While I was in my early twenties,
I was part of a Christian singing group
where I was slapped in the face
in the name of Jesus.
I was shocked but said nothing. It wasn’t a hard jump for me, because I’d grown up being belted in the name of Jesus. My childhood beatings were supposedly so I could obey God when I grew up and this slap in the face was to remind me of my obligation to submit to the authorities over me. I was even given Bible verses to memorize to back this up. It was considered discipline. At the time, I didn’t realize the word discipline is similar to the word disciple. To discipline is to make a disciple of someone–not beat them into submission.
This happened in a Christian singing group which sent choirs all over the world to share the gospel message. The team I was on consisted of twelve people and two leaders who came to the training camp from many denominations.
This slap came as the result of me choosing to run out to the bathroom during a three-hour meeting. We were told to stay in the chapel and not leave for any reason. I waited as long as I could, but not knowing when the meeting would end, I decided to chance it and break the rule. I was gone less than three minutes. When I got back I received a nasty glare from Molly, my recruiter. She was several years older than me and as my mentor, she was the authority over me. She was angry because I disobeyed her, so when the meeting was over, she waited until everyone gathered around and ceremoniously slapped me in the face. It was hard enough to leave a welt.
I was humiliated. No one had ever slapped me in the face before. My mother wouldn’t even do this and even though my father had often belted my behind, he would never slap my face. It really stung in more than one way. My face was my identity and to slap me in the face felt like an act of hate. I tried to stand in my dignity but tears welled up in my eyes. As soon as she had slapped me, another recruiter, a man, stepped forward and kissed my cheek. By his actions and his words, he made it clear he disagreed with her “discipline,” but he still called it discipline.
As the tour continued and we traveled from town to town and across the ocean, things got worse. Our group leader turned out to be a closet molester of younger men. Whenever he stayed in the same bed with them, many of them had to sleep on the floor to avoid his advances. Some of the younger guys told me this and I became furious. One morning he gave us our meal stipends so we could eat breakfast while he was in a meeting. He told us to go to the grocery store and under no circumstances were we allowed to go to McDonald’s as we had done on other days. Most of our group disagree with him and decided to eat an egg McMuffin anyway. When he found out, he made us sit in a circle on the floor and say we respected his authority.
Everybody just wanted to get on the road so they repeated his words, but not me. He held us hostage for over an hour commanding me to stay on my knees and say I respect him. We wasted so much time, we finally had to get on the bus, but he said I would have to sit out the concert. That night when I met my host parents, it was obvious I was upset by my puffy red face from crying. My host dad was glad to announce he was a psychologist. I was relieved to discover they loved chocolate cake and were willing to listen to me talk about my problems on tour for hours.
The next morning, the good doctor helped me call the main office of our ministry to tell them what was going on. Nothing came of it because the home office didn’t know what to do. They said they prayed over the leaders and this leader had come at the last minute, but they still believed God placed him over us. For the rest of the tour, our leader had lost his credibility with nearly everyone on the team and we limped on. It was a relief when the tour was over.
Have you ever been part of a group or church where something felt wrong and the more you tried to communicate your concerns, the more you were shame or ostracized for questioning the powers that be? Perhaps you were told not to question authority because those over you were ordained by God.
Welcome to Religious Narcia–Please Enter at Your Own Risk
If only we had such a sign to hang in front of unsafe churches and homes.
Have you ever dealt with an abusive leader or parent only to realize they were trying to steal your freedom? You might not have discovered this right away. Maybe it took years of spiritual and emotional abuse before someone–a counselor, pastor or friend, helped you see the truth. I will be forever grateful because someone helped me understand narcissism. It took away the constant fear of being lost because I couldn’t go along with every scheme in a narcissist leader’s mind. I eventually realized it wasn’t a sin to shun the patriarchy or hierarchy and all the narcissism they fuel. I finally realized I was dealing with a particular brand of evil that many people had endured before me. What a relief to discover there is a language for what I have experienced.
This series will describe how religious narcissism conflicts with true spirituality. While the contrast between selfish and love might simplify the situation, the ways and means of abuse are legion and often hard to recognize if you aren’t aware of narcissistic patterns. The most obvious difference is that truly spiritual people serve other people, while the narcissist uses them. To be truly spiritual is to be free to act on your conscience, while narcissist uses mind control.
Two places many people struggle with autonomy is with their parents and church. God grants freedom to everyone, but narcissistic abuse chokes it out and misrepresents God. How many people have you known who wear God’s name in vain while they abuse other people? You aren’t alone; chances are there is someone like this in every church–if not in your own family.
God designed parents to represent his unconditional love to their children, while the church was supposed to reveal Gods character to the world. No wonder so many people want nothing to do with religion because someone in the name of God has misused their power over them. And who can blame them if they see God behaving like a narcissistic parent?
This series will describe the mindset of these abusive and false teachers as a fictional place called Religious Narcia (pronounced narkia like the slang word for a narcissist–often referred to as a narc). Just as C.S. Lewis’s land of Narnia is frozen over from the spell of the white witch, the Religious Narcia landscape is iced over from the selfish manipulations of the false prophet. Just as the children in Narnia are not sure if Aslan is safe, many abused people question if they can trust God. Just as Edmund complied with the White Witch to get Turkish Delight, many Christian Flying Monkeys have been enticed by a False Prophet with the reward of a position–only to discover too late, they’ve lost their freedom in the exchange.
You might think of a narcissist as some fancy dandy who wears fancy clothes and likes to stare in the mirror all day and show off, but try updating the concept of narcissism to include someone who is pious, has to be right and likes to control others through shame. Not all narcissists visit with themselves in the mirror all day; some stare into the Bible looking for proof texts so they can tell other people how to live and worship God.
At the heart of narcissism is a devaluing of humanity. The narcissistic religious leader does not see people as children of God, but rather as pawns to control and manipulate for their own means. Narcissistic religious leaders are false prophets because they twist the Bible and attempt to speak falsely for God into other people’s lives.
Religious Narcia is where narcissists put on snarky, religious clothes and try to control others. They often play the victim card to manipulate and shame kind-hearted and empathetic people into supplying their narcissistic feed. If you think this sounds like a game, you’re catching on. Everything the narcissist does has a hidden agenda. Many religious narcissists see life as a contest and get a high from controlling other people. Narcissistic false prophets are not interested in building relationships unless those connections provide a means to an end to meet their goals. Their manipulation and abuse create a toxic environment for everyone in Religious Narcia.
Some people feel nauseated when they enter a church. Some get sick when someone offers to pray for them. Often these reactions stem back to religious abuse during childhood—damage that might have come from their parents or the church. Such people reject religion for a good reason–their parents were narcissistic Christians who cared more about having a form of godliness than having a loving relationship with their children. Nothing is further from the character of God.
Many people grow up and leave the church because they imagine God is an abuser. They feel it’s safer to avoid religion altogether, but Religious Narcia continues to spread far beyond the church walls. Consider how many politicians campaign to push their religious agenda on the country they serve. Such laws encroach on the freedom of the individual and force one person’s conscience upon another. Such narcissistic leaders misrepresent God with fear, shame, coercion, and control.
So how can we escape from Religious Narcia?
If the God you know is controlling or shaming, please realize this is not God, but a caricature of God. If you grew up in Religious Narcia, it might be time to fire your parents’ version of God and discover Jesus for yourself.
Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There are two applications to these words. The first is that truth in any form is a natural law which will always set us free from the lies we’ve believed–whether we’re dealing with a secular or religious situation. The second application is that Jesus himself is the ultimate TRUTH which sets us free from Religious Narcia.
Knowing Jesus Removes Three Kinds of Lies:
1. Lies about God’s character–Jesus’s life and teachings reveal how God treats people.
2. Lies about our identity–Jesus replaces our shame with his love and value for us.
3. Lies about God’s enemies–Jesus warns us to test all prophets to be sure they aren’t false.
That’s a lot of lies. We live in a world where narcissism, ignorance, and evil surround us, but we have hope because there is a wide dichotomy between what most Christians preach and the life of Jesus. Jesus can bring healing when we allow ourselves to wake up from the Narcia spell and realize what’s happening.
Just as C.S. Lewis’s land of Narnia was frozen over from the spell of the white witch, the landscape of Religious Narcia has been iced over with narcissistic abuse, but the good news is Jesus is on the move, and he’s bringing hope and resurrection, one heart at a time.