Saturday I posted my question to Dr. Jones regarding her book, Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches.
Here is Dr. Jones’ reply:
Margaret Irons asked me, “What can persons who have formerly been abusive do now to make amends and help their former victims (with whom they are no longer in regular contact)?”
This is the first time anyone has asked me this. I am glad Ms. Irons has brought up an important issue. The question is also easy to answer, even if it may be hard to accomplish. The Bible and religious tradition is clear. First, the abuser needs to recognize they harmed someone else and that they were wrong to do so. Second, the abuser needs to repent or feel genuine sorrow for having harmed another human being. Third, the abuser needs to make restitution for the harm they have done. Fourth, they need to reform their behavior and try never to do it again to anyone.
That Ms. Irons asked this question indicates that she and some of her readers already recognize that they did something wrong while they were members of a cult. Since they are seeking ways to help their former victims indicates they are repentant. They have taken two difficult steps. Bullies often deny they have done anything wrong to anyone. Instead they say it didn’t happen, or that it was the victim’s fault, or the victim lies, or the victim is making a mountain out of a molehill, or the victim is crazy. Stuck in denial, bullies often remain unrepentant. They never say the one thing all victims long to hear, “I’m sorry for having hurt you. I was wrong.”
So that’s it. Write or call your victim. Tell him or her you are sorry, without making excuses for your behavior. Then wait humbly for your victim’s response. If s/he responds in anger just, bow your head and take your scolding. Repeat your apology. Tell them specifically what you did that was wrong. Ask them what you can do to make amends.
In Not of My Making, Ruth apologizes, but she never makes restitution. She never alters her behavior. I needed her to make a public apology and tell the rest of the congregation that she had wronged me. If she had done so it would have helped restore my reputation and made it more difficult for Rev. Karen to dechurch me. Now at this point in time, if Ruth were truly sorry and want to make amends, she would purchase my book and encourage others to do so. She would work with me to end spiritual abuse and bullying in churches.
If you are no longer in regular contact with your victim, try to locate them and write them a letter or call them. If that is not possible, apologize on your Facebook, in your blog, or at your church. Make a public confession and tell what happened and your part in it. At least one of your readers or listeners has been victimized. Hearing an apology will help heal their pain. This happened for me when a high school classmate posted an apology on our alumni wall to another classmate for bullying her. I posted the story on my blog and another classmate’s comment validated my school experience with bullying.
In summary, if you have been abusive, apologize to your victim. Do it publicly, if possible. Second, ask your victim how you can make amends, and then do it. Third, reform your behavior and never repeat the harmful behavior. Work to educate others about bullying and abuse. Support programs aimed at ending bullying.
My response: Thank you, Dr. Jones. It has been very helpful to me that you use the word “bullying” to describe what you experienced. I think in using the term “spiritual abuse” we’ve perhaps made the behavior seem abstract, and not related to things we actually did. “Bullying” is very clear and to the point. Our leader was a bully, and he taught us to bully others. That is something we can more easily recognize, admit and apologize for.
I know I do. People probably don’t often think in terms of female “bullies”. But I learned to be one, under Betty’s tutelage, and to teach others to do it, too. I bullied people who lived in our home. I bullied my own children – how far from “bringing them up” in the nurture and teaching of the Lord! I beat them down, and taught other mothers to do the same. I taught the camp counselors and high school counselors to bully the kids. “Sisters” wanted counsel, and wanted to meet with me, and I bullied them, using verses from the Bible, or some other book, to bludgeon them. I was so wrong, and so stupid to miss the main point Jesus made – “Let me give you a new command: Love one another!” I would welcome any reminders from readers of behavior I need to apologize to them for, and/or suggestions of how I might make amends.
Thank you for this timely book, Dr. Jones.
If any of you readers have comments for Dr. Jones, she is here with us this morning, and is willing to answer questions.
Dr. Jones comments: Meg, that is a really good point. Most people need spiritual abuse defined for them but they understand what bullying is. It was an epiphany for me when I saw John Stossel’s TV special, “The In-Crowd and Social Cruelty.” It was at that point I realized I was being bullied by my pastor and other church members. It put it into context for me and helped me realize it wasn’t anything I had done wrong.
BTW, I am traveling with my husband who is attending a conference. I will be spending much of my time writing and responding to comments for the rest of this week. So I am available right now and tonight. This week I am offering a special on “Not of My Making” on my blog.
My reply: That’s great! Thank you for the offer! In reply to your comment, I would add that when the bullying and social cruelty are done by spiritual leaders, it becomes spirital abuse as well, because, in our group at least, the leaders claimed to express God’s govenment and “have the mind of Christ”. People have a very difficult time shaking off that distorted image of God afterward. God is not a bully to his children, whom he loves as he loves his beloved Son Jesus (Jn 17)!
Dr. Jones’ comment: Meg, I have a hard time with Matthew 18: 15-17 and a couple of other gospel passages because of the way they were used. Because of this struggle my bible study group picked Matthew to read and discuss this spring and summer. They and I hope I will finally be able to hear those verses in context and not in the way they have been distorted.
My response: I hear you! That passage especially can be wrongly used to force someone into some very powerfully intimadating and shaming confrontations. In our group many Bible verses were used to bully folks. As a result, a lot of former members have a big problem reading the Bible. Going through some of those passages with a knowledgeable and supportive group, as you will be doing in your Bible study, is one of the best ways I know of to “detoxify” them and get them in your mind in a completely different context. Dr. Ronald Enroth observes, in his book Recovering from Churches that Abuse, that the wounds were received relationally, and they will be healed relationally.