The title of this blog post is deliberately provocative as it is quite clear that no book of itself can abuse. It is only when it is in the hands of actual human beings that it can sometimes become the tool of abuse. People who, in various situations, have the conscious or unconscious need to inflict harm on others, will seize any tool available. It may be a weapon, the written word, a spoken insult or sadly, in some situations, the Bible itself. Having said this it is also clear that the Bible in other hands can be a tool of healing, comfort, consolation and hope. The difference between these two, the Bible as an abuser or the Bible as a healer, will depend completely on who is holding it at a particular moment.
I am writing in this particular vein because over the past 48 hours I have become aware of the fact that a number of new readers have found their way to our blog. I thought it would be helpful for them to know what this blog is about. I have been writing blog posts for over a year and it does no harm to state again what the underlying principles of this blog are about. I am a retired priest and writer and I have for a number of years focused my reading and pastoral concern on individuals who have found in the church, not good news, but bad news. They have been battered in various ways, emotionally, psychologically and financially and in some extreme cases have been driven to suicide. Fourteen years I published a book on this theme, entitled Ungodly Fear. The correspondence that this book engendered, showed me that the topic of abuse within churches does not go away. In some ways, I seem to have been ahead of the game as the concept of ’emotional abuse’ seems to be coming under the purview of our law makers. The book was the retelling of the stories of a variety of people abused by the church. I tried to show, not only the individual suffering of each individual, but the context of the abuse, the theological ideas that helped to make it possible. Since that time I have garnered material from a variety of sources, psychoanalytical theory, social psychology as well as theology, to illuminate this whole issue and some of this material has appeared in this blog.
In recent weeks I have been an active participant in the blog entitled victimsofmichaelreid.blogspot. This blog is of great value to my studies because it gives a vivid glimpse into the workings of a cult-like church both in the present and the past. I have said enough about the church in the previous post not to need to repeat my comments I made then. But as I know that some readers of that blog have found their way here, I need to make one or two comments directly to them. As past or present members of that church, you are direct participants of an abusive system. This blog cannot, of course, sort out all the emotional and psychological damage of that church, but it can do one thing. It can encourage you to think with greater clarity about what was actually happening at Peniel over the long passage of time.
Before I make further comments about Bishop Reid and his manipulative ways, I want to focus on a key word that is utilised by Bible preachers in many places. It is a word that is ‘biblical’ but is also sometimes a tool of abuse. The word is ‘obedience’. Of course the Bible speaks about obeying the Lord your God but, along the way, obedience towards God is swung to unquestioning obedience of the church leader. In the minds of the congregation to obey God is the same as obeying the leader. That simple confusion leads to in many situations to outright exploitation of individual members of the congregation. That exploitation can be financial, sexual and at the very least emotional. Michael Reid seems to have squeezed the word ‘obedience’ for all he was worth and those who have followed him as leaders at Trinity are not much better. The way they have done it is also to extract favourable quotes from Scripture about leaders, which appear to demand absolute obedience. ‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ is one favourite and another is ‘submit to those set over you’ .
My blog posts do not last more than a thousand words, so I must come to a final point. Looking at Trinity from the outside I see a pattern there which is repeated all over the world in strongly authoritarian churches which practise charismatic type worship. I see a gifted individual (here Michael Reid) who has stumbled on the secrets of crowd manipulation. Whether he is sincere in his beliefs I am unable to judge, but what he was able to do is create for himself a large crowd of adoring followers who used to hang on his every word. This is intoxicating and even addictive for him. The bonus was that he became powerful both socially and financially as well. It was probably inevitable that this power expressed itself in taking advantage of the females of the congregation (as one of the perks of power) but everything ultimately became all about the leader and the few others chosen to share in the perks. What did the congregation get out of this? At its simplest level, the congregation picked up some of the reflected glamour of the gifted man of power. He had a certain amount of star-dust to spread around and people felt honoured when he gave them even a small amount of attention. All through the process of Peniel, (I did visit as part of my research for my book in 1998) there was a gradual strengthening of the ties between leader and led which in fact gave very little to the led. The leader ‘takes all’.
I hope the new readers will feel able to stay with us as we continue to uncover the dynamics of abusive churches. I shall be freely commenting here on the continuing developments at Brentwood, particularly as ‘Gail’, the American Bible school student has helped this blog think about the particular issues of that church. From the tone of this blog post, you will be aware that the Bible is not read uncritically, but is allowed to criticise the claims of those who take abusive power over vulnerable people in the name of God.