I attend a church that emphasizes the importance of family–more so than any other church I’ve ever attended. This means that, not only do I hear the regular speeches about forgiving my abusive mother, but I hear it even more, and from a religious point of view. “Families are forever.” Most of these people mean well, and I really do like the idea that my church emphasizes the importance of families and parenthood. They teach that the family and the home are essential for spiritual and emotional upbringing. I believe this too. I think my job as a parent is to make sure my child is raised to be emotionally healthy and successful in life. (Successful meaning kind, loving, responsible, and all those good things.) With a healthy family, my church is right on. A healthy home IS the way to raise healthy kids! With the way I raise my own children, they are right on. With the way my “mother” treated me? (I cannot honestly say she raised me because I did that myself!) They are wrong.
Over the weekend, I watched some conference talks from my church, and one of the speakers mentioned the familiar “Families are forever,” then emphasized that we need to make up with our families before it’s too late. I literally rolled my eyes at the television.
Ugggh. If you had a narcissistic mother too, you know darn well this cannot end happily!
This is where the church is wrong and naive. Yes, from a Christian point of view, God loves everyone and can perform miracles. But, my church also teaches the importance of free will, and the reality that we live in a fallen world that must follow the laws of nature–a world where our decisions have consequences and we must face them. That means that we are in an imperfect world, and people are free to make their own choices–including abusers and bullies, and including relatives who are abusers and bullies. Narcissists and sociopaths do not change. They will never choose to change. Their broken mental health follows scientific laws and reality. Yes, God *could* change their hearts, but if God did that, he’d be controlling them instead of letting them make their own choices. My church teaches that people must choose to follow God, because if God just made us all perfect, we would be like puppets and our spiritual lives would be meaningless because we didn’t choose to follow God on our own.
Church leaders must understand the reality that the nature of our world means that nothing is perfect and we grow and develop in ways that follow natural and psychological patterns. My mother was genetically and environmentally predisposed to having a personality disorder. God could jump in and “poof!” change that, but that’s not how our world works.
Church leaders realistically cannot simply tell us to love our families and reach out to them. They need to be educated about the reality and damage done by personality disorders. Would a loving God expect us to submit ourselves to ongoing abuse? I think not! To assume that every family relationship is so simple that we can love and forgive and magically have a loving family back is naive.
Until church leaders emphasize the importance of understanding domestic violence, abuse and personality disorders, they cannot adequately reach out to or serve many of us who need a supportive church family the most. Simply telling us that “Families are forever” so we must cling to our families, is damaging, and thoughtless. I don’t think these people mean to be heartless or ignorant, but the effect is that they are. I often ask people, “would you encourage me to go back to a boyfriend who abuses me?” “Would you tell me to return to a husband that beats me?” “Would you tell me to be friends with someone who lies and steals from me?” No? Of course not. So why would you tell me to maintain a relationship with a parent who does those same things? Is blood and DNA magically going to make this abusive relationship essential to my life? Or can I find a real mother figure in another person who does not share my DNA, but does treat me with love and respect?
I believe we should forgive, although I think it is false to try to rush the forgiveness process. But, I will never agree that someone deserves a place in my life simply because we shared some genetic matter.