Twisted Christianity
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Mar 27, 2006 at 10:34:01 PM EST
"I finally realized how Christianity had been twisted into something very cold and unloving..."

I am quoting from a young man who wrote to me some weeks ago. He grew up in a United Church of Christ congregation outside of Kansas City. Among his Junior High classmates were those whose own UCC church was one of the first to vote itself out of the denomination. He describes how at school those classmates kept " me trouble because we weren't biblical because we were still UCC." With a profound sadness he remembers how "It could be confusing to a Jr. High student."


I want to reflect on this young man's experience, because I think it reveals some things about this "Renewal" phenomenon that I find most troubling.

First of all, let it be noted that Junior High youth have no real capacity to understand what it means to be biblical or not biblical. That is an absurdity. The teachings of scripture are complex, profound, subtle, metaphorical, poetic. They are often in need of historical, literary, social, and anthropological contextualization before they can be fully understood. Passages are often contradictory in ways that require the delicate balancing of one fundamental principle with another. Different theologies emerge in the readings of the various authors of scripture. Translations and transliterations have evolved over the years in ways that reflect certain biases, and sifting through those can take years of etymological, grammatical, and syntactical study.

I have spent 14 years in seminary. I have a Bachelors degree in Philosophy, a Masters of Divinity Degree, and a Doctoral degree in Ministry. I have studied Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. I have taken probably close to a hundred courses in scripture, and read close to a thousand books on the Bible. And I still don't feel I have enough information to call myself an expert on the subject. Like Tevya in "Fiddler on the Roof," I dream of being a rich man so that I can live my days out in the Temple arguing scripture with the scholars. I know a lot about the Bible - but not enough to say with any degree of confidence that another denomination should be condemned as `not biblical.' I can say with some confidence, however, that to do so would be, well, not biblical.

Each year in parish ministry I taught Confirmation class to Junior High students. I was lucky to be able to get them to memorize the Books of the Bible in order. Some were able to come in each week ready to record the chosen memory verse, but most were not. To presume that such students could, with any degree of integrity or accuracy, make claims about what it means to be Biblical is beyond belief.

So it must be asked: what brand of Christianity is it that raises up such youth who are armed to walk through their hallways with condemnation on their lips, ostracizing a fellow classmate by labeling him as `not biblical' solely on the evidence that he belonged to a church identified to them only by its denomination?

That, my friends, is a twisted Christianity.

In the e-mail, the young man writes about a co-worker of his. He now lives in the Ozarks. The two of them went into church one Sunday - choosing what he called "a more Pentecostal" church. He wrote that some of the things they preached "seemed a little off key to me." He wrote about not feeling comfortable there - nor his co-worker - and after a few weeks they quit going. He has gone on to find a church home (one of those `non-biblical UCC churches) - but his co-worker will not go back. He writes of this by saying "I sometimes think that maybe its because of possible `spiritual abuse.'"

It is his next line that struck me deeply, and I wrote him back to get his permission to share it with you: "I finally realized how Christianity has been twisted into something very cold and unloving and that the faith needs to be reclaimed from the right wing extremists..., people who think their way is right and everyone else is wrong."

I am very proud of this young man. He understands what it is that motivates so many of us who write on this website: the reclaiming of a faith built on love and mutual respect. It saddens me that I spend so much of my time, effort, and energy defending a church I love from the attack of a Christianity twisted into venom and vitriol. I am tired of reading in one publication after another circulated throughout the churches I serve that:

·    The United Church of Christ has declared its independence from the teachings of Jesus, and declared its independence from the authority of scripture (from the Faithful and Welcoming pamphlet handed out on their recent 16 city national tour)
·    "Open and Affirming" means open to exclude any part of the Bible that is inconvenient (from a member of a UCC church in St. Louis to his pastor)
·    "They have made a mockery of our Bible" (referring to the UCC and its position on Marriage Equality - from the same e-mail referred to above)
·    The UCC is moving toward the proclamation of a "new and strange gospel" (from a flyer circulated among our churches by a church identified only as "First Church")
·    "The NCH censorship rules conform to the goddess-worship need. To that extent, the NCH opens the door of the biblical temple for the re-entrance of the Asherah poles." (NCH refers to the UCC's New Century Hymnal; this quote found on the website of the Biblical Witness Fellowship - an IRD related renewal group)

This could go on, but you get the point. We are reclaiming our faith from those who have made it cold and unloving; from those who "think their way is right and everyone else is wrong."

What kind of Christianity is it that churns out teenagers who walk their school's hallways labeling others as not biblical; that purports to renew while intent on destroying; that foments dissent and destruction at the cost of unity, love, and respect? Twisted.


I would even go so far as to say that at its core (with the pente dominionist groups into things like "spiritual warfare" and "deliverance ministry" and such--the same groups that actually invented the whole "divide and conquer" strategy the IRD is now using) that they may go over the line from being merely "twisted Christianity" to being bona fide coercive religious groups.  (Full disclosure here--I'm a survivor of 26 years of religiously motivated abuse.)

In fact, with at least the pente dominionists (can't speak so much for dominionism within the Southern Baptist Convention) some of the core ideology that is used to support dominionism are in fact indistinguishable from those used in Scientology--quite literally the only difference is that one wraps up the abusive practices in bad space opera where the other wraps it up in--shall we say--creative interpretations of Bible verses taken out of context.

In the case of the particular pente group I was formerly associated with (the Assemblies of God, which actually seems to have been at the core of dominionism and may well have been its original inventor) no less than five different front groups are actually listed by multiple exit counselors and experts on cults as coercive religious groups; other groups with close ties like Amway (often used as a recruiting front and a business that is itself dominionist) is also considered cultic.

Unfortunately, these bad practices are spreading outward.  I don't think all dominionists are in coercive religious groups, and I'm not sure the Southern Baptists et al are a coercive religious group yet.  We don't need that kind of bad behaviour and spiritual abuse spreading, though.

by dogemperor on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 08:34:27 AM EST

the particular church which this young man and his co-worker attended, and at which he experienced what he described as 'spiritual abuse' was an AoG church (I did mention he was in the Ozarks currently). Though I served in the Ozarks myself for eight years, I can't profess to know a whole lot about them. Their church in the town I served was just aroung the corner from mine, and rarely did our paths cross. I did have a member of my first church, in  Central Mo, begin dating a member of an AoG church.  While there he witnessed a young girl forced to confess her sin in front of the entire congregation (she was pregnant out of wedlock), and then had to move and change his phone number three times in two years after he stopped dating the girl he knew - every time he did members of the church would track him down, appear at his door quite regularly, and threaten him with eternal damnation for leaving their church. It was pretty brutal.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 05:00:26 PM EST
Part of the reason I post pseudonymously in regards to the Assemblies (as a walkaway-cum-whistleblower) is the particular Assemblies church I am a walkaway from has a very similar history of harassment of critics (including actions that have crossed the line to libel and probably have crossed over to stalking as well).

As it is, a lot of the particularly active members of the Assemblies have been known to engage in frank harassment or stalking (in frighteningly similar fashion to the "fair game" tactics Scientology takes).  

One example from the church I left is of one of the head deacons, Frank Simon--who happens to also be the head of the Kentucky affiliate of the American Family Association and runs a group called "Freedom's Heritage Forum" that essentially acts as the de facto lobbying wing for the church; his antics have included pickets of homes of people who have merely publically supported passage of Fairness ordinances and leafletting of their neighbourhoods claiming they are supporting "pedophiles".  In one case, Simon even is suspected of having deliberately sent falsified adverts in an attempt to smear the editor of an LGBT magazine (to make it appear as if the latter was a pedophile).

To give an example of some of the stuff AFA-KY and/or Frank Simon have pulled in past:

Quotes from Simon and other dominionists (compared with comments from the Nazi Party regarding Jews)
More quotes from Simon and other AFA leaders
Info re the latest anti-Fairness Ordinance mailing from Simon (in which he literally mailed sadomasochistic gay porn to 60,000 households with the stinger "Remember what the homosexual priests did to the children")
Anti-Islamic comments from the dominionist church Simon is affiliated with (Not Southeast Christian, the other one)
More info on the sadomasochistic gay porn Simon mailed in the latest attempt to derail approval of Fairness
Info on how the "gay porn mailing" literally caused two chairpersons to vote pro-Fairness (both of whom have stated they would have voted against Fairness were it not for Simon's mailing)
history on how Simon bought radio ads during the last Fairness vote claiming gay men would rape children (Fairness passed, by the way; the second vote was for a renewal of the ordinance post-governmental-merger)
Info on how Freedom's Heritage Forum has been investigated for illegal electioneering
Inf on how Simon literally accused a mere supporter of Fairness of supporting paedophilia
Info on how Simon attempted to accuse a gay newspaper editor of being a paedophile in support of a political candidate--this led to a libel suit

Simon also, notably, has promoted The Pink Swastika in his literature--that book is a bit of Holocaust revisionism that claims not only that gays were not murdered en masse by the Nazis but that the gays were, quite literally, not only Nazis but the very architects of the Holocaust (which is a bit of Holocaust revisionism designed specifically to appeal to "Christian Zionists"--Simon is the head deacon of the specific Assemblies of God church I walked away from, and the church itself is heavily involved in "Christian Zionism").

Incidentially, Simon was and is doing this with full approval and support of the church, including the use of the church radio and television stations to spew his hate and illegal distribution of AFA and Freedom's Heritage Forum voter's guides at every May and November election during the church services.

by dogemperor on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 05:31:08 PM EST

This is disgusting. Thanks for the hard work researching this. This will be very helpful for me as I continue to piece together all these little bits of information. Sounds like what you have encountered with the AoG folk takes this whole thing to a very different level.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 06:36:58 PM EST

Hello, I am new to your site, and this is my first comment.  I was born and raised A/G and attended an affliated university.  I did not experience in my VERY involved 24 years in the denomination the type of spiritual abuse that was described in the previous comments to Twisted Christianity--not that I deny the author's experience.  I just want someone reading this to be more broad-minded because I don't believe that you can paint an entire denomination (any denomination) with one brush.  Having said that, I have decided to leave the A/G largely because of its legalism and exphasis on external holiness to the neglect of internal change--and its lack of relevance to and/or rejection of the "imperfect" people in society. Specifically, a recent incident at my previous university has greatly distressed me.

My leave from the A/G has been a long time in coming, but there are many excellent, non-abusive, scholarly pastors and congregations out there for the record.  Where I am currently living however, I have found a non-traditional, non-denominational church to most exemplify the kind of loving, accepting, and yet inwardly holy church I believe that pleases Jesus the most.

by johnsmom on Tue Apr 11, 2006 at 09:38:12 AM EST

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