Abuse victims may be able to detect toxic victim blaming/perpetrator exonerating attitudes in highly diluted concentrations that non-abused individuals may lack the sensitivity to detect. A canary illustrates this concept well. When miners go to work down in the depths of their mine, they often bring a canary with them. The canary detects and begins choking on toxic fumes before the fumes reach sufficient concentration to be detected by the miners. Like the canary, victims of sexual abuse detect toxic messages of blame before others who have not experienced abuse detect these messages.
While many have accused Freedom Builders of over-reacting, the report of church abuse experts quoted above says Freedom Builders are more qualified to notice abuse before those who haven’t experienced it. That’s why the we notice varieties of spiritual dysfunction in families and institutions, from the Duggars to Gothard to PCC to the Gospel Coalition and others.
In a recent community discussion, we answered this question for ourselves:
Can you describe, in a nutshell, the toxic beliefs in your families and communities that you’ve addressed in your own life?
Here are 10 toxic beliefs from that discussion:
We are worthless.
Nothing worthwhile can be found in you. God must plug his nose and overcome all odds to love, against any reason, pathetic human creatures. The only motivation God can conjure up in his vast imagination is to make himself look good. In other words, God is preoccupied with the worthless opinions of worthless creatures.
Once the toxic idea of humans being worthless is corrected on paper, there’s no need to correct it in practice. We are supposed to think God loves us but that he probably doesn’t like us, delight in us or even enjoy us. Our stench of worthlessness lingers. For many, “God loves you” is such a cliche that it says little about God really loving us. God liking us is still conditioned on making God feel good about us. His judgment is pending.
Truth: People are never worthless, regardless of their lack of merit.
Who we are, as men and women, is defined by the roles we play.
Men must fit into a predefined “manhood” (be strong, speak directly, make all the money, etc) and women must fit into a predefined “womanhood” (be weaker, let men in leadership think her ideas were really their ideas, have kids, stay at home, serve her man, etc). Return to the 1950s. Even better then 1920s. But don’t go too far back because women use their voice in the church and Christian home before World War 1.
Jump through the legalistic social expectations we’ve customized for our group in God’s name. How dare you think that you, of all people, could steward your own sexuality given by God. Let us do it for you. Play roles. To quote one Freedom Builder: “Not wanting children has brought about very invasive questions for me. Or men being told to toughen up not show emotion.”
Truth: Faithfulness to who God made you to be, not role-playing, is the mark of manhood and womanhood.
Church leaders have “spiritual authority” over you.
If you want good standing before God, you MUST have a spiritual authority over you. The MUST means you are in a certain kind of organization under a certain kind of titled person–parent, priest, pope, pastor, spouse, church, membership covenant. Otherwise, your potential for a serious and obedient relationship with God is wasted. Wasted! Such authority is responsible to God for your spiritual well-being, your interpretation of Scripture, and your accountability to stop sinning. “We cannot protect you if you walk away from our covering” is one such example.
Truth: Spiritual authority belongs to God alone. Follow his voice.
Distrust all emotions.
Feelings are right or wrong, in or out. You can’t trust them, you know (men don’t have them and women shouldn’t have them). Stuff the unapproved (“unholy”) ones and fake the approved (“holy”) ones. “Biblical Counseling” for the problem of your feelings follows this formula: pray, read your Bible, attend services and go soul winning. In other words, stay very busy.
Truth: God gave you feelings as a gift. Listen to them. Like a gauge on a dashboard, emotions are helpful indications that something needs attention.
Distrust your thoughts too.
Your common sense is wrong because sin corrupted it. Don’t trust it. Don’t trust any normal thought process, reason, logic, or ideas. What we and our incorruptible leaders think as a group should be followed without question. This is “obedience” and “submission to the authority God placed over you.” By the way, doubting is a sin too. So is outside influence. If you don’t agree, you will be punished by way of shunning or tortured under a litany of cliches that will make you push your doubts so deep the rest of the group will remain placid and positive.
Truth: God gave you a mind as a gift to use to create, explore, understand, gather wisdom, and ward off enemies and imposters.
Yet you are special to our group.
While you may be a worthless worm, who should not trust your emotions and thoughts, you are an exclusive person God has hand-picked to participate with us. Act special, like we do, when others don’t agree with you. Call this disagreement “religious persecution.” Be spiritually smug. You finally arrived, you lucky dog.
A Freedom Builder quoted her former ministry leader: “We have people across the nation that would love your opportunity to serve in a ministry like ours, we are a rarity and things aren’t like this everywhere. You are blessed to be a part of it all. Things aren’t like this everywhere.”
Truth: You are special no matter where you choose to serve. You don’t need institutions making you special.
Beauty, pleasure, and rest are an ungodly waste of time.
Rest and fun are not spiritual! Spiritual things involve sacrifice, pain, and busyness. Show your accomplishments, but humbly, by strutting your work before others followed by thanking God’s grace for making it possible. Use the “comfort zone test”: If I am uncomfortable, naive, spontaneously risky, God is pleased. Personal enrichment is for lazy, selfish people.
Truth: God created rest and beauty for humans to enjoy. All of God’s gifts are spiritual.
Suffering is a sign of a true believer.
Suffering is mandatory for true believers, which is how we spiritually grow. The only way for God to bless you and show his goodness to you is through your own pain, even if it is self-inflicted burnout in the name of “obedience.” Hard is always the best choice, especially if the hard means following the “God-given authority” over you. Just think of something you don’t want to do for God, like being a missionary to a remote Mongolian village and marrying an unlikeable person. Since our emotions, thoughts, and wants are always bad, doing what you detest is the sign of a mature Christian.
Truth: Spiritual growth comes through vulnerably receiving and living in God’s love. Suffering is no thermometer on God’s blessing nor spiritual growth.
Let the “weaker brother” rule.
Reject any “appearance of evil.” Our people-pleasing reputations matter most. If someone else is judging you, then you should avoid what you’re doing at all costs (cause it’s probably wrong). Also, if any remote possibility exists for the ubiquitous but unknown “weaker brother” to know what you have done, then abstain. Safe is better than sorry. The weaker brother is too weak to be expected to grow. He is a moral example to the rest of us.
Truth: God calls us to become grown-ups in the Fruit of the Spirit and disciple those who are weak.
Shaming and scaring children is godly discipline.
Shaming and scaring children is necessary for little sinners to learn the ways of the Lord. This spurs them to be well behaved (that is, too terrified and suppressed to make choices). A well-behaved child is the ultimate spiritual status symbol, especially if you have four or more.
One Freedom Builder put it like this: “When I assess a community now, I ask myself, ‘Are children spiritual status symbols in this community? Are all adults in the church always sided with over the children just by virtue of them being adults? It doesn’t matter if the child tries to be assertive or has the moral high ground, the adult must be obeyed and never questioned.”
Truth: Unless we become humble like children, we will not see the kingdom of God. Teaching them that their bad choices come from being inherently bad little people will drive them away from the love of God and others. Their voices count as much (if not more so) than adults, especially over grave matters. Listen with integrity and respect and then act accordingly.
Facing the toxic beliefs in your life, what would you add to the list?
This list was created by many voices in the Freedom Builders community, compiled by Savvy Wolfson, and edited by Savvy and me. Some of the items in this list were also mentioned on the Outsider Podcast where I was interviewed in July 2015.
Read Next: No longer fear the love of God