Okay, right off I’m going to grant you that I may just be too cynical for my own good… but yesterday I was driving along and thinking about past (bad) church experiences, and what causes us to stay in those situations, even thinking that they are normal or acceptable. We feel affection for or affinity with the leader, we’re “in it together,” and we’re “on the same team” and all that. Then suddenly — sparked by a news story on the radio I think — I found myself thinking about Stockholm Syndrome.
Not to be too harsh or to put too fine a spin on it… but isn’t that essentially what we’re talking about here? Perfectly normal people suspending their better judgment on many issues based on identification with the perpetrators (or ringleaders, or whatever) of some, let’s say “unhealthy” system. Those of us who have a CLB, especially who were leaders in said church left behind, can probably relate. I remember fairly distinctly (though I’m trying to forget) teaching people things that I now know are not right about the way church leadership works and many other things that distorts one’s view of God. We treated them badly, and this has been one of the hardest parts of my own detox — the knowledge that I was a perpetrator, that I was part of the problem so badly for so long.
I kept others confined even as I myself was kept that way — which doesn’t make it right. Now, for those just tuning in, I’m not talking about the essentials of the faith… I don’t believe I promoted or was part of a fundamental lie of faith, rather that the truth of the faith was distorted and made more self-serving, more controlling. It’s easy to get drawn in, and hard to move outside of this sort of system. The fundamentals of the faith are intact, so there’s Truth to be found in it, and to the extent we’re experiencing some form of Stockholm syndrome, we identify with those who build error on top of truth, and we even want to be a part of this system. We fear leaving, for fear the loss of our friendships and cherished relationships… this is a genuine and difficult fear, one which we were under for a time. But speaking now from outside the bubble, I can talk your ear off about how wrong the fear is, and about the nature and quality of the relationships which will or will not survive your extraction. I can also talk your ear off about how things have been and how they should be. I find myself longing to help build a new city, but one which rises up in better form the less we pick up our own tools to help.
Now, it’s possible I’m entirely too cynical about the whole thing. But whether or not that’s true, it’s also just possible that I could be right. Provisionally at least, I think this realization or analogy (whichever it is) helps explain the reality and the depth of what people experience within these systems, at least in my mind. Your thoughts?