Shuck and Jive

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spiritual Violence

Michael Adee's lastest article, Re-Imagining Marriage, Gender, and Confronting the Religious Violence of Defending Marriage has received some response. Michael links to this article by Jon Pahl of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Pahl writes that the Defense of Marriage Acts, passed now in 37 states are a form of religious violence.
The rationales for such defensive laws are often couched in neutral, "secular", or "naturalist" language. But the move to establish such laws came from religious groups, notably conservative Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons. And the logic and appeal of these laws also originates in religion, and functions as a form of violence.
He offers six theses to "clarify the contours of the religious violence embedded in these laws."

1) DOMA Laws violate sacred texts.
2) DOMA Laws elevate heterosexual marriage to idolatrous status.
3) DOMA Laws scapegoat gays and lesbians.
4) DOMA Laws sacrifice homosexual rights, and damage civil society, in the interest of religious purity.
5) DOMA Laws confuse legislation with religion, and violate the First Amendment...
6) DOMA Laws perpetuate an association of sex with power, and thereby do damage to any sacramental sensibility that might remain in association with even heterosexual marriage.

Read the article for an explanation of each thesis.

What raised eyebrows among some is the use of the phrase "religious violence." The article (and posting by Michael Adee) has received some response, here and here. These two respondents take exception to the term religious or spiritual violence.

What is spiritual or religious violence? If you go to Soulforce and search "spiritual violence" you will come up with 429 hits. The first is from Rev. Jimmy Creech. He writes:

I believe the greatest injury done to lesbian and gay persons is caused by spiritual violence. Spiritual violence is assault upon the integrity and dignity of a person when that person is told that, because of who she or he is, she or he is not loved and accepted by God, and is in fact rejected and condemned by God. Damning, judgmental words cause massive and deep wounds that are hard to heal. I believe the spiritual violence must stop.
No one likes to be told that their religious beliefs are violent. These religionists go to great lengths to show that their reasons for discriminating against gays and lesbians and calling them sinners and whatever else isn't their decision but comes from some supernatural authority to which they think they have unique access.

What I find astounding is how quickly these people hand over personal responsibility for their beliefs and actions. It isn't me! It's God! It's as if they are saying, "I am actually a decent person who wants to love everyone. But my imaginary, invisible friend who controls the planet--he wants to kill you."

I personally think the term "spiritual violence" is an accurate one. I think Jimmy Creech defined it pretty well.

Damning, judgmental words cause massive and deep wounds that are hard to heal.
Yes, they do.


  1. It runs parallel to spousal abuse. If you ask a man who verbally abuses his wife if he is violent, he will say "no". Now, ask his wife.

    Those who administer sanctions, punishments, regulations, limitations, what have you, against others because they have the power to do so will always say they are acting on the best principles, and with the best intentions.

    I say the wrong people are being asked the question.

  2. Couldn't agree more Snad.

    I find it remarkable that some people claim their actions are done out of "love", yet the recipients of these actions make it clear that it feels anything but loving. One would imagine that a person, after being told over and over by the victims of this sort of love -- reasonable, rational adults themselves -- that it isn't love, might just (for a moment at least) question their own motives. Apparently we're not only abominations and heretics, but we're so remarkably stupid that we don't know the difference between love and hate.

    But then I guess that's their argument all along, right? We simply don't know what love is.

    If denying me the right to get married is these folks' notion of love, if being told to shut up and get out of the church is these folk's notion of love, if denying me the opportunity to live out God's call in the church is these folk's notion of love, I'd really rather go without, thanks.

  3. BTW John, thanks for brining this up. I saw Michael's article, but I didn't see the things others had posted about it. Definitely had to write a post of my own about their responses. Their arrogance is amazing.

    Though clearly, since we're all too stupid to know what violence is, according to Viola and Bob, perhaps I should have consulted with one of them before I wrote my post, so they could tell me what to think and feel.

  4. I would include in the term "spiritual violence" the re-casting of all Christian doctrine and biblical interpretation to make it look as if both the church and the bible have be ubiquitously aligned against all things homosexual from all time. That God has a vested interest in human sexuality and has revealed in person and in writing the exact specific rules that govern human sexuality, and that anyone who doesn't subscribe to their dogma is the definition of living in sin.

    What obsession. With so many choices. With so many Jihads to choose from, this is the one that must be fought?

    There is another word for this...

    That which denies the work of the Holy Spirit...

    That which impersonates Christ but denies the message of Christ...

  5. The people saying "It isn't me, it's God" are just using God/the Bible as a convenient excuse for their own bigotries. Funny how they easily dismiss other parts of the Bible as no longer applicable for some reason (they were only for that period of time, they only applied to the Jews, we have a different understanding of things now, etc) they cling the anti-gay verses and insist that they, unlike the others, are part of God's unchanging/unchangeable word.

  6. Ah, but they believe it!

    Sometime when you're bored, wander over to one of those fundie blogs and count the number of times they write the phrase, "The Bible says" rather than "I believe the Bible says..." or "All of my study and prayer has led me to believe that the Bible says..."

    It isn't a slip of the tongue (or the keyboard.) If it were, they wouldn't do it every single time they write. They simply don't believe that they're actually interpreting anything. The Bible actually talks to them (I assume it speaks with a Shakespearian English accent, from the good ol' KJV) and they're simply relaying the message to all of us poor dumb, driven sheep (or goats, I suppose would be more accurate in their worldview.) Since we're not fortunate enough to have invested in the Incredible Magic Talking Bible (probably sold by that Sham-Wow guy on TV) we have to settle for relying on our own interpretations of what the Bible says.

    But they, obviously, do not need to settle for such human habits like "reading" or "thinking". Thus one can be assured that when they say, "The Bible says" that it comes directly from God's lips to their ears.

    Let that be a lesson to you. ;)

  7. John

    Thanks for your prayers. Am home and feeling fine.

    I just reread my post and yours. I suggest that your post does not respond to mine. I don't say anything about Scripture and what I believe it says about homosexual sexual behavior, although I have in other posts. I am concerned strictly with the rhetorical use of the word violence for things that are not strictly violence.

    While I agree verbal abuse and societal discrimination can cause deep psychological wounds those wounds are different from physical violence. Of course it may take psychological wounds longer to heal.

    If your goal is to stir up the troops rhetorical escalation of language is the way to go. It does not help in dialogue with those who disagree with you. And I'm a dialoguer. To reach me Michael Adee would have to speak in other terms.

  8. Hi Bob,

    Welcome back! Glad you are doing well. Prayers for continued healing.

    I think spiritual or religious violence is an appropriate name for this experience. There is psychological violence. There is emotional violence. There is physical violence.

    The appeal to the Bible or a supernatural authority is not directly related to your post (although as you said you have declared that your views are based on the Bible).

    It is the appeal to the Bible that justifies for the perpetrators spiritual violence. The Bible is a weapon.

    I understand you don't see it that way, but nevertheless, sometimes realities need to be named.

  9. Bob,

    I would suggest that if the Spirit is injured, if a person's spiritual life is harmed by another person's actions, that those actions constitute spiritual violence.

    Simple definition, based on the effects.

    That is after all how we define physical violence.

    And people's spiritual lives are being damaged and destroyed by the actions of the Fundamentalists and self proclaimed conservative Evangelicals all the time.

    You are in the ministry so perhaps you don't hear the stories so much. But my life is in the secular world. The percentage of people that I know who don't have a religious affiliation vastly outnumbers those that do. And virtually all the ones that do not have a religious affiliation know exactly why not. They have been the victims or the witnesses of spiritual violence and want nothing to do with it.

    There are times when I feel like joining them. I love Jesus and I believe in the Gospel of the Kingdom with all my heart. It's Christians I can't stand.

  10. Violence–noun
    1. swift and intense force: the violence of a storm.
    2. rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment: to die by violence.
    3. an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws: to take over a government by violence.
    4. a violent act or proceeding.
    5. rough or immoderate vehemence, as of feeling or language: the violence of his hatred.
    6. damage through distortion or unwarranted alteration: to do editorial violence to a text.

    Only the first definition involves strictly physical behavior.

  11. So in order to dialogue with those we disagree with, we need to allow them (and them alone) to define the terms of the discussion?

    This isn't spiritual violence just because Pastor Bob says it isn't, and therefore we must stop using the word?

    Just how many more ways can you folks find to try to shut us up, Pastor Bob?

  12. (And of course, the word being used is hardly the point. But it does make a nice distraction, I suppose.)

  13. Alan

    If you want to have dialogue using high emotional content rhetoric does not help. I am more than willing to have a conversation about the meaning of texts in Scripture based on the historical context in which the text was produced. But how do I have dialogue with people who have already defined me as spiritually violent?

    You want to convince me I am wrong? Show me from Scripture using standard techniques of exegesis. As Jodie suggests there is spiritual violence when the Spirit is injured. Convince me through Scripture that I have failed to understand the meaning of the Spirit in Scripture and I will agree with you.

  14. Again, Pastor Bob, you define violence as only physical violence when I can point to any number of dictionaries, online or otherwise, that do not define it solely that way.

    Exegete that.

    Three of us have pointed that out here so far, and yet you refuse to address that point. Yet you claim that it is our "rhetoric" that prevents you from having a dialogue. Right.

    I think the word "violence" as used here is completely reasonable, if for no other reason than we're talking about people like you who are, apparently, interested not only in just minimizing the feelings and experiences of LGBT people, but ignoring them entirely!

    No, we don't experience spiritual violence in the gay marriage debate because you say we don't. Thanks! All better now! Because you certainly know better than I do how I feel.

    But again, you act as if the real point here is the particular word that is used. Call it happy, sparkly, rainbow-pooping puppies if you wish, but whatever you call it, keep it to yourself. We don't want what you call "love" and we don't want what you refuse to call "violence", no matter what words you try to pretty it up with.

    How do you have dialogue with people who have labeled you "spiritually violent"? Well, honestly, it's not like we've done any spiritual violence to you by labeling you as spiritually violent, because, as you know, no such thing exists. So I can't imagine what you're complaining about. From your point of view we may as well be calling you a unicorn. I can't imagine why you'd get annoyed at being labeled with something that you don't even believe exists.

    But then, I don't think you actually want dialogue unless you, and only you, get to set the agenda, and define all the terms. If we dare to disagree about the definition of the word violence, then you're out, is that it? Well then, I question your commitment to dialogue ... unless, like your redefinition of the word "violence", you've also redefined the word "dialogue" to mean "agreement."

  15. Elsewhere Pastor Bob wrote, "They want words to mean exactly what they say they mean. Love cannot mean love unless you agree that God intends sex between men and between women. Marriage is redefined. Violence is redefined. You are violent unless you agree with me, no matter what your acts. You are unloving unless you agree with me."

    Frankly that's hilarious.

    He redefines violence, as only physical violence. He wants words to mean exactly what he says they mean, and if we don't agree then we're clearly not interested in dialogue.

    And then he accuses us of doing exactly what he's doing.

    Pot, meet kettle.

    I'm not sure if this is an April Fool's Joke or not, but it certainly seems like one.

  16. Alan

    My rhetoric and your rhetoric aside, I am willing to have conversation on the meaning of Scripture. Without that conversation I believe there is no point in trying to define other words. If Scripture says God approves of sexual relationships between people of the same sex or even if Scripture is indeterminate or does not speak on the subject in relation to behavior in current culture that, no matter what you say I am or am not I certainly am wrong, have interpreted Scripture wrongly and have sinned against brothers and sisters in Christ. If so I shall humbly beg forgiveness.

    If on the other hand the Scripture interpreted correctly does speak to the subject of such behavior in modern culture and condemns that behavior as sinful I cannot be spiritually violent or anything else you may want to call me. In that case you should ask for my forgiveness.

    I am willing to set rhetoric and complaints about rhetoric aside to exegete together. Are you? And if so we should set ground rules for exegesis and agree on them. Frankly I like Jack Roger's (actually that of reformed tradition).

    So call me what you want. The PCUSA needs people who disagree to sit down together and talk.

    BTW I have done this with brothers and sister in Christ for the past 2 years. This is my interpretation of the conversation (others in group may say it differently): where we get stuck is over the question of what is natural, defined in Paul's time as compared to our time and how Paul defines the word. The other issue that kepy coming up is how does one measure human experience in relation to Scripture. Or maybe what weight does one put on human experience in relation to Scripture.

    I must say that I don't think such conversations do well on the internet. They are better face to face where you can spend a long time getting to know one another as brothers and sisters first. We took a year before we started talking about sexual behavior between persons of the same sex and Scripture. No one was convinced by others but we now know each other better and understand more about what others think and how they think and come to conclusions.

    And before anyone says anything, yes I am willing to back off on talking about the use of the word violence or definitions of love and marriage in order to have the conversation.


  17. Pastor Bob,

    Again, you don't address a single one of my points. It seems that you are unwilling to do so. Your failure to do so is, to me, an obvious indication of an unwillingness for any real dialogue. I do think you've found an interesting way to make it look like you might be interested in dialogue, even though your comments so far demonstrate clearly that you are not. I have experienced this many times with folks on "your side". They get to ask all the questions, they get to define all the terms, they get to set the ground rules, and they never answer a single question nor address a single objection. In the meantime, while I try to have conversations with them in good faith, I'm shown over and over again that their definition of "dialogue" is interrogation. Your refusal to even acknowledge my points, not to mention your failure to address them at all leads me to believe this is just another one of those games.

    You want to set rules for exegesis? Then I can only assume that you're the one setting the rules, just as you're the one who gets to create your own definitions for words, as we've seen. Sorry, not interested in those sorts of games where it's my job to simply agree. It might be more useful if you simply write my replies for me, since you seem to believe you've got a better handle on what LGBT people have experienced than we do.

    BTW, you might be interested to see that my husband left a comment over on my blog that I found interesting. He wrote, "I'm not sure I get Pastor Bob at all. How can you be a minister and "get" the gay rights issue and not understand that there is real spiritual harm done to LGBT folks by the Church? I've experienced it in my own life, and seen it done to many in the church?"

    I think it would be quite entertaining if you began your "dialogue" by leaving a comment on my blog telling my husband that, contrary to what he as an intelligent, grown adult may think and has experienced in his life, he has never actually experienced spiritual violence. I'm sure he'd appreciate being set straight by a total stranger, particularly one who speaks from a position of privilege as you do.

  18. Alan, snad, et. al

    I have carefully considered the definition of the word violence posted by snad and have added a new blog at my blog site. I also placed much of it as a response on Alan's site. I confess I have limited the definition of the word too much.

    Clearly there is language used violently as well. If you want to read and comment come on over!

  19. And I have commented over on my site, and yours as well.

    This is getting confusing. LOL

  20. Hey what is up with that? If anyone does not restrict his or her comments to my site alone, he or she has thus abandoned the Christian faith. : )

  21. Good discussion going on over at Alan's place. Check out the the comments.