Equipping Holy Warriors
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Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 08:57:30 AM EST
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A couple years ago, Bobby Welch, then president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote a book for Christian "Holy Warriors" entitled, You, The Warrior Leader.  The cover displayed a soldier in camouflage and highlighted medals that could be won for valor in battle.

Baptist Press admitted that Welch and Broadman-Holman Press (the SBC's Press) were trying to "capitalize" on the country's spiritual interest in time of war.

The cover of Welch's book is the most nauseating bookcover that I have ever seen in a Christian book store.

The New Testament uses the metaphors of warfare to refer to spiritual conflict, not to wars between nation-states.  At the current moment in history, it is hard to imagine an image more contradictory to the Spirit of Christ and more incendiary to the Muslim world than the cover of Welch's book.

The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, like many of the neo-conservative architects of the war with Iraq, seem determined to propel the world into a cataclysmic "Clash of Civilizations."  

All people of faith and good will need to be working to reduce tensions between different cultures, to foster meaningful dialogue between religions, and to build bridges of understanding and mutual respect between peoples of different civilizations.  Those are the spiritual battles that must be won if the world is to live in peace.

I find this quite distressing because it's yet another sign that the whole "spiritual warfare" and "Joel's army" imagery and theology--which is dominionist at its core and has, sadly, been festering to greater or lesser degree in pentecostal circles for at least the past fifty years or so--is infecting the Southern Baptist Convention in and of itself.

The fact that major promoters of dominion theology within the pente community (such as Bill Gothard) are now being welcomed by the SBC is another sign of this, and not a good one, I'm afraid.  I honestly fear that the SBC may end up picking up the "bad habits" of spiritually abusive and coercive tactics that have run rampant for decades in pente circles where "spiritual warfare" talk is rampant (like the Third Wave churches--New Life Church and the church I escaped from being prime examples).

I probably should not be all this surprised--there's evidence the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International (where a lot of the abusive practices, and the whole concept of dominion theology, largely spread in pentecostalism) was reaching out to the Calvinist factions of the SBC as early as the sixties and both the hijackers of the SBC and the Assemblies of God were active in forming the Conservative Caucus (the first "think tank" in the dominionist community dedicated to hijacking the Republican party and converting it to a dominionist party de facto.  There's been folks that have been from the groups I walked away from who've been helping out the dominionist factions of the SBC for literally decades; I shouldn't be shocked if the hawkers of dominion theology and its related word-faith and "Third Wave" theologies didn't influence them a little bit with all the "spiritual warfare" talk.

That doesn't make it any less distressing, though.  (In fact, it makes it more distressing to me, to be honest; I'm seeing the same thing happen to the SBC that happened with pente groups decades ago.  Trust me when I say they do not want to go down that path. :()  So much of the spiritual abuse in pente groups involved in dominionism is tied up in the "spiritual warfare" thing--it's something people should seriously be on guard for.

by dogemperor on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 10:10:44 AM EST

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by Bruce Wilson on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 10:56:03 AM EST

I found an interview with this 'ear ripping off' preacher at Beliefnet.

Here's an excerpt:

What seems new about what you're writing is your urging that Christians go on the offense. You seem to be saying, it's time to have a more aggressive posture.

You are on it, sis. You've got it. Christians today think they're supposed to view the devil as a sleeping mad dog--and if we'll just tip-toe around it, polish our brass, keep our steeple lighted, stay inside, have a big time in church but don't say much when we get out, the devil won't bother us. But that isn't true.

The Bible doesn't say he's a sleeping mad dog--it says he's a roaring lion, going to and fro seeking whom he shall devour. That sounds like something you want to be ready to deal with. You don't want to say, "Here, kitty, kitty."

I want my 16-year-old and my grandchildren to know how to deal with the devil--I don't want them to have to back up and hide in a corner somewhere. I want to be able to walk down the street, believing God is able to overcome every enemy including Satan.

When I see military imagery mixing with religious belief, it bothers me in a very basic way. It emboldens people into seeing an enemy of some sort everywhere. It used to be just Satan, but there's an overflow that puts Satan everywhere and in everyone who is not an adherent to a particular dogma.

That is what truly frightens me.

by Lorie Johnson on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 10:53:19 AM EST

It makes me mad. It's a perversion of the Christian faith. Advocates of such militant religious attitudes seem to have forgotten the basic messages of the Gospels.

Jesus did not say "smite thine enemy, for he is of the Devil".  No, Jesus commanded "turn the other cheek", and he had strong words to say about those who point fingers. I hardly think Jesus would have approved of this presumption to be able to identify earthly demarcations between good and evil.

Beyond Christianity, for religions the world over which are concerned with "good" and "evil" ( not such strong concerns in the Buddhist tradition ) the following tends to be a central, orthodox, perspective on the theological problem of identifying absolute good and evil on Earth :

Those who presume to be able to identify absolute good and evil on Earth presume an omniscience which is - by definition - divine. For that, such presumption to divine power tends to be called "blasphemy".

But, I'll end my little foray into comparative theology right there. Theological debates and discussions tend to be interminable.  

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 11:16:40 AM EST

Yes, theological debates can be interminable, which is why I stepped out of that particular arena years ago. There are no absolutes, no matter what religions teach. But this understanding is too vast for most people to understand, which is why they prefer to wall it off with faith. I understand this desire for comfort and absolutism. I sought it out, found it, outgrew it, and left it behind.

I've had to deal closely with people who see the devil under every chair, and in every eye. They are exhausting to be around, and their fear is palpable and corrodes their souls. I proposed the idea of just letting go of this constant fear to one religious acquaintence, and she looked at me like I was nuts. She could not fathom stepping away from the fear and letting go of it. She told me that the devil was talking through me and studiously avoided me after that. It was then that I understood the depth of this fear, as well as its intractibility. I've formulated a private theory that some of these folks thrive on fear and hate- they get stuck there, and learn to actually like it. It rules so much of their lives that to lose it would be to take a major thing away. To my eyes, they are ragged and corroded and diminished.

I've known fear- real fear, not the artificially inflated stuff of firebreathing sermons. And I have survived the experience with my sanity intact, but with its marks etched into my psyche. It has taught me to understand that adhering to absolutes will destroy you. The hand cannot remain a fist forever- it must be open in order to accept the gifts given to it.

by Lorie Johnson on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 12:00:39 PM EST

That was moving.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 12:17:25 PM EST

You actually may be more "on" to things--the breeding of fear and eventually becoming dependent on this--than you realise.

(Fred, please pardon the minor digression I'm about to make.  I do have a point to all of this.)

Especially with people who are raised in coercive religious groups (including "Bible-based" coercive groups associated with the dominionist movement) one of the things that the few studies on people raised in those groups have found consistently is that people who were raised in coercive groups consistently have a higher rate of anxiety-related disorders (often showing up as, and misdiagnosed as, obsessive-compulsive disorder).

One of the longterm consequences of being involved in any coercive group--and this is, sadly, especially apparent and possibly a permanent effect in kids raised in coercive groups--is a condition called "complex post-traumatic stress disorder".  It's essentially a variant of PTSD that results from longterm cumulative stress (instead of one particular event).

One of the particular side effects of complex PTSD (which is now increasingly recognised as a distinct type of psychiatric injury and is under consideration for listing in DSM-V) is that people's "fight or flight" response gets stuck.  There are measurably higher levels of stress hormones like cortisone in people who have complex PTSD even after they escape the situation and the process of recovery from complex PTSD takes years.

In the case of people raised in coercive groups (and other abusive situations), one of the things they are finding is that people's brains can be permanently "wired" to have elevated levels of stress hormones--they are constantly on alert, "hypervigilant".  (This is one reason, besides basic socialisation issues, walkaways who were raised in coercive groups have a hard time and often need psychotherapy--growing up all their lives in an environment that breeds complex PTSD literally wires the brain to be a stressbucket, as this is occuring in their developmental periods.)  It is, sadly, a common thing for people who were raised in coercive groups to self-medicate due to the anxiety issues.

This site has some useful backgrounder info regarding complex PTSD, and the following sites have very good info regarding complex PTSD and especially complex PTSD in people raised in coercive religious groups:

Documentation of fear and complex PTSD in child survivors of David Koresh's group
info regarding longterm sequelae of being raised in a coercive group (geared towards custody cases)
Discussion of socialisation and anxiety issues among walkaways from a "Bible-based" coercive group
Excellent discussion of longterm sequelae and complications of walking away when one has been raised in a coercive group
Another excellent article on longterm sequelae of being raised in a coercive group (of note, several "faith healing" groups that have promoted dominionism are noted)
discussion of dominionist child-rearing techniques and longterm sequelae for kids raised in coercive dominionist groups (started by a person whose husband--a pediatric psychiatrist--has noticed severe adjustment problems in children of dominionists)

I mention all this stuff on coercive groups for several reasons (and yes, Fred, this is where I get to the point, I swear):

a) Many of the practices of dominionist groups--especially those with a heavy emphasis on "spiritual warfare" or "deliverance ministry" (which include many if not most non-Christian Reconstructionist "Christian Nationalist" groups, especially the premillenial dispensationalist dominionists)--do have practices that raise multiple warning signs of coercion.  "Deliverance ministry" practices in particular are in some aspects indistinguishable from the concept of "Body thetans" in Scientology--one of the single most harmful concepts in that particular group, according to most exit counselors, because legitimate doubts in the church are seen as a sign of demonic "oppression".

I've written rather extensively--both in comments and in a series of posts on Talk2Action--about the coercive aspects of parts of dominion theology especially popular in the premillenial-dispensationalist dominionist community, so I won't repeat myself there.

I will also note as an aside that a few movements and persons involved in dominionism--Bill Gothard, the "Third Wave" movement in neopentecostal and charismatic churches, David Yonggi Cho, "Youth With A Mission", Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International, etc.--have either been independently identified as coercive and spiritually abusive, or promoting spiritually abusive tactics.  Bill Gothard's writing in particular is essentially a summation of dominion theology as practiced in churches such as the Assemblies of God, and multiple exit counselors consider Gothard's groups to be "Bible-based cults".

b) Much of the "militarisation" of the church is directly related to "spiritual warfare" theology, which is an extension of dominion theology that originally started out with the concept of an "overcomer army" or "Joel's Army" taking over the world.  Many of the practices directly related to this are, as I have noted, explicitly coercive, enough to push the "spiritual warfare" movement in many cases to being a bona fide coercive religious movement.  (There is an increasing emphasis on this in dominionism in general, which is why it's worrying that the SBC is embracing this.)

c) In many cases, this is explicitly targeting children.  Much of the push for dominionist correspondence-school programs is to "isolate" children from "corrupting influences" and to eventually train them to "be Joel's Army"--in some cases, involving literal military training (not just as far as joining the armed forces, but in the case of Bill Gothard, running a boot camp for "God Warrior" youth).  Again, the SBC (and notably the Southern Baptist Seminary) is part of this push:

(from Ethics Daily)

A professor and administrator at a Southern Baptist seminary says he reads "blessedly violent" Bible stories to his young children because he wants to "raise up violent sons" prepared for spiritual warfare.

Russell Moore, dean of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., titled a June 1 column for the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement "Why I'm Raising Violent 4 Year-Olds."

In it, Moore, who functions as the institute's executive director, defended taking his two 4-year-olds to see a movie rated PG-13 for violence.

Moore said a reader objected to an earlier column mentioning he took his two young sons to see "Stars War Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," because the film is "way too violent for children."

Moore went on to say it is only the second movie the boys had ever seen.

"One was a tender, touching Christmas movie about a little boy who discovers that Christmas is all about believing in the miracles within," he said. "The second was a cartoonishly violent movie in which men go face-to-face with evil aliens; often chopping off limbs in the heat of battle."

Moore went on to quip that he repents of "taking them to the Christmas film."

"This is because of my overall philosophy of childrearing," he explained. "I am aiming to raise up violent sons."

"I am not seeking to raise sons who are violent in the amoral, pagan sense of contemporary teenagers playing `Grand Theft Auto' video games or carjacking motorists," he explained. "I want them to be more violent than that."

"I want them to understand that the Christian life is not a Hallmark Channel version of baptized sentimentality," he continued. "Instead, it is a cosmic battle between an evil dragon and the child of the woman, an ancient warfare that now includes all who belong to the Child of the Promise (Rev 12)."

Moore, who has a doctorate in theology from Southern Seminary, said he wants his children to forgive their enemies, "not because they are good boys, but because they understand that vengeance against the Serpent comes not from their hand, but from that of the anointed Warrior-King (Rev 19), whose blood-soaked garments don't often transfer to the imagery of a Precious Moments wall-hanging."

He said he also wants them to "exercise self-control of their passions, not because it is polite, but because they are called to struggle against the Evil One, even to the point of cutting off their own limbs rather than succumb to devices."

An EthicsDaily.com review of "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" in May warned in a reviewer's note: "This movie is unlike the other `Star Wars' movies. The movie's last 30 minutes are the most violent and darkest in the franchise's history. Parents with younger children (under age of 9) need to be aware of this aspect of the movie."

Moore said he would not take his children to see other violent movies like "Kill Bill" or "The Silence of the Lambs," nor would he see them himself.

But he said the "Star Wars" movie "offered the opportunity to talk through these issues of cosmic struggle" with his boys" and "to place such themes in context of what they already know from the most blessedly violent bedtime stories they hear every day: the Holy Scriptures."

(Interestingly, the Henry Institute seems to have pulled the original link, but a quick browse of the site pulls up the original article in full--lest you doubt the article.)

d) Increasingly, the push for "spiritual warfare" is crossing over into "real life" wargames.  Much of the increasing popularity of "Christian Militia" groups is related to the whole "spiritual warfare" movement; also, the increasing amount of infiltration of the military by dominionists (as documented wonderfully by Yurica Report et al) is part of this, as they see themselves as getting actual training and many dominionist groups even increasingly claim people will be "forced to fight for the right to be Godly".  (Braveheart, of note, is commonly used as an example.)  Part of the reason Southern Poverty Law Center started monitoring dominionism is because of the links to militia groups.

(The push for militarism in some branches of dominionism--particularly the groups that spawned dominion theology--is very old, dating all the way back to the dawn of the Cold War in fact, and much of the conspiracy theories promoted in the "spiritual warfare" community date back to the Cold War and still incorporate Communists and/or Russia and/or the UN as Bad Guys.)

by dogemperor on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 01:19:55 PM EST

The kind of faith that is being promoted in the SBC and in many -- not all -- evangelical churches is toxic.

In the past five years I have literally met hundreds people who have left the church altogether to get away from a faith that thrives on fear and guilt.

There is a better alternative.  We need to build churches and faith communities in which a healthy faith is nourished and fostered.  

by Mainstream Baptist on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 12:43:01 PM EST

I've seen that, too- and in the last decade, it's gotten much worse. What is needed is a radical detoxification- but how can this be accomplished?

Is it possible to reach people who have literally walled themselves off from the mainstream world, and who see Satan in everything secular?

Is it possible to detox people who are told twice (or more) a week that Jesus is coming, and boy, is he pissed?

It's clear that this very taxing problem is being addressed. There's even a book called Toxic Faith that talks about this very subject. But how to get the idea into the minds of people who see only one book as their authority?

I even found a test to help someone determine if their faith has gone bad on them.

Stanley Morris has some good insight into toxic faith, and some ideas on how to overcome it.

It is time to create faith communities that  offer alternatives to the anger and hate that is being associated more and more with being Christian.

by Lorie Johnson on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 01:04:19 PM EST

But I choose to see a tale here of differing paths, a way of fear and a way of growth, and of love.

To be so filled with fear.... There are worse things than death, some would say.  

To live in fear, at least, is to live far less than fully. Life need not be suffused with fear. It can be joyous. The wariness that comes from bitter experience is useful, yes, and even as the body tightens up with age from that wonderful flexibility of youth, the human spirit can lose the trust of youth with age and even fall into confines, prisons of fear  But that is needless and tragic, for the human spirit - unlike the body - can grow more supple, more expansive with age.    

To see common humanity in all people, and to see our mutual stake in the common good,  is that so hard ?

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 01:26:12 PM EST

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