Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Can you pass the test?

I have in previous posts explained what a dysfunctional religious group is and the factors that cause people to remain in the system. Along the way, I have provided a few sources that I have found to be very insightful and believe me, these people have counseled hundreds of people regarding this situation. I think it is important to discover this is a very significant issue in the body of Christ. But one thing I have not done up until now is provide you a checklist for yourself that might be an indication that you have been subjected to dysfunction from a religious group. What I hope to do is provide for you are ‘symptoms’ of dysfunction. These fall into two main types: The Before and After the departure.

The Before

1> A profound sense of missing your best Friend – Systems like this never reflect badly on themselves only on the people that are members. The focus is about further refinement of our spiritual walk and how one is not trusting, believing and implementing the teaching correctly. The dynamic here creates an entropic slide described as: the best effort implement the system time is exerted and again after evaluation, one never measures up to the standard in turn which more effort is expended to continue the refinement. In the midst of it all, there is self-doubt and even condemnation that Jesus would not reveal Himself to such unsuccess. The personal assessment is one is too worldly and earthly-minded. The way to stop this spiritual entropy is to realize no one measures up. This is the reason why Jesus came in the first place. Many spend their lives serving a self-imposed idol. The reality is that there is an obvious conclusion: Jesus was not in what was being done. This leads to the next point.
2> Fatigue from trying hard to measure up – Religious systems, especially dysfunctional ones, wear you out. In the end, it might be God’s mercy, you get so tired, you give up trying. There is an over-whelming sense of guilt by releasing one's grip from trying. There are many manifestations of this but perhaps grieving is the most profound emotion. The countenance of one exposed to such forces is quite haunting: It is a look of bewilderment, hurt, anguish, sorrow, guilt, fatigue, panic and helplessness.
3> Related Mental States that accompany the above fatigue- Below is a list of emotions that are manifested in a dysfunctional religious system. Please take this with a grain of salt because usually the emotions were there before entry into the group. What might be sensed is a disappointment that the emotions listed below are still present when the hope was that they would be greatly reduced by the ‘solution’ offered. This is a vicious cycle because now the group’s perception of the person is always through the eyes of the teachings. What this simply means is as the group offers the solutions and the expectations are set by the entrant that this will ‘fix’ the issue, it is surprising to the entrant that it has not. What does the leadership do? They focus on the lack of implementation by the entrant of the solution. It is never far enough or good enough for the results to be manifested. So, the cycle is to try harder. All the while, the guilt and the sense of failure accumulate and it never reduces. As they were probably told before by a parent or other authority figure, the fault lies solely with the entrant. This is the main indicator of the self-imposed abuse of a dysfunctional religious system. It is as Jesus said, there is not a finger lifted to ease the burden they have weighed the person down while straining at gnats and swallowing camels. So here is the list:

Constricted,Cut off from God, Fragmented, Unclear, Anxious,Weak, Disappointed, Judged, Afraid, Intolerant (especially of self), Dishonest, Hurting, Rejected, Sad, Hopeless, Disconnected, Confused, Overburdened, Shut Down, Resentful, Stuck, Enslaved, Diminished, Undermined, Needy and Dependent, Manipulated, Downcast, Starved.

Remember, if you had these before, the root issue that caused you to seek out the group in the beginning and become a part of it, will still be present after departure.

The After

1> Disillusionment about God and spiritual things – From the inside they call it apostasy from the outside it is just plain heart-brokenness. It is very natural to be disillusioned about everything that pertains to God. There can be long stints of no bible-reading, no church attendance and possible reversion into a lifestyle that is counter to being a disciple. While these cannot be excused, they are indeed understandable. Each in their own right have ways of coping with the pain of loss. It is very common for these to truly believe God has forsaken them and that they are now alone. After all, this is what they were told when they left. There was no right hand of fellowship but the other side. Some never return from this state of brokenness.
2> Anger – This is because of unresolved conflict. Basically, the injustice and the passive reaction of the ex-member during the final ‘stroke’ . The anger can be towards oneself, towards ex-leadership and anybody else. This has to do a lot with the regret of being subject to something that the person considered to be unfair. From the research I have done, the manifestation of anger seem to be correlated with the length of tenure of the ex-member. This also masks the healing process for the person experiencing it. Forgiveness has to be exercised by the person if they are ever to move beyond the symptom of anger and into the deeper issues surrounding their subjecting themselves to such an environment for so long. Unfortunately, many of us are programmed for this type of group to catch and retain us for long periods.
3> Schizophrenic positions to the former group – This can best be explained that at almost the same moment the person can have very polemic positions towards the group where they were members. This can swing from thinking fondly to being extremely opposed to the group. The person may even question their own sanity at times. This is well-documented behavior especially for those who were either raised in the group or had been in it for a very long period of time. This is a normal reaction to those who are dysfunctional and is a key indication that the group may be merely the catalyst of behavior that is more deeply seated within the individual.
4> All the mental states above in the ‘The Before’ section could be in play. – Thoughts of self-destruction, self-blame are rampant.

If any of the above resonate with you, they are common amongst us all to varying degrees. Be careful that your standard of measure is no longer based anything upon the group., its doctrines or any individual associated. Ironically, the group looks at expatriates and chuckles to itself that they knew it would happen. These ‘examples’ are held up to those that remain ‘see what will happen to you?!’ to keep their grip and control. The tragedy is that if one is not careful, they will agree with the group-think after exit and this will haunt them sometimes for years.

Here are the facts:

1> If you had dysfunction impact you life prior to entry into the group, The group built upon what was already there. You believed the false premise that the group’s teachings would fix deeper seated problems. What was offered to you more than likely was a system to ‘rid’ yourself of these issues. Perhaps the teaching set you up for self-loathing; agreeing that ‘you ‘ are the problem and providing doctrines that will rid you of yourself. The reality is we are all sinners and broken, this is why Jesus came in the first place. Go to the cross and stay there. There is no other answer but His person and relying on His sacrifices on our behalf. It is His blood alone that washes us. There is nothing else. The question you have to ask yourself is ‘Did my focus change for my need for the blood to something else? (e.g. baptism, the doctrines of the group, etc). ‘
2> Do not confuse orthodoxy with orthopraxis. Usually, it is not the doctrine that is the issue but the outlines of it that bring it into the day-to-day living – that is the orthopraxis of it. This is the same mistake the Jews made in Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Jews sought to fulfill and obey the law – orthodoxy - by setting up a system of living that they believe fulfilled it – orthopraxis. In the end, they lost sight of Jesus and even the Law as they strained through the scriptures to add to their orthopraxis. They felt superior to everyone else and they missed the very kingdom they set out to protect – they crucified the King of it.
3> Your standard is the Scriptures, not the interpretation of them. Stand on the basics of your faith not on the ‘deeper’ things of God perhaps you have been exposed to by the group you left or are pondering leaving. It is quite clear that ultimately it is to Jesus we all will answer for our lives. We are accountable first to Him and as such we answer to no other but Him. It has been a long process that took this truth away from you and as such, it will be a long process back. Remember, as Ockam’s Razor states, the simplest explanation is usually the best. This is the great truth of the gospel, it is not based any on man’s work but God’s – this is the major tenet that has remained. Stop trying to earn your salvation , you cannot. Secondly another principle Ockam held was: Any authority that violates their scriptural responsibility and mandate, invalidates their authority to operate. With William of Ockam it was the Pope, presently it might be someone else. What is the authority they have violated? It is the same mistake as the Pharisees , they have interjected themselves and their Codex between the Lord and His servants. As Jesus removed their authority and exposed it for the farce it was, so He will deal with those who do basically the same in our day.

This is a test I wish I could say that I failed miserably. But being one that passed, I need to take this into account in the rest of my journey. It is as the old hymn states”
‘In my hands I nothing bring, simply to thy Cross I cling.’