Fight or Flight in Toxic Religious Environments
In my previous post, I asked:
What if the church is supposed to be annoying, or boring, or offensive, or untrue, or whatever else…because that’s the way you are tested on your ability to react to these ills with grace and graciousness? What if authenticity isn’t being in or out, but being grounded despite everything going on around you, wherever you are?
Greg had a quite worthwhile comment pointing out all the issues in my post, but I think that his last point is worth addressing again. As he had written:
I have heard variants of the “you will find imperfection everywhere, so accept it here” argument MANY times now since leaving the fold. I cannot validate it. There is no reason that I should suppose that all things share the same corrupt characteristics. The world is obviously diverse and varied. Not all things are of a like. Not all churches are corrupt. Not all institutions hurt people. The attempt at the truism does not make it so and it is so broad as to certainly be false.
I am categorically of the opinion that THIS institution harms people. Upon wandering into the lone and dreary world, I will almost certainly find some others that do as well. But I find it irrational to not leave the known harm because of the possibility of finding other harm elsewhere.
I want to clarify…I don’t want to say, “You will find imperfection everywhere, so you must accept it in the church.” As I had responded to him, I’m not sure if the answer is to “accept” it (I think that in this situation, one has a natural “fight or flight” response, and what I was addressing is that maybe more folks should try to fight instead of flying), but whether one “accepts” it (and tries to work on their personal reaction) or fights it, I also don’t think that the reason one would do such is because imperfection is everywhere (or even a general feature of many aspects of life, rather than being something specific to Mormonism).
My thought process was that for some, it might be worth dealing with the imperfections of the church because these imperfections may be — relatively speaking — less harmful than other imperfections. I think the particulars can definitely vary, but I put it like this:
Suppose someone in church says or does something to me that upsets me. I have the opportunity to react and lash out, the opportunity to internalize the feeling of anger, or an opportunity to try to proactively improve upon my patience (somehow.) I think the third option is obviously the best one to work at practicing, but it’s not going to be easy…in many situations, I am going to fail and lash back out.
What are the repercussions of lashing out reactively? My thoughts are that for most people, the consequences will not be as harmful as it might elsewhere in life. In other words, it’s a lot easier to lash out at someone at church (and potentially alienate yourself from the church community) than to lash out at someone at work (and potentially lose your job.) That’s just an example, but I tend to think of examples like that. Obviously, different examples would apply for different people.
So, the takeaway for me (at least) would be that it’s a lot better to “practice” patience at the church, because if I fail here (which I probably inevitably will), the greatest negative impact to me is unlikely to be too great.
I had another talk with the pastor of a church I used to go about what’s been going on in my life and why I abruptly stopped going to his church. I thought things were going to be patched up, but as I continued to talk to him, I suddenly remembered all the reasons I don’t want to be there anymore. The basic scenario was I was told a while back, after happily attending the church with little incident for a few months, that if I got a boyfriend, I might not want to come to that church anymore. Which of course led to me deciding, well, if that’s the case maybe I shouldn’t frigging come at all. Also, because of other circumstances, him telling me that set off a suicide trigger for me, which is no small thing. And then I came back months later because I felt I had no other place to go and I thought I’d give it another chance. Then he started talking again and I realized this is not going to work.
I’m sorry. I feel absolutely terrible about this. But I don’t want to do dialogue anymore. I don’t want to journey together or live life with you or work out some difficult answers. I’m tired of having to pray that God will soften my heart so that I can tolerate your bigotry more easily. Because every time I do any of those things at church, I end up getting hurt. And then when I say anything about it, it’s like, “Oh, we disagree, you just have to accept we disagree.” which is code for, “We know we’re hurting you, but there’s nothing we’re willing to do about it, so you’ll just have to put up with us.” Meanwhile, I’m trying not to cry my eyes out when I’m alone because I feel like I have no church I can go to like a normal person while everyone else is like, “Whoa, we’re on a cool journey together.” I’m not your fucking sherpa you can dump your veiled homophobia on while you feel good about yourself for attempting to climb up LGBT Mountain in some kind of fantastic journey. There’s a point in time where I have to say, no, I will not subject myself to this anymore. I mean… that point has to exist, doesn’t it?
The one thing I have to consciously weigh throughout all of this is that there are plenty of folks within Mormonism or any other church (this tumblr article doesn’t come from a Mormon, even if the content could easily fit an LDS situation) for whom the struggle is too much. And I honestly can’t sit back and say that everyone should willingly take abuse just so they can work on their reaction to being abused. I don’t want to blame victims or place a responsibility on victims to reform their violators — even if I can see benefit in moving away from a place as “victim.”