Saturday, October 16, 2004
A lot of people who served with IBLP share a common experience of rage. We don't talk about it much on this blog; I suppose because it's not very funny. But it is definitely a problem worth exploring, perhaps motivated by JollyBlogger's posts on dirty laundry and grace.
When I left the employment of IBLP I pretty much abandoned my faith for a while, thinking "If Christianity is about performance-based grace, irrelevant behavioral rules, and power-abusive authorities, I want nothing of it."
In an authoritarian structure where the authority is always right--nay, inspired by God--and where the person under authority is trained to accept all things from the authority's hand, the potential for abuse exists. I'm not just talking about physical abuse, although I have heard vague rumors from years ago. Sometimes emotional or spiritual abuse can be just as devastating. And in the context of IBLP life, it shows up in people using their power ("authority") to forcibly mold a person's thoughts, feelings, attitudes and convictions. This goes beyond being a good influence or giving good advice and rises to the level of abuse in my mind. Telling someone: "I have this conviction and you MUST adopt it as your own because I am your authority" is not how God wants us to motivate others to love and good works. This emphasis on control leads some to conclude IBLP is a cult.
And speaking of love, there is very little Christ-like love on the Institute campus. There is APPROVAL: if you live up to this set of ideals and behavior, we approve of you. But if you differ from the dictated standards and convictions, woe to you.
This is a lack of grace. Call it what you like, Bill, but grace is still God's unmerited favor for us. As much as IBLP tries to distance itself from the legalism label, it sticks when it comes to the expectations on staff, volunteers and families in general to abide by every single dogma. ES has a good testimony about grace when he tried to tell Mr. Gothard he didn't believe contemporary Christian music is wrong.
The rejection and judgmentalism is dangerous. This is how damage is inflicted from peer to peer in the Institute. Scripture tells us "then shall the world know you by the love you have for each other." Not for how high your standards are or what you believed or how loudly you condemned worldliness and poor character.
Sarte said "hell is...other people" and sometimes ATI Christians seem to believe this. Unfortunately, when we think of "the world" we unconsciously assume this includes all of the people who do not exhibit the fine character and high standards upon which we depend.
Of course, it is a lot easier to stand on in the corner and point fingers, and in recent years the Christian church has had quite a few scapegoats: entertainers, shock jocks, musicians.... Larry Flynt, Howard Stern, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Eminem, Marilyn Manson and Tellatubbies.
But ATI people seem to have a corner on the judgment market. I don't know how many people have told me over the years, "I would never join ATI because they are the most judgmental people I know."
U2 singer Bono once said, "There are 2,103 verses of Scripture pertaining to the poor. Jesus Christ only speaks of judgment once. It is not all about the things that the church bangs on about. It is not about sexual immorality, and it is not about megalomania, or vanity. It is about the poor. 'I was naked you clothed me. I was a stranger and you let me in.' This is at the heart of the gospel. Why is it that we have seemed to have forgotten this? Why isn't the church leading this movement?"
Yet confront the Institute with this fault, as some suggest, and they'll tell you it's their DUTY, as bearers of a higher standard, to point out sin in the church. They can't be called on this. They reject the implication that their lofty spirituality somehow damages others. The other defense I hear is "judgmentalism is a result of individual people; it's not IBLP's fault." I'm not going to pin it on Bill Gothard and damn him for the sins of others, but it's my belief that these conditions in the ministry are systematic faults, and not merely individual lapses. This sort of attitude permeates from the head of an organization all the way down to the mailroom.
So when I say that rage is a common factor among staffers and ex-ATI folks, it's not because they're "bitter" and need to repent. Mostly its a response to the judgmentalism and the inability to live up to someone else's ideal.
It manifests itself in many ways, this fury. Many of my music links over on the left are a developed taste from my IBLP days. Some of us fight boiling anger. Others of us start drinking. Many others simply drive the anger under the surface.
It's not bitterness. We keep bashing our heads against all of the "abuses" and shortcomings, wondering what can be done to correct them. We're weary from impotent rage.