Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Attacking Dissenters - How Outcasts are Treated

Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton share in their book Toxic Faith about the five roles that occur in a faith community that has turned unhealthy.

The fifth role is that of the outcast who refuses to play the dysfunctional games, becoming one of the lone voices crying out for change – change that “will not come as long as the co-conspirators manipulate the system, the enablers allow it to continue, and the victims fall in line with blind faith. When outcasts surface, they are identified as troublemakers and pushed out of the system as soon as possible.” The outcasts are unimpressed by position or title; they see through the delusion and are willing to suffer great personal loss in order to make a stand and leave the system. Unfortunately, these outcasts will be discredited by the leadership immediately through the process called labeling. Even if they are long-time supporters of the church, the leadership will be glad to see them leave.

One mark of an unhealthy faith community is that it attacks these "dissenters." Anyone who continues to disagree, particularly after initial pressure, becomes the enemy. The pastor and his key supporters will secretly but effectively spread the word that he or she is a trouble maker. Members who speak out with genuine concerns about the leadership are considered rebellious and will be scapegoated. References to the dissenter may be that she is sinful, selfish, and unstable and that she is going to hinder the work of God in that place. The opposite of Christian fellowship occurs; the leadership will consistently discredit and discount the persons they view as the enemy.

If necessary in an abusive system the leadership will destroy the reputation of the persons with whom they disagree. Arterburn and Felton call this process labeling: “Once the label is in place, it becomes more difficult to see that person as a human with real needs and the potential for good judgment. . . . Disqualification by labeling hurts the victims and allows persecutors to continue in their toxic faith. It is sheer poison.” Unhealthy systems will even aim their venom at their sub-leaders and get rid of them quickly if they pose a threat in his mind to their continued success. This divisive practice illustrates the destructive nature of an abusive system. Political processes replace biblical community, leaving excessive carnage.

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