The Trauma of Spiritual Abuse, Part 1: A Case Study

Trauma. It’s a word we associate with beatings, genocide and injuries. We have “trauma centers” to care for those who have been badly injured in car crashes and other such accidents. So what does this have to do with anything spiritual?

The spiritual realm is unseen, along with the mental and emotional realms. When someone is abused physically, we can see the results: bruises, scars, broken bones, even death. But when someone is abused spiritually, no one sees the bruises, scars, and hurts. No one sees the damaged relationship with God. No one hears the wounded heart crying out in pain. In fact, while a physically injured person may seek help, the spiritually injured person may very well try to hide their injuries, to prevent others from even suspecting that anything is wrong. Because that could result in more injury.

But the consequences are just as bad as, or even worse than, physical injury. When a strong believer in God is injured physically, they know Who to lean on, Who to ask for strength, Who they can trust to work all things together for good. But the spiritually injured person may feel that God won’t help them because they haven’t been good enough to deserve His help. Furthermore, while physical injuries will not impede our journey to Heaven, spiritual abuse and trauma can turn someone away from trusting God and receiving His gift of eternal life.

I grew up in a spiritually abusive system. Actually, I grew up in multiple abusive systems. But I would like to use one particular system—the Advanced Training Institute homeschool program, or ATI, along with its parent organization, Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP)—as a case study in the characteristics and consequences of an abusive system. This system started its impact on my family before I was even born, and I was raised in the homeschool program from 1994-2005, grades 1-11. Please think through these characteristics and see if they apply to any religious system you find yourself in.

God and the Bible are not sufficient

This is probably one of the main pillars supporting spiritual abuse. People add their own teachings, doctrines, interpretations, ideas, recommendations, and commands to the instructions and doctrines given by God. The sneaky thing is that they tie it all in with the Bible, so it looks like it comes from God.

Bill Gothard (Photo courtesy IBLP)
Bill Gothard (Photo courtesy IBLP)

Bill Gothard, the founder of ATI, added many things to God’s Word. Many times in his teaching, he would merely state something as fact, with no research or references to back it up. He explained, for example, that God had instituted a “Chain of Command” that created an “Umbrella of Protection” over us. This “Umbrella of Protection” would keep us safe from Satan’s attacks as long as we submitted to it, but if we stepped out and did something that one of our authorities (God, government, church, parents) didn’t want us to do, we were totally vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.

To this, he added that if our “umbrella” had “holes” (for example, an adulterous father), we could “patch” this umbrella with prayer or some other spiritual discipline.

Obviously, there is a certain level of truth to this—if we disobey God, we will receive His discipline—but this also was a means for keeping young people, even adult children, submitting to their abusive, misguided parents. And by the time it got to the “patching holes” nonsense, there wasn’t a Scriptural leg to stand on anymore.

Resurrecting the Law of Moses

Gothard borrowed heavily from the Old Testament Law, picking and choosing various doctrines to support his teachings. For example, he taught that couples should abstain from sex during the wife’s menstrual period and for seven days thereafter, as commanded in the Law. He told people that they needed to meditate on God’s Word so that they could have success in life, based on God’s word to Joshua: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

God has clearly told us that we must not follow the Law of Moses anymore. We have died to it through Jesus Christ, and now we are part of the New Covenant, and are subject to the instructions of the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant.

“Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)

When we resurrect parts of the Law, we actually bring ourselves under its curse: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse. For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who doesn’t continue in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.’” (Galatians 3:10)

For more on the Law of Moses, watch the video below that I recorded on this subject:

Performance-based Christianity

In Gothard’s world, God was like a warped genie in a bottle. If you did the right thing, He would bless you (i.e., do something you liked, something that was good for you), and if you did the wrong thing, He would curse you (i.e., do something that you didn’t like, something that wasn’t good for you). The “right things” and “wrong things” were determined by Gothard, but we didn’t realize this at the time.

Bill Gothard used this reward-and-punishment system to persuade people to follow his teachings. For example, going back to the “abstinence during the wife’s period” teaching I mentioned, he explained that if a couple abstained from sex during the wife’s period, God would bless the couple, possibly even curing infertility (complete with a story of a couple who conceived after following this abstinence plan). But if you disobeyed him and didn’t practice abstinence, God would bring some unknown punishment.

This sort of mentality is very crippling in one’s Christian walk. How do we love a God who only loves us when we do the right thing? How can we ever love a God who will vindictively punish us for a sin that we’re not even aware of?

There was no emphasis on a very important aspect of the Christian life: we do not live in our own strength, but by the power of the risen Christ. We do not gain victory through following man-made systems and formulas, but by the power of Christ working in our lives to kill our sin and enable us to overcome. We cannot boast in our own abilities, because we are only able to serve God by the power of His grace.

And we most certainly will never gain greater power with God by following man-made teachings.

Vindictive punishment from God

Gothard’s teaching about God’s reward/punishment system was very destructive in my life. I believed that God’s punishment was vindictive—in other words, that He did it to get revenge on me for disobeying Him. Therefore, God’s punishment was not redemptive. It was a consequence of doing an unredeemable bad thing. The best I could hope for was to do better in the future so that God would bless me instead of curse me.

The Bible clearly teaches that God punishes us only because He loves us, and for the purpose of guiding us into doing right. Furthermore, it teaches that everyone gets punished by God, if they are truly His child.

“’My son, don’t take lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.’ …

“Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? For they indeed, for a few days, punished us as seemed good to them; but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:5-6, 9-10)

God’s punishments are good and not to be despised. He does it to help us, because He loves us, not because he wants to repay our evil deeds.

Bad experiences are God’s punishment

Bill Gothard taught that we should find out “why God let it happen”. He taught that bad experiences were God’s consequences for our sin. On the other hand, God’s blessings were good experiences, and were the result of doing the right thing.

So if you are dirt-poor, it’s probably because you are sinning (or sinned sometime in the past), and God is punishing you for your bad behavior. On the other hand, if you have plenty to eat, money in the bank, and a nice house, God is blessing you for your good behavior.

Want your business to do well? Make sure to do all the right things, and God will “bless” your business with “success”. Want to advance in the workplace and be promoted? Be sure to serve your boss well.

However, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, God’s Kingdom is yours.” (Luke 6:20) On the other hand, He said, “But woe to you who are rich! For you have received your consolation. Woe to you, you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:24-25)

Paul said, “I know how to be humbled, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in need. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13) He spoke of suffering nakedness and hunger in serving God (2 Corinthians 11:27).

It is true, for example, that God can use sickness as a punishment for taking communion irreverently (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). But there is no Biblical basis at all for the idea that all non-persecution suffering is the result of our sin.

Exaggerated/false claims and promises

Gothard published many stories of people who claimed success after following his teachings. Often, in his seminars, he would use stories to prove that his teachings worked, as with the afore-mentioned abstinence teaching. We had no way of verifying that these stories even happened, or that things were really as good as he claimed, but we thought he was a Godly man and trusted that he was telling the truth.

Gothard also made many exaggerated promises. Back in the 80’s, he claimed that the ATI program would give a young person, by the time they graduated high school, the equivalent of four years of college education, including pre-law and pre-med. By the time I graduated, I didn’t even have a basic understanding of anatomy, never mind a full pre-med education.

Another example is his claim in the description for his book, Seven Courtship Secrets for a Successful Marriage, that “this book… provides a revolutionary approach that will guarantee the success of a marriage by applying a powerful Biblical truth.” Unfortunately, following courtship does not guarantee a successful marriage.

Authoritarianism and patriarchy

A big man and a little manThis was one of the most destructive parts of Gothard’s teachings. He taught a top-down authority structure in which fathers ruled over their families, while their families submitted to the dad. Junior was a stone. Dad was a hammer, Mom was a chisel, and God used them to chisel on Junior to cut him down to what God wanted him to be. This was literally one of Gothard’s illustrations. And, of course, if you didn’t like the hammer and chisel you were under and stepped out of the family, God would bring an even bigger hammer and chisel along—such as marriage.

This went hand-in-hand with the “Umbrella of Protection” concept that I mentioned earlier.

Furthermore, ATI didn’t really have a way for young people to learn to be independent adults and make their own wise decisions. You were supposed to submit to your parents right up until marriage, including only marrying someone they approved of—even if your parents were non-Christians.

Even today, it’s difficult for me to put my finger on specific examples of patriarchy and authoritarianism in what I was taught. All I can say is, it was just a big part of the fabric of ATI.

Image is everything

Bill Gothard made a big deal out of the brightness of one’s eyes. Bright eyes were good. They were the result of only listening to Godly music, and they were a big attraction to other nations, to open doors for ministry. (IBLP literally published a video about “How the Light of the Eyes Opens Nations to the Truth”.) Dull eyes, on the other hand, were the result of listening to rock music, according to Gothard.

And then there was the pressure to be one of those “perfect ATI families” with the smiles, well-behaved children, and serene dad and mom. We didn’t know that many of those “perfect families” were riddled with problems, including sexual abuse.

A false gospel

All of this boiled down to one thing: Bill Gothard taught a false gospel of good works, following his teachings, and serving God on your own strength. It looked good, sounded Biblical, and promised great results, but it wasn’t the real gospel. And I don’t mean that Gothard never gave a Gospel message or altar call. What I mean is that he created another gospel that sounded very much like the Gospel of Christ, but was a Satanic perversion. And, of course, the results were what you might expect when you follow Satan.

We’ll look at those results in Part 2. In the meantime, I suggest that you read an article by Tony Guhr, former aide to Bill Gothard: The Preeminence of, the Exclusive Claims by, and the All Sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

When a Head Covering Becomes a Lucky Charm

When I was 16 years old, I wrote an article entitled, “Is the Headcovering for Today?” I laid out the case from 1 Corinthians 11 that a woman ought to cover her head. And I still believe that a woman should cover her head when she prays or prophesies, just as God has instructed.

However, one thing that I taught in this article was that a headcovering gave protection to a woman and her family—that demons had to leave her alone if her head was covered. After all, the Bible said that “a woman ought to have power on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10), and the best explanation I had heard was that this meant that the bad angels would leave her alone, and the good angels would protect her.

But recently, I was talking with God about headcovering, and He showed me that, for some people, the headcovering had become a lucky charm.

Worse yet, I myself had perpetuated the mentality that turns a headcovering into a lucky charm, and I had to repent. The article is no longer available.

But how does a head covering become a lucky charm?

Think a moment: what do we call an object that is supposed to protect the wearer from evil spirits and bad luck? It’s quite common in some cultures and religions. We have a name for it: a lucky charm.

I said in my article that the headcovering was not a lucky charm, but I actually, in the end, did believe and teach that it was a lucky charm that would protect the woman and her family. When we say that a head covering is supposed to bring protection to the wearer, we turn it into a lucky charm that supposedly:

  • Protects her from physical harm
  • Protects her from evil spirits
  • Helps her prayers be answered better
  • Signals to the world that she is a Christian

Folks, that is not Scriptural. I don’t care what testimonies you’ve heard. I don’t care what experiences you have had. It is wrong to adopt the mentality of the heathen and tell women (or imply) that the headcovering is a “scarf of hidden power” when God has not said so.

A Muslim lady with a smartphone
Will God protect this Muslim lady because she has her head covered?

God never actually said that a headcovering would bring any type of protection. He just said that a woman should have power on her head because of the angels. It never says anything about protection. After all, God never said what a headcovering would look like. What if a woman didn’t wear the right type? Or what if an ungodly woman covered her head? Would the angels protect her just because she had something on her head?

The purpose of head covering (and uncovering, for the men) is to bring glory and honor to God, not to protect the wearer.

Ignore the testimonies

I am well aware that there are testimonies out there about how the headcovering brought protection to its wearer. However, of what I can remember, in many cases, there was not a clear correlation between the headcovering and the incident of protection.

In other words, if a headcovered woman is approached by a robber, but he suddenly doubles over with pain and runs off, we can’t give credit to the headcovering. In the end, it was God who protected her. We don’t know from this testimony whether God would have still protected her if she had been bareheaded.

In addition, you probably won’t hear the testimonies of women like Katie Landry, a conservative Mennonite lady who was raped multiple times by her boss while wearing a headcovering.

When a headcovering is not a lucky charm

I want to be clear: just because a woman covers her head at all times, she is not necessarily viewing the headcovering as a lucky charm. It is when the piece of fabric itself is supposed to bring protection and spiritual power to the wearer and her family that it becomes a good luck charm.

It’s time for repentance

If you have fallen prey to the “lucky headcovering” mentality, I urge you to repent of it. God does not want us to dabble in witchcraft by hanging lucky charms on ourselves. It’s not that you must repent of covering your head, or telling your wife that she should. What you need is a heart change from believing that a woman gains special spiritual power from a piece of cloth on her head.

I also urge you to ask God to show you His view on 1 Corinthians 11 and head covering. What is it really all about? What is the purpose? When must we observe it?

10 Myths About Lust

Myth #1: Looking at an immodest woman is lust

There is a big misunderstanding about what “lust” is. The English word “lust” is translated, in the New Testament from a Greek word that means “to set the heart upon, that is, long for (rightfully or otherwise)” (Strong’s Dictionary). It is translated, in the King James Version, “covet, desire, would fain, lust (after).”

It is the same Greek word used by Jesus in this verse: “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). This verse could have been translated, “With lust I have lusted”, except that the context is not about lust. This is also why we read, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) But wait! God said “Do not covet”! Well, this could also be translated “But earnestly desire the best gifts…”

In Romans 7:7, Paul explains, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” This is because “lust” and “covet” come from the same Greek word.

So what is lust? Lust is desiring evil—something that God does not want us to desire. It has the connotation of not merely having a fleeting thought about it, but longing for that which is forbidden.

With this understanding, we turn to Matthew 5:27-28 and read, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Note that first of all, the lust is not in the look. Rather, the man gazes on the woman because of his lust. He looks at the woman with evil desire. For example, David gazed at Bathsheba and lusted after her. She was not his wife, and he was not her husband. He had no right to desire her, but he coveted her anyway.

There are various ways that a man could lust after a woman. A married man could look at a woman, married or unmarried, and desire to have her as his wife. An unmarried man could look at another man’s wife and covet her to be his own wife, or desire to commit fornication with his girlfriend. A man, married or unmarried, could look upon a woman and desire to rape her. All of these are examples of lust.

However, it is not sin for a man to look at a woman and think that she is pretty or attractive. Nor has God said that a woman is responsible to dress in such a way that men will not lust after her. It is not a sin for a man to look at any woman, regardless of how she is dressed (or not dressed). And God has never said that looking at certain women will tempt men to lust.

Throughout the rest of this article, the “lust” I will be referring to is specifically the lust Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:27-28. One can lust for many things other than a woman—for example, a fancy house, a fancy car, money, a better job, etc. At the end of this article, I will explain how God tells us to deal with lust—and it applies to any kind of lust, not just sexual lusts.

Myth #2: Seeing/looking at certain body parts is lust or will cause a man to lust

I read one woman’s story about causing her cousin to “stumble”. She leaned forward in front of him and happened to see his eyes dart toward her chest. She realized that the neckline of her blouse was low enough that he had been able to see her breasts when she leaned forward, and she felt very guilty for having caused him to stumble. She had not realized that her neckline was that low.

I don’t know what happened within that boy’s head when he saw cleavage. He was only ten years old. But this much I know: she did not cause him to sin.

This particular myth goes with the previous one: a misunderstanding about what lust really is. The myth says to women, “If men see any cleavage, undergarment, or maybe even shoulder, they will lust after you!” It says to men, “If you look at any part of a woman between her neck and her knees, you have lusted after her.”

Think about this: there are some parts of the world where the people wear very little clothing or none at all. If it were a sin to see someone else who is naked or partially naked, we would have to let those people go to Hell. But God has never said that it is a sin to see certain parts of the body.

It is not appropriate for men to go around staring at women’s bodies. Women hate it—even women with cleavage showing. But just seeing—or even looking at—breasts, thighs, belly buttons, shoulders, whatever, is not lust.

Myth #3: Sexual attraction is lust

I want to tread carefully here, because sexual attraction and lust can be related. However, sexual attraction, by itself, is not lust. It is given by God to ensure the propagation of the human race.

This is especially true between single people. When a single person is sexually attracted to a member of the opposite sex, there is nothing wrong with that attraction. After all, think of it in this context: should an engaged couple be sexually attracted to each other? Should they be looking forward to the wedding night? Of course! Should they allow their sexual attraction to turn to lust and end in pre-marital sex? Of course not.

And there is the difference between sexual attraction and lust. Sexual attraction, used properly, helps to draw a man and woman together into a lifelong, intimate union where each cares for the other and gives up their own desires to please their spouse. Lust, on the other hand, results in each party seeking to have their own desires fulfilled—a sure recipe for divorce (if they ever make it to the marriage in the first place).

Myth #4: Sexual desires, feelings, and thoughts are lustful

This myth goes along with the previous one. However, it is a little different, but it forms the basis for the previous myth.

The modesty/purity culture in which I grew up implied, and sometimes outright stated, that sexual desires, thoughts, and feelings were wicked, dirty, or improper. Nobody said, flat out: “If you desire sex, that is lust!” But the overall impression that I got was that my sexual drives and desires were bad.

Again, sexual desires can turn into lust. A man’s sexual desires, for example, can lead him to rape a woman. But the innate desire for sexual gratification is not a sinful desire—because God never said it was! God condemns lustful sexual desires—desiring to commit sexual sin—but He has never said that sexual desire is sinful. On the contrary, sexual desire is a God-given desire, to help us follow the instructions He gave Adam and Eve at the beginning of the world: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Myth #5: It is normal for men to lust after women

Sin is not normal. Sin is common, but it is not how God intends for us to live.

If we are talking about unsaved men, then, yes, it is probably normal for them to lust after women. They are walking in the flesh and following Satan. They do not have the grace of God to prevent them from lusting. They can try to control their thoughts—and there is no excuse for criminal sexual activity—but without the power of the Holy Spirit, they will probably fall prey to lust.

For the Christian man, however, sin is not normal. Will he be perfect? No. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses…”, indicating that we will repeatedly have to come to God and ask for forgiveness for our sinful mistakes. But brothers in Christ, if you struggle with lust, that is not how God wants you to live! You are not condemned to stay there! What’s the answer? Read on.

Myth #6: Lusting after the opposite sex is something that only men do because they are visually stimulated

After all, Jesus never specifically said that women should not look on men to lust after them. And it is true that men seem to be the ones who have the biggest problem with porn.

However, statistically, this assumption is wrong. A survey by Cosmopolitan magazine found that about 29% of women said they watched porn “daily” or “once every few days”. Closer to home for some of my readers, a survey by the conservative Mennonite blog Radi-Call found that 23% of female respondents were or had been addicted to porn.

What this means is that, in many homes where the mom has been placed in charge of the Internet filter, the fox is guarding the henhouse. It also shows that women can be visually aroused, not just men.

Lust is not just a male problem.

Myth #7: If a man lusts after a woman, it is her fault

When Jesus said that if a man looks at a woman to lust after her, he commits adultery, He gave no corresponding statement to the women: “And ye, women, see to it that ye do not tempt men to lust after you.” He placed the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the men.

Guys, I don’t care if a woman strips in front of you and tries to entice you to have sex. It is still your responsibility not to lust. Be a man and don’t blame the women for your own sin.

Myth #8: A woman’s dress can cause a man to lust after her

If this myth were true, Jesus would have been putting men under a horrible burden in Matthew 5:27-28. If they didn’t stay away from “immodest” women, they might be forced into committing mental adultery. How awful of Jesus not to have given the women some responsibility!

Nobody ever says that a woman can force a man to lust after her. Yet, I have repeatedly read articles stating that immodest dress can cause men to “stumble” (i.e., lust). The term “cause” essentially means “force” or at least “make”. In other words, when you boil it down, what is being claimed is that a woman can force a man to lust after her—that if a woman dresses a certain way, men will lust after her.

Guys, here’s the truth: no one can force you to lust. No one can “cause” you to commit mental adultery.

Ladies, you do not need to worry that if you happen to dress the wrong way, you will unknowingly “cause” some man to lust after you. Seek your Heavenly Father’s will in how you are to dress, and you will glorify Him.

Myth#9: By dressing modestly, women can help men not to lust

There are no statistics to back up this claim. (At least, not that I can find.) Unfortunately, in fact, the opposite is true: modesty does not help to prevent lust, and possibly increases the chances of lust. (My references? My dad’s upcoming book, The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment. I’ll let you see the whole package when the book comes out.)

In addition, modesty standards inadvertently emphasize to men how sexy women’s bodies are, and tell them that not only are bikini girls and nude models something to fantasize about—women in long sundresses or tank tops and shorts are as well.

This myth has been perpetuated far and wide. It is supported by claimed anecdotal evidence, but the hard factual evidence says otherwise. If it were true, the Arabic countries with high modesty standards should be good, moral places. Instead, the evidence points to an incredible amount of rape and other sexual crimes in these countries.

Myth #10: Lust can be conquered by “trying harder” and following spiritual disciplines

Brothers, let me assure you of something: if “trying harder” can enable you to stop lusting, Jesus didn’t need to die. By yourself, you will never attain complete victory over lust.

God tells us, “For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I thought that I could change my ways and be a better man on my own. It wasn’t until God brought me face-to-face with my inability to make the necessary changes on my own, that I turned to Him for help and began receiving His grace to be the man He wanted me to be.

Don’t think for a moment that by following someone’s formula, such as fasting, praying, Bible reading, Scripture memorization and meditation, church attendance, accountability groups—in short, any “spiritual discipline” that does not require the power of the Holy Spirit to do—you will never gain spiritual victory. Even an atheist can memorize Scripture and participate in accountability groups.

You may feel too dirty to come to God for help. You may feel that you’ve gone too far, that God doesn’t care about you. Maybe you became a Christian at some point and have backslidden to the point that you think Jesus wouldn’t want to take you back.

These are all lies. The Good Shepherd is still pursuing you in love, seeking to bring you back to the fold again. You are not beyond repair. God will meet you where you are and redeem you if you will turn to Him. He assures us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) ALL unrighteousness. A-L-L.

Your transformation may not be immediate. It may take time as God lovingly works with you to throw out the bad and bring in the good. But this I can assure you from personal experience: it does work. God will cleanse you from unrighteousness and heal your wounded spirit if you will turn to Him, confess your sins, surrender your life to Him, and seek to know Him and follow His will. If you still lack complete victory, keep on asking Him for it. Ask Him to give you complete victory over lust—or whatever sin you are fighting.

One point is worth mentioning here: make sure that you are actually trying to gain victory over true sin and not merely a man-made “sin” that God has not called sin. God will help you to overcome sin, but He will not give you victory over non-sin.

 

 

Have you fallen prey to any of these myths? I certainly did. Ask God to reprogram your mind and your heart to His way of thinking, so that you can follow Him, and Him alone.

Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)

Modesty: A Letter to Myself, 10 Years Later

Dear Joel,

I read your article about modesty, entitled “What Should I Wear?” I want to commend you for your passion and desire to serve the Lord.

However, I want to share with you some things that God has been teaching me about modesty. I was once just like you (okay, okay, I was once you), and I was passionate about telling women to be more modest. I had made a commitment not to look at immodestly dressed women, and I wanted to reduce the number of women that I couldn’t look at. In the summertime, especially, there were many women who revealed too much skin for me to look at: tank tops, shorts, low-cut tops, sun dresses, swimsuits, etc.

Jesus says that a man who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart. I don’t want to be guilty of mental adultery. I believed that if I looked too long at a woman who was wearing something like what I mentioned above (immodest clothing), I would lust, and I needed to look quickly away if I saw a woman dressed that way. Sometimes I would have to talk to one of these women, so I would either focus in on the woman’s face or look somewhere else to avoid my eyes shifting to any forbidden areas, because that would be lust or the next thing to it.

In recent years, God has been teaching me about these things. I have realized that I was wrong. I took down that article that you wrote, because it was teaching things that God didn’t want me to teach. In His grace, God has been showing me that the things you wrote do not work, and are false.

So now I’d like to share with you some things that I wish someone would have told me when I was your age.

The Concept of Modesty is a Farce

Teaching about “Biblical modesty” centers around one word in the entire Bible:  “modest”, in 1 Timothy 2:9: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array…” From that one word, I made all sorts of conclusions about what a woman should or shouldn’t wear.

But when I investigated it in Strong’s Dictionary, I discovered that the Greek word doesn’t mean “modest” as we think of it in relation to clothing, but “orderly” or “decorous”. It is not referring to how much of the body is exposed.

This is the only verse in the Bible where God commands women to dress in “modest” apparel. As I just mentioned, that word “modest” is a mistranslation, at least in modern-day English. (It could, after all, have meant exactly the right thing 400 years ago.)

This verse is the only basis for requiring women to dress modestly or to cover a certain amount of their body. But the farthest you can take it is that women should be modest-minded (“shamefaced and sober”), and wear orderly clothing that is appropriate to the situation they are in. There is no basis for saying “This is modest” and “This is not”, or for condemning women for wearing certain types of clothing.

In other words, there is only one verse in the entire Bible that commands “modesty”, but that command does not actually exist. There is actually no Biblical command to dress modestly.

God Has Not Said that We Must Cover Certain Parts of the Body

It took me a long time to come to grips with this fact: God has not commanded that any part of the body must be kept covered!

Of course this doesn’t mean that God wants us to walk around naked. What it means is that there is no Biblical basis for commanding women to cover certain parts of their body. I have not found any Scripture, for example, that says that women must never show their shoulders or upper arms. Biblically, then, we can’t tell women who wear sleeveless shirts that they are sinning.

I know that you will react in disgust to this, Joel, but God never even commanded women to cover their breasts. While I would not recommend that women go around topless, we cannot say that every woman who has a little cleavage showing is a sinner, because there is no specific command that she is breaking.

God Does Not Want Us to Judge Others by the Outside

When I was your age, I judged women by their clothing. Those who wore modest dresses and skirts were Godly women or at least better than the society around them. Those who wore tight, revealing clothing were wicked mental prostitutes. I knew that they were dressing that way because they wanted me to lust after them, which was disgusting.

In John 7:24, Jesus said, “Don’t judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” He does not want us to judge someone based on how they look, but what is in their heart. He was speaking to people who were rejecting Him because they didn’t like the looks of His ministry, but failed to grasp His divine heart.

Recently, God has been pounding into me that I must not use someone’s external appearance to judge their spirituality. Since He has not commanded that any specific part of the body must be covered, I cannot condemn anyone for revealing anything. I know that some women probably do dress to get men to lust after them, but I know that not every woman in tank top and shorts is a slut. Furthermore, God has not commanded me to stay away from immodest women. It’s my job to preach the Gospel to every creature, regardless of what they are or are not wearing.

God Has Not Said that Women Cause Men to Lust after Them

One misconception is that an immodest woman will cause men to lust after her. Joel, you perpetuated this kind of mindset when you wrote, “I would submit that since it is adultery for a man to lust after a woman, any woman who wears revealing or suggestive attire is a mental prostitute, whether she intends it or not.” This is so wrong. This is putting false blame and guilt upon the guiltless woman who just wanted to stay cool in 95 degree heat.

Women do not cause men to lust after them by revealing skin. They may tempt men to lust, but God has never said that women can cause men to lust after them by revealing their bodies. This is huge. If a woman can cause (force) a man to lust after her, it means two things:

  1. The man is not responsible for lusting—he couldn’t possibly help himself.
  2. It is possible for a woman, by the way she dresses, to force a man to commit adultery with her, even if she is a Godly woman who would never commit adultery.

I am disgusted, now, by the guilt trips that people place upon Godly, pure-hearted women, telling them that if they dress a certain way, they will cause men to lust after them. God never said that. He only told the men that if they look upon a woman to lust after her, they have already committed adultery in their hearts. He said nothing at all about what that woman might be wearing.

Many people (including myself) have stated confidently that certain styles of dress “tempt men to lust” or “stumble”. I have seen a couple modesty surveys, and the only thing you can say with confidence is that different men are different. Some men struggle more than others, and some men have no problem with styles of dress that you would find highly immodest. I do not find “immodest” women nearly as tempting to the eye as I did at your age.

You might say that a woman should dress to keep her weaker brothers from lusting after her. But how far should she go? Must she wear a sheet hanging down to the ground, ghost-style, so that no one can see her form and lust after her? You would never promote such a thing, yet some men will lust after women who are dressed very conservatively.

Oh, that God’s people would stop condemning guiltless women who have no evil intentions in their dress!

God’s Point is that Women Need to Adorn the Inside

In both 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:1-6, God’s real point to the women is not to give them a list of do’s and don’ts about the way they dress. His real point is this: “Your true beauty comes from the inside and results in changed behavior. Adorn the inside instead of the outside.”

If a woman truly is dressing to tempt men to lust after her, she needs a heart change, not a clothing change. Then she will stop trying to seduce men. At that point, what she wears is between her and God. He is the One who will guide her in what to wear. If, as a daughter of God, she is led by the Holy Spirit, He will guide her in how to dress to glorify Him and advance His kingdom. It may not be the way that some people think she should dress, but if God is pleased with her, that is all that matters.

This really needs to be the bottom line for both men and women, in everything they do: “Is God pleased with me?” Nothing else matters.

Modesty Isn’t Working

Joel, your dad, who taught you modesty for years, is now working on a book that greatly expands on what I’m sharing with you here. It’s currently over 500 pages of evidence that shows that, if anything, modesty rules increase sexual sin, instead of decreasing it. He’s been working on it for five years, and he hopes to publish it soon. We still have some work to do on it, including recording a music CD to go with the book. It’s called The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.

I can’t summarize the book in this article, but rest assured, if you want more evidence that what I’m saying is true, it will be there.

 

Joel, I wish that someone had written this letter to me when I was your age. Unfortunately, I can’t rewind ten years and deliver this to my 17-year-old self. So I’m sharing it on my blog in hopes that I can help someone else like you who believes in modesty.

You might be concerned that if women don’t dress modestly, you’re going to have problems with lust. I understand. God showed me some myths about lust—maybe I’ll share them another time. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this verse:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

With love,

Joel

Sexual Abuse Recovery: Why We Help the Abuser and Shoot the Victims

It was a meal together after a funeral. I was sitting at a table with a couple of my great-uncles, and the conversation turned to dealing with sexual abusers. As we talked, it became clear that their first priority was how to deal with the abuser and help him to be able to get back to a more-or-less normal life. For some reason, they didn’t have much to say about helping the victim(s) to find healing from their trauma.

Since then, I have observed this same phenomenon with others. They will talk about the dreadful effects that sexual abuse had in the life of the abuser, when they face the punishment for their acts, but fail to give equal thought to the effects on the victims. Why?

There are three reasons that I see:

Age

In the case of child sexual abuse, there is a good chance that the abuser is a grown man–or woman, for that matter. (Actually, there is also an excellent chance that the abuser is a teenager, but we will leave that age group for right now.) If the abuser is a church member, all the adults in the church are peers. The abuser may even be a leader of some sort in the church and well-respected. Contrary to what you might think, an abuser is often not someone who you would suspect as an abuser. They might be friendly, outgoing, respectable people–who do terrible things.

So when the well-respected peer is convicted of sexual abuse, the people around them are naturally going to think of their friend first. They may feel that he/she was unjustly accused or given too harsh of a sentence. They want the abuser to be able to come clean and return to normal life.

The child victim, on the other hand, may be someone they don’t even know. At the very least, they probably don’t know the child as well as the abuser, even if it is the abuser’s son or daughter. If they’ve never met the victim, but know the abuser well (or at least respect him/her), they can easily forget about the needs of the faceless victim.

Especially if they have…

Ignorance

Many people are unaware of the effects of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. This includes many victims.

The trauma of abuse causes many effects on the victim, especially when it is repeated and comes from someone they trust, such as a family member. The victim may “shut down” emotionally or develop certain coping habits or thought patterns. They may blame themselves for the abuse. And they may “act out” in ways that appear rebellious, irresponsible, careless, or sinful. Those who don’t realize what is happening will react improperly and condemn the victim for their behavior, further traumatizing and alienating them.

The potential effects and results of sexual abuse include:

  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Anger
  • Loss of trust
  • Poor school performance
  • “Spacing out” and daydreaming to disassociate from the abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Running away
  • “Acting out”–rebellion, crime, cruelty to animals, sexual promiscuity, drug use/abuse, physical aggression to others
  • Self-destructive behaviors–cutting themselves, slitting wrists, burning themselves, suicide
  • Confusion about what is healthy sexuality
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Shame/shaming others
  • Over-responsibility and perfectionism
  • Promiscuous behavior

(Taken from Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse by Lynn Heitritter and Jeanette Vought)

It is important that we understand the true effects of abuse on its victims so that we are able to empathize with them, understand why they do what they do, and help them to find healing. They need safe people to talk to, people who will care about them, listen to them without condemnation, blaming, or shaming, and respect the privacy of the victim by not sharing the information with others. They need people who are filled with the Holy Spirit and can help them to find true healing through the power of Christ.

Some people, though, will still not care enough to help, because of a…

Lack of Christ-likeness

Jesus defined His ministry early on by reading in the synagogue of Nazareth:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

The Scriptures foretold:

“[Jesus] will not strive, nor shout; neither will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He won’t break a bruised reed. He won’t quench a smoking flax, until he leads justice to victory. In his name, the nations will hope.” (Matthew 12:19-21)

Jesus has a great heart of compassion for those who are hurting. He came to earth and gave His life for us because He cared so much for us.

Jesus also expects us to have the same heart for those around us. He tells us that in the judgment, He will separate those who serve others from those who don’t.

“Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

“The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

Notice that this is not about preaching a gospel of good works. The righteous were not doing these things because they were trying to earn their salvation. They didn’t even realize that they were helping Jesus. It was just part of who they were as God’s children. They had compassion on their brothers in Christ (“the least of these My brothers“) and ministered to them.

Jesus wants us to reach out and help the hurting, especially those within the church. If we lack this desire and compassion within our hearts, could it be that we lack the love of God?

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does God’s love remain in him? My little children, let’s not love in word only, or with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

But Don’t Throw the Abusers Under the Bus

From what I’ve read, 40-50% of sexual abusers have been abused themselves. Their actions can be part of their “acting out” and trying to cope with their abuse.

This does not excuse their abusive actions, but it does bring something to the forefront: the abusers need help too!

Christians have something to offer that no one else has: the power of the Holy Spirit to enable people to lead holy, righteous lives, free from abuse and other sins. While the world can only offer prison and therapy, Christ has the power to actually change people from the inside out. He has the power to heal the hurts, the wounds, the pain, and to take away an abuser’s desire to abuse others.

However, there is one catch: it only works if the person actually wants to be helped. It only works if they are willing to repent and accept the working of Christ. Jesus does not force anyone to accept His forgiveness and cleansing.

As long as an abuser is unwilling to fully repent, be cleansed by Christ, take full responsibility for his/her actions, and pay any necessary criminal penalties, he or she will never find true freedom from their sin. There are many people, unfortunately, who will never experience true freedom in Christ because they are unwilling to do one or more of these things I just mentioned.

Before I wrap this up, one more important point: sexual abuse is a crime. It doesn’t matter whether it was full-blown rape or “just” some inappropriate touching. Both are traumatic to the victim, and both are criminal. Some people, such as pastors and counselors, are required by law to report sexual abuse to the authorities. If they do not, they themselves will be held accountable by the state.

We want people to find repentance and cleansing through the power of Christ. But the law has been broken, and the penalty must be paid. The church is not capable of handling abuse “in-house”.  It must be dealt with in a court of law.

And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall not do any more wickedness like this among you. (Deuteronomy 13:11)

 

Jesus is the God of justice,
And He wants us all to be made free.
Let us follow in His footsteps,
Bring the world His liberty!

Bind Up the Wounds

10 Myths about Sexual Abuse in Anabaptist Communities [Reblog]

Today, I want to share a post from another blogger, Ann Peachey Detwiler at Abundant Redemption, titled “10 Myths about Sexual Abuse in Anabaptist Communities“. Myth #1 is especially powerful.

In my last post, I wrote about Jesus being the answer to the horrific abuse that goes on in our Anabaptist communities.  While I firmly believe that, I also believe that there is much ignorance and silence about it.  This is not helping the situation.  In fact, I would say that the secrecy, silence, and ignorance is only compounding sexual abuse in conservative communities.

If we are going to stand up and fight for our children, we are going to have to ditch some misconceptions about sexual abuse that are widely believed in our culture.  Here are a few of them:

  1. “Sexual abuse doesn’t happen in our community.”

I’ll admit that when I hear this one, I usually chalk that community up as being infested with sexual abuse.  Some Anabaptist communities don’t have as many cases, but it’s safe to say that those communities are in the minority.  When people refuse to talk about abuse, (its effects, the symptoms, etc.), it thrives.

  1. “I was abused as a girl, but it didn’t affect me.”

My heart drops to the floor when someone tells me this or something similar. It is the equivalent of saying “I was run over by a train, but it didn’t hurt me.”  The person who makes this statement is in a lot of pain, but doesn’t know it or doesn’t want to acknowledge it.  It is hard to say, “I was abused and it hurt.”  But we really won’t find healing until we choose to acknowledge the pain.

  1. “My children will tell me if something like that ever happens to them.”

Really?…

Please read the rest at “10 Myths about Sexual Abuse in Anabaptist Communities”.

Kudos to this brave lady for standing up and speaking!

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker via flickr

The Living Neighbor of the Zombie Church

As I pulled out of the zombie church and onto the main road a few weeks ago, grieving over what I had seen, I looked over and saw the neighboring church, Emmanuel Alliance Church, right next door. “That church is different,” God told me. “I want you to go there next, in two weeks.”

So accordingly, this past Sunday, I got in the car and headed for Emmanuel. When I checked their website before going, I saw that the pastor was preaching a series called “Miracle Grow” on the fruits of the Spirit. I groaned inwardly. It sounded so cheesy, especially after hearing most people teach the fruit of the Spirit as something that we work within ourselves—like ideals for a Christian to strive for.

I arrived at the church and was greeted warmly by various people. I sat down and began counting chairs to try to get an idea of the capacity of the sanctuary (I’m really horrible at estimating the size of a group). I never did finish the math. Please don’t ask me how many seats there are. I would say attendance ended up at 50-60 people.

The worship team—two vocalists, piano, and guitar—started in with “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, followed by some contemporary songs.

Friends, I grew up believing that contemporary Christian music was full of Satanic influences, and I never listened to it. Even today, when I flip on a Christian radio station, the music grates on my nerves and sensibilities. And contemporary praise-and-worship? My experience has been that it is a bunch of religious fluff, repeated ad nauseum.

But Sunday, from the first moment, I felt the Holy Spirit moving in the music. It was alive! Even the contemporary songs were pretty good. They had some substance!

Announcements came next. This probably ended up being the cheesiest part of the service, as the pastor and the worship leader engaged in some canned back-and-forth about upcoming events. Oh, well. Then they had a commissioning for a man who is leaving to take a pastoral position in Alberta, in the Fort McMurray area.

The pastor opened his sermon with prayer, asking God to fill him with the Holy Spirit and give him the words to speak. Great! We were starting out better than the zombie church. And then he said something I wasn’t expecting:

“If you are listening to these messages on the fruits of the Spirit, and you think it’s something that you’re going to make happen in your life, you’ve missed the point. The fruit of the Spirit is something God does in you. If you lack these characteristics, you need to ask God for them.” (I’m probably horribly paraphrasing.)

Wow. He got it! He wasn’t going to give me some fluff-and-nonsense sermon about working to try to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit! This was definitely a good start.

The fruit discussed this particular Sunday was gentleness. I think that God knew that I needed to hear about this fruit of the Spirit to help me develop it in my life.

The pastor shared, from Isaiah 42:1-4, three characteristic of gentleness as seen in the life of Christ:

  1. Gentleness in word. “He will not shout, nor raise his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street.” (Isaiah 42:2)
  2. Gentleness to those who are hurting and broken, instead of attacking and condemning them. “He won’t break a bruised reed. He won’t quench a dimly burning wick.” (Isaiah 42:3a)
  3. Bringing justice on earth. ““Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights— I have put my Spirit on him. He will bring justice to the nations… He will faithfully bring justice. He will not fail nor be discouraged, until he has set justice in the earth, and the islands will wait for his law.” (Isaiah 42:1, 3b-4)

I left the church, greatly encouraged in my walk with Christ, and also encouraged to find some spiritual life. As I headed home, I started thinking, “What if every sermon there is that good? That would be too good to be true!” I mean, most of the time, when I go somewhere for church, the sermon ranges somewhere from “zombie” to decent–like having a couple challenging points. This time, I really felt like I had been spiritually fed.

Will God lead me to continue going to Emmanuel Alliance Church? I don’t know. Would I even agree with them doctrinally? I don’t know. But this much I know: God was there.

The posts on the “zombie churches” painted a pretty bleak picture. Without retracting anything I said there, I do want to say that there is hope. God is not dead! And the church has not died out either. It is still alive.

Friends, let’s pray for revival.

Photo courtesy of Alejandro Rdguez/flickr