"If You are struggling with any area of [this] information it is your problem, not ours. If you feel a breakdown in trust and relationship it is your issue not ours. If you don't seem to be able to give a righteous response to what you believe was said and done then go and seek counsel. You have been ministered to, you have been included, you have been loved." [Emphasis added]These were words sent to me by a board member of my ex-church after I had written to the board, letting them know that I was struggling with being told, amongst other things, that I should submit to the "godly authority" of the man who was bullying me. The email I received in response explained that the board had done nothing wrong, and were, in fact, at peace with God and themselves. If there was a problem, it was mine alone. I had "been loved" and so it was about time I got with the program and performed acceptably again.
The only trouble with this is that I hadn't been loved. I had been dismissed; I had been ignored; I had been silenced. I had been told, in effect, to sit down and shut up. Where I had previously been approved of for my compliance and performance, I was now being judged and rejected. It was not love. It was control.
If I behaved in the approved manner, I was praised and affirmed. But as soon as I lifted the rug and uncovered the dirt underneath, I was labelled a trouble-maker. When I resisted the demand to pretend it wasn’t there, I became the problem.
And the problem with me being viewed as the problem is that I wasn’t really the problem…
The real problem was that none of us seemed to know how to love like Jesus loved. Love was confused with control. The imperative was to control behaviour; control feelings; control the narrative itself.
As I have said many times before, my experience is far from unique. Hundreds of thousands have been, or are being controlled and abused by an institution which claims to be representing the One who is Love!
But do we know what love really is?
We have made decisions about what it should look like to be worthy of our love. We have chosen to police people's behaviour - to reward the 'good' and punish the 'bad'. We have told people that we love them, when really we are just using positive re-inforcement to manipulate them into acting the manner we have approved. That is not love.
We who are called to love without cost, have confused love with control.
And although it will sometimes get us what we want, the trouble with using control is that we inadvertently make ourselves a slave to the response of the other person. If they won’t play the game, then we have to up the ante until they accede to our demand for compliance.
And when everything has been done to make others behave according to our rules, and they have still failed to comply, we are left with no alternative but to shun them.
They aren’t following the script, so they have to be written out of the show.
And so people who were once friends, or members of the same family, are no longer able to even talk to one other, and they find themselves miserably imprisoned by the refusal of the other to submit to their demands.
Now, you may have heard it said that if you really love someone you should set them free. Well I have discovered there is an incredible paradox in that – when we truly love someone, we actually set ourselves free!
Loving people the way Jesus did sets us free from the need to control their behaviour. In fact it sets us free from needing anything at all from them, because loving someone is simply wanting the best for them. And that is never dependent on their response. So we find ourselves at liberty to love... regardless.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely wonderful when love is reciprocated - and there’s nothing at all wrong in wanting that - it’s just that real love is not dependent on it. We can love someone regardless of their responsiveness to us. Just look at Jesus. He managed to love people who were out for his blood - literally!
So maybe it's time for the church to start following Jesus. Let's give up the control, and do away with the need to make others 'behave'. I promise you that truly loving others is an incredibly liberating thing to do!