in the church? Do I think the children are safe? How long will this last? What can they do? I don't know. I didn't know this was happening when we were there. So I blog. I tell what I know. I encourage them to pray.
Recently, I saw a reporter on tv fanning a pile of "hate mail" which was evidently e-mail sent to our former pastor. This hate mail was a result of media attention to the case. Would there have been any hate mail without the public lawsuit? I think not. A couple samples of hate mail were included in the court documents as exhibits, so I assume he must be upset about it. I saw them. There were strong words, but they were from strangers who didn't like what they were seeing in the news media and quickly typed out a ranting e-mail. I've had a few of those. I usually send an oozing sweet response and hit "delete" :)
A key detrimental effect of some of the practices associated with shunning relate to their effect on relationships, especially family relationships. At its extremes, the practices may destroy marriages, break up families, and separate children and their parents. The effect of shunning can be very dramatic or even devastating on the shunned, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member's closest familial, spousal, social, emotional, and economic bonds.
Shunning contains aspects of what is known as relational aggression in psychological literature. When used by church members and member-spouse parents against excommunicant parents it contains elements of what psychologists call parental alienation. Extreme shunning may cause traumas to the shunned (and to their dependents) similar to what is studied in the psychology of torture.
Maybe I should have printed out all of the e-mails I have received since the inception of this blog to show reporters - hundreds of pages. Some e-mails I have received have been particularly upsetting to me. No, I'm not talking about the negative ranting. Who cares. There will always be those. I'm talking about the pages and pages of personal accounts from people telling their stories of spiritual abuse, shunning, abandonment, shaming, etc. The kinds of e-mails I'm dealing with are people crying out to me describing the pain and anguish of loved ones they know are alive, but are not allowed to see, but long to see. The relationships were ripped from them.
Try to imagine having a relationship with a close family member and then it is stopped immediately. No explanation. No closure. Holidays that were traditionally spent together are now without that loved one or family. No more birthday celebrations together. No more camping trips, impromptu coffees, etc. Death would be easier because there is something final, you can move on. This is heart-wrenching because you know they are alive. It's always at the back of your mind reminding you of what once was, what should be, and what you cannot have. You wonder if they think of you, what they are told about you, you remember those precious times together, but you can't have it. If this happened to me, I think I would go crazy. I'd probably drive by the house, hoping to see family. I'd drop off gifts. I'd frequent places I knew they would go to just to "happen" to run into them. I don't know what else I'd do, but family is so important and I'd probably do anything to break through that wall. Good grief, I cannot even type this without getting teared up again. You guys have got to get a sense of what this does to families, relationships and how destructive it is. And it is a complete FARCE - totally made-up rule only benefitting ONE person. :::ja, calm down:::
Remember the post on False Teachers Mark and Avoid Church Members? The key verse used to justify shunning people was Romans 16:17. I explained how false teachers twist the meaning of this verse to encourage the shunning of congregants (and apparently family members outside the church). They entirely missed the real meaning of the verse which is to shun false teachers.
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. Rom 16:17
I just found what John MacArthur (our former pastor's favorite pastor) says about that verse and how it applies to false teachers (not congregants or people outside the church). I know some of this is review, but it is so important because this shunning thing is absolutely huge in spiritually abusive churches. It was found in an article entitled, Love for the Saints, Part 2:
Now particularly in the church the Apostle Paul says, "Look, here's what you do when you come across it, you mark it and you avoid it." Pretty clear. "To mark it," simply skopeo, identify it, look through the scope, take a good look at it, observe it, scrutinize it, identify it, pick it out, see what it is. And if you know sound doctrine you'll be able to do that. Identify it as heresy, identify it as false teaching and then avoid it, or really in this case avoid them because false teaching always has a source a propagator. That means to come away from it, to shun it.
See, we're not talking about marking and avoiding church members, but false teachers. Here's more of what we're to do with false teachers:
. . . . No, we're not to kill and torture the people who don't believe, just avoid them, move away. Nowhere are we told to stay around and argue with them. That's fruitless. We're told to shun them, go away from them.
And here MacArthur describes the character of false teachers:
And then he gives two reasons why these lying teachers are not worthy of your ears in verse 18. "For they that are such, who bring in divisions and who cause people to stumble and be offended with their lies, they that are such...number one...serve not our Lord Jesus Christ but their own body." Now I want you to understand that this is something that's repeated frequently in the Scripture. They are in it for self-gratification.
Notice also, will you please, the second reason why we ought not to give them our ears in verse 18, you first of all must know that their motive is wrong, secondly, you must know that their effect is wrong. "They use good words and fair speeches and they will deceive the hearts...they will deceive the hearts of the innocent."
Good words, phrase means smooth speech. Oh they can talk...glib, clever. Well you know that, right? I mean, let's face it, the devil wouldn't put error in the mouth of a klutz if he wanted to get his point across, right? It's going to be smooth speech and fair speeches. That implies the word praise, eulogia, like eulogy. It's the idea of false eloquency, flattery, well chosen lies that sound good and appealing and they deceive the hearts of the innocent. So the false prophet comes clever, eloquent, polished, smooth-talking, praising, flattering. He gains the ear and deceives the heart...deceives the heart. And, beloved, that's why we have to test everything by what? By the book.
Innocent is the word akakos. Kakosis sort of a basic generic word for evil, aat the front negates that. They deceive the without evil, the as yet uncorrupted. They corrupt the uncorrupted. They're selfish and sensual and sexual and they deceive with cleverness those who aren't corrupt. And as Peter said they are in bondage to corruption and they lead their hearers into that corruption. They did it in Corinth. That church became entangled in that. They'll try it in Rome. And they're at it today.
I encourage you to read the whole article. It is good.
Oh, why does this insanity continue? It is insanity because it is not about God and love and shepherding the Saints. The false teacher is self-serving for his own self pleasure. This type of shunning I've described is false teaching. There is no benefit for the congregant whatsoever. You don't shun outside family members. ACK!! Once again, I urge those of you who are in a church, following a pastor who is telling you to shun people based on Romans 16:17, leave that church at once. Read Jude. You cannot dialogue with someone like this. You must leave and get out from that corrupt teaching.
At times like this, my only hope is this:
he delivers them from all their troubles.
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
20 he protects all his bones,
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.