Today’s letter is about a very sensitive topic:
(***So right from the beginning I want to assert that I know there are real victims in this world and even among our membership. I know what it is like to be victimized. I and my family! There have been times when we’ve been treated very unjustly, unfairly, with crass disregard and even cruelty. We have been victimized by the ill-intent of others. Many of you know what I’m talking about.)
But what I want to talk about is when we take on a victim-mentality.
So, yes, I was victimized. And I had the right to be sad about it. To complain. To lament. I even had the right to feel sorry for myself. But at what point does this become not only pointless but unhealthy? Some might say right from the beginning. Others might say it’s okay for a short season. Others might say never.
To make sure I’m not misunderstood, I’m going to share my story.
I think the church did a poor job of preparing me to be independent. The church often nurtures a victim-mentality.
- The suffering servant motif: The symbol of the cross, the suffering servant idea, and be like a lamb to the slaughter was something I latched onto really early in my Christian life. And this idea stuck with me all through my ministry. It still lingers to this day. This idea is rather fatalistic in nature, accepting affliction as inevitable, desirable and even deserved. Its logical end is that you should turn the other cheek always and never stand for yourself or fight back. In fact, any effort to change your situation is dishonorable.
- Humiliation: The whole idea that many of us were raised on is that we are broken, sinners and always in need of a savior. We are always weak and in need of serious help and constant rescue. That we should become completely dependent on God so that we have no will, power or voice is taught by many spiritual leaders to be the most perfect way. We are just a tool in God’s shed for him to use when he wills. In fact, independence is considered rebellious. So the “poor me” attitude is actually an effective way for the church to keep you humiliated before God, the pastor and the church.
- Helplessness: Because suffering, servitude and submission carry such currency in the church, the church feels no need to, and in fact feels prohibited from, providing tools for us to become spiritually independent and strong. The whole “more than conquerers” idea is solely for the purpose of controlling our sinful nature, not for the purpose of us living confidently in all areas of our lives. But the church not only doesn’t provide us with tools, but in my observation it doesn’t have any. It could, but it doesn’t. Not all, but I dare say most. We are to be and remain helpless. The church assists us in this regard.
Let me be more personal and specific. For me, this applies to my attitude towards money, marketing, business and success. I don’t mind when others succeed and make money, but for me it is a complex moral issue.
I’ve never been good at making money and I’ve always struggled. For the many years I served as a pastor, I never saw any raise in my income. I was a victim of church miserliness, but I let it sink into my own damaged feelings about myself to the point where I actually felt I never deserved more. I was a suffering servant, and proud of it, though resentfully so. My dependence on God never ever panned out. Forsaking all methods of making more money as a compromise of godliness, I consigned myself to a victim-mentality that actually translated itself into a poverty-mentality. I never asked for more and the church was always happy to comply with my servitude attitude. My sense of helplessness and the church’s appreciation of it was a perfect working relationship that kept me victimized and the church unchallenged. The end result was me leaving the ministry filing for personal bankruptcy, the ramifications of which I still experience.
When I left the ministry I felt a personal challenge to cast off this victim- and poverty-mentality, and to learn business, marketing, as well as develop a healthy respect and appreciation for money. It’s been the hardest school I’ve ever been to because it’s not just about learning skills, but about overcoming deep-seated, unhealthy attitudes about myself that are so embedded that they’re taking me years to discover, expose and extricate.
- So now I’m determined to stop saying inside my head, “Poor me!”
- I’ve also decided that I am responsible for my life. I say, “I am independent! I can take care of this!”
- I also say, “I am not helpless. I can help myself. I can change my life. And I will help others by providing them with tools that will help them develop skills to realize their own independence.”
As Nelson Mandela’s Invictus says, “I am the master of my fate and the captain of my destiny.” This is not necessarily a rejection of God. For me it is a bold declaration to fully participate in one’s life rather than surrender it to fate, to circumstances, or to the will of another.
- You have the power!
- You have the right to change your life!
- You can be independent!
I hope this helps.