Sunday 22 February 2015

Progressive Redneck Preacher

Back in 2005 I was running a website called Ambassador Watch when I was contacted by a recent AC graduate named Micah Royal. To cut a long story short, I ended up publishing an article he wrote. As I recollect it, Confronting Bible Abuse was meant to be the first in a series, but life being what it is, Micah moved on and I forgot all about it (the text follows on from this post.)

With Miller Jones' recent articles raising some sensitive issues on sexuality I decided to find out what had happened to Micah and Katharine who, I think it's fair to say, both veered off the expected path for Ambassador alumni in a radical direction. These days Micah is blogging at (last updated December 31 last year) and seems to be continuing his advocacy on GLBT issues. There are sermon transcripts, some of which are quite thought provoking. I think it's reasonable to say you won't hear anything like them at UCG or LCG services!

Here's what Micah wrote nearly a decade ago.

Confronting Bible Abuse

One of the greatest issues facing individuals coming out of an experience with the Worldwide Church of God and its related organizations is what many pastoral counsellors call “Bible abuse”. This is an issue not limited to the WCG experience which I have shared, but common also to many who are from other Fundamentalist Christian denominations.

What is Bible abuse? Bible abuse is a form of spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is when religious beliefs or practices are removed from the context they were intended for and used as tools of discrimination or oppression of others. For instance, the belief in divine healing is a spiritual belief common to many of the world’s faiths. Yet, in certain branches of Christianity experiencing miraculous healing from sickness becomes a “stamp” of spiritual accomplishment. At times, the message about this spiritual belief is turned from “God is available to you and has the power to heal” to “The way to be healed is to be close to God, thus if you are disabled or physically or mentally ill, you must be sinful or lack faith”. Here a spiritual belief intended to have a positive, liberating belief, is transformed into a tool of oppression and prejudice against a minority (the disabled).

Prejudice against a minority group works on a number of levels. At times, it can be systemic or institutional -- for instance, the way in which in many conservative churches, women for years were given a subservient position to men, both in the home and at church. There were structures created by those communities of faith that kept women in a role in which they did not have freedom to lead, to fully express themselves, and to realize their full potential, simply because of their God-given gender.

Prejudice can also be an expression of one’s dominant culture, both in the sense of “Southern culture”, “Hispanic culture”, or even a “church culture“. For instance, in the South where I grew up, in many areas inter-racial marriage was simply “not done” and was viewed with suspicion. It went against the cultural grain, though no longer were there laws against it. If you married another race, you would be talked about, looked down on by some, and at times ostracised from the family.

Prejudice of this type often becomes the worst type when lived out by an individual in that culture -- unaware prejudice. Here people have certain assumptions about how life should work, how others should live, which aren’t grounded so much in truth, but in the cultural or religious ideals that were spoon-fed to them from childhood on. These notions so subtly enter into a person’s worldview that one may not realize they are affecting one’s choices.

These forms of prejudice lead to stereotyping. For instance, in the wider community, an effeminate man is often assumed to be gay, based on the stereotype that gay men are not in touch with their masculine side. In fact, many men with strong traits our culture would view as “feminine” are straight as an arrow in their sexuality and many gay men are very macho, almost to a fault. Truth be known, even straight women do not completely fit the mold of what our culture’s concept of “femininity” is.

All of these forms of prejudice can be fed by spiritual beliefs that are taken out of their context with the purpose, whether the person misusing them is conscious of it or not, of marginalizing and shaming those in a certain minority group. This marginalizing and shaming produces what is known as internalized prejudice -- a mistrust of one’s self and often a negative opinion, even hatred, of one’s self for some extrinsic quality that leads you to be marginalized. This happens on an emotional level and the emotional turmoil caused by this can continue even after someone has come to realize intellectually that God does not hate them or disapprove of this extrinsic quality.

Bible abuse is a particular form of spiritual abuse. In Bible abuse, select texts, taken out of their historical context, are quoted in order to support the marginalization of individuals from certain minority groups, whether that be the divorced, homosexuals, or those in an inter-racial marriage. These verses are used to justify unequal and oppressive church and community structures, to justify discrimination by individuals and families, and end up deeply scarring those in whatever minority is being oppressed.

Many times, the end of this Bible abuse will be serious emotional and mental problems for the recipient of it, besides being marginalized and oppressed. Many, many times, this will lead an individual to give up on a life of faith altogether, turning toward atheism, agnosticism, or secular spiritualities. I have known of people who turned toward drug or alcohol abuse to squelch the pain that Bible abuse has caused them. Other times, the crushing fear of God and hatred of one’s self will be expressed by resorting to irrational violence against others, whether abusing other family members, going on a rampage of violence, or committing suicide.

Is the Bible’s purpose to cause such agony in the lives of others? No! God forbid! Scripture makes it clear that, at least to Christians, the goal of Scripture is to witness to Jesus, who describes his own purpose as being to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Scripture also tells us God does not judge us based on extrinsic qualities like race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation -- "[A human being] looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart,” 1 Samuel 16:7 says. And the apostle Paul writes that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 3:28). Though every possible category of difference people can have which they may be discriminated against (such as sexual orientation, height, gender identity, physical disability, hair color, hobby) are not listed here, the principle Paul is espousing points in a direction far removed from any use of spiritual beliefs or Scripture to condemn others for being different.

I want to close by pointing out how to identify Bible abuse being used to oppress a minority.

First, ask yourself, is this author quoting the verse out of context? If he or she does not get into the history behind the text, whether in the rest of that book of the Bible or through historical references, chances are that they are.

Then, ask yourself, does this sound like the purpose is to “release the oppressed” or to marginalize others? Since Jesus is our guide, any interpretation that seems to be oppressing others needs to be viewed as questionable and suspect.

Finally, ask yourself, does this reflect the wider principles of Scripture (such as Jesus’ command to love God & love others, or Scripture’s acknowledgement that God does not judge by external characteristics like race or gender but by the heart)? If not, probably the author is mis-using the Scripture for his or her own ends.

Whatever else you get from my article, realize that your life has worth. Though the world may look at you as a nobody, in God’s eyes you count. You can with all confidence join in the words of the Psalmist, saying to God, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)


  1. "In Bible abuse, select texts, taken out of their historical context, are quoted in order to "

    1) Self-aggrandize a cult leader;
    2) Make lots of money for a cult leader;
    3) Gain a bigger following by seducing those who already have the same perverse standards as the leader through capitalizing on their prejudices;
    4) Maximize dopamine levels by bullying the weak.

    "I have known of people who turned toward drug or alcohol abuse to squelch the pain that Bible abuse has caused them."

    Well, no. Just no. Nice try. I suggest "Ending the Drug Addiction Pandemic: Discovering the Liberating Truth" by Dr. James R. Milam. It isn't abuse, it's biology catching up to the addict.

    Now then.

    Those of us familiar with the narcissistic abuse of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia who have had experiences in more healthy environments may have a much different perspective. Herbert Armstrong was a proponent of the Salem church idea that people are conceived spiritually at baptism and not "born of the Spirit" as the Apostle Paul made so clear in his writings about growing up and not being any longer children, to move on from the milk of the Word to the meat of the Word -- hardly something a fetus could do. The point is that those who have partaken of the Divine Nature -- as the theory goes -- are changed from the inside out. Thus, those who have accepted Jesus as their personal savior may find that people notice that they do not swear any more, just a few days from their "altar call". They stop drinking. They stop smoking. They change because they just aren't those sorts of people any more.

    And so it is... are we expected to believe that people thus transformed by the Holy Spirit are going to follow an unconverted cult leader? Are we not expecting that they as sheep in God's care know their Master's voice? If they encounter heretics attempting to wield power of Satan over them, are we not to expect that they will turn away from the cultmeisters? You know, II Timothy 3 (well, OK, it's a forged epistle, but it's still a good 'inspired' one!)

    Well no matter.

    It seems pretty clear to those of us who have watched the Ambassador College phenomenon over the decades that the said institution of lower cult high school indoctrination was a dysfunctional induction program, ruining the minds of the enrolled students to such an extent that absolutely no one who has been through the program should be trusted in any way to lead a church congregation of any sort because it was such a corrupting influence that the participants will never be able to grasp the (supposed) understanding of redemption and salvation. And in the end, they will be blind leaders leading the blind, no matter how benign or appealing they might seem. At very best they will be eccentric and just "off" (making them perfect subjects of blogs).

    Those oppressing and abusing others seriously need to ask themselves the question, "What's wrong with me?" and then take measures to change.

    "Life Code" Dr. Phil.

    "Take Back Your Life" Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias.

    1. I'm not sure I understand your point about addiction. Are you suggesting that addiction triggers do not exist?
      Also, are you suggesting that we should expect converted Christians (those who have God's Holy Spirit) to be immune to the power of Satan or "his" servants to deceive them? Aren't many of the people portrayed in Scripture as having God's Holy Spirit presented as flawed individuals who were still capable of being deceived and deceiving others? (Jacob, Joseph, David, Peter, etc.) If a "true" Christian is incapable of being deceived, doesn't that make them infallible in matters of faith (I'm well aware that some folks believe that).
      Finally, I've personally known a few Ambassador College graduates who have successfully extricated themselves from the WCOG brainwashing and have returned to sound reasoning (and would function very well in a "leadership" role within an open-minded congregation).

  2. There's one more problem with this: Atheists.

    Now I'm quite aware of a segment of "angry atheists" -- a newly minted breed from apocalypse abuse, who actually are more like the picture of the professor in "God's Not Dead" -- angry with God.

    The truth is though, abuse doesn't produce atheists. Oh, people may be prompted to start investigating religion and 'the god question' as a result of abuse, but the truth is that atheists simply don't see any reason to believe in God. They've studied the arguments, seen the science and have gone through the supposed 'proofs' of God and they simply don't find any reason to believe because no one has provided compelling evidence to support the Yaweh of the Bible (and, heaven help us, all those other even less reputable sources, such as the Koran).

    The picture isn't helped much by the latest scientific theories about cosmology wherein the Universe does seems to have existed forever (and it makes better sense and the mathematics work out better than the Big Bang). If the Universe has always existed (and, by implication, is infinite), there is no Great Creator of the Universe (which handily explains God's Throne, since He didn't have to create it?). At best, God could have been responsible for nudging the solar system into existence and shepherding evolution to produce what we see on earth today. It's no wonder that Stephen Hawking declared that the universe doesn't need God to have existed. Carl Sagan's statement, "The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be" looks more appealing than ever.

    So to claim "Many times, the end of this Bible abuse will be serious emotional and mental problems for the recipient of it, besides being marginalized and oppressed. Many, many times, this will lead an individual to give up on a life of faith altogether, turning toward atheism, agnosticism, or secular spiritualities" isn't the whole picture. If we could really find "Does God Exist", "Seven Proofs God Exists" and "The Proof of the Bible" to be viable, then the abused would not be able to turn to science and logic to support the idea that He doesn't.

    And maybe the atheists are better off to have escaped the mind controlling lying insane false prophet (and in some cases, convicted felon) cult leader -- at least he (or she) will live life more abundantly.

    If you have further doubts about this, may I recommend, "Why Faith Fails: The Christian Delusion" edited by John W. Loftus with a foreword by Dan Barker. It would be amusing to have believers refute the material point by point.